Other Rocket Propulsion Concepts

Several technologies exist for harnessing solar energy to provide the power for spacecraft and also to propel spacecraft using electrical propulsion. Solar cells generate electric power from the sun's radiation. They are well developed and have been successful for several decades. Most electric propulsion systems have used solar cells for their power supply.

FIGURE 1-10. Simplified diagram of a rail accelerator for self-induced magnetic acceleration of a current-carrying plasma. When the capacitor is discharged, an arc is struck at the left side of the rails. The high current in the plasma arc induces a magnetic field. The action of the current and the magnetic field causes the plasma to be accelerated at right angles to both the magnetic field and the current, namely in the direction of the rails. Each time the arc is created a small amount of solid propellant (Teflon) is vaporized and converted to a small plasma cloud, which (when ejected) gives a small pulse of thrust. Actual units can operate with many pulses per second.

FIGURE 1-10. Simplified diagram of a rail accelerator for self-induced magnetic acceleration of a current-carrying plasma. When the capacitor is discharged, an arc is struck at the left side of the rails. The high current in the plasma arc induces a magnetic field. The action of the current and the magnetic field causes the plasma to be accelerated at right angles to both the magnetic field and the current, namely in the direction of the rails. Each time the arc is created a small amount of solid propellant (Teflon) is vaporized and converted to a small plasma cloud, which (when ejected) gives a small pulse of thrust. Actual units can operate with many pulses per second.

An attractive concept, the solar thermal rocket, has large diameter optics to concentrate the sun's radiation (e.g., by lightweight precise parabolic mirrors or Fresnel lenses) onto a receiver or optical cavity. Figure 1-11 shows one concept and some data is given in Table 2-1. The receiver is made of high temperature metal (such as tungsten or rhenium) and has a cooling jacket or heat exchanger. It heats a working fluid, usually liquid hydrogen, up to perhaps 2500°C and the hot gas is controlled by hot gas valves and exhausted through one or more nozzles. The large mirror has to be pointed toward the sun and this requires the mirror to be adjustable in its orientation. Performance can be two to three times higher than that of a chemical rocket and thrust levels in most studies are low (1 to 10 N). Since large lightweight optical elements cannot withstand drag forces without deformation, the optical systems are deployed outside the atmosphere. Contamination is negigible, but storage or refueling of liquid hydrogen is a challenge. Problems being investigated include rigid, lightweight mirror or lens structures, operational life, minimizing hydrogen evaporation, and heat losses to other spacecraft components. To date the solar thermal rocket has not yet provided the principal thrust of a flying spacecraft.

The solar sail is another concept. It is basically a big photon reflector surface. The power source for the solar sail is the sun and it is external to the vehicle (see Ref. 1-14). Approaches using nuclear explosions and pulsed nuclear fusion have been analyzed (Refs. 1-15 and 1-16), but are not yet feasible. Concepts for transmitting radiation energy (by lasers or microwaves) from earth stations to satellites have been proposed, but are not yet developed.

Parabolic reflector

Heat receiver ^and exchanger

Parabolic reflector

Radiation from the sun

Regulator and valve

Regulator and valve

tank

FIGURE 1-11. Simplified schematic diagram of a solar thermal rocket concept.

tank

FIGURE 1-11. Simplified schematic diagram of a solar thermal rocket concept.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment