A Novel Material for Rocket Propulsion Boosts performance by 80%

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material that boosts rocket propulsion

The New Additive Enhances the Energy-Release for Rocket Propulsion by nearly 80%

A lot has started to happen in the space industry with rising business and investment opportunities in the space sector. Many space-tech startups are emerging across the world with promising solutions both in the launch vehicle and the satellite category.

Fuel for propulsion is one of the most critical factors for a successful and economical space mission.

Many launch vehicles like the PSLV of the Indian Space Research Organization use solid propellant as fuel for the initial stage. Ammonium Perchlorate (AP) is one such energetic fuel that is widely used in rocket propulsion systems. 

But to increase the burning rates and maximize the energy of the fuel, these solid propellants are usually mixed with multiple additives.

Traditionally, ammonium perchlorate is added with several additives for improved performance. These additives constitute up to 30% of the total weight of the fuel. Boron is one such additive, but it has major drawbacks such as severe ignition delay and a low burning rate due to the formation of an inert boron oxide layer.

Successful static testing of solid propellant booster rocket stage s200 fro GSLV Mk III, Image Credit: ISRO

Technology

To overcome the challenges offered by boron, Ms. Harini Gunda, a Ph.D. student along with Prof Kabeer Jasuja in the Chemical Engineering discipline at IIT Gandhinagar, has developed a boron-rich nano-additive. 

The method involves solid exfoliation that results in the formation of mechanically activated (MA)-MgB 2 nanosheets. The boron rich magnesium boride crystals are delaminated using shear forces as shown in the image below.

Image Credit: IIT Gandhinagar

In controlled experiments, adding just 1% by weight of these activated nanosheets enhances the released energy of the solid propellant by nearly 80 % and lowers the fuel decomposition temperature by nearly 73°C surpassing both conventional and other nano-additives.

The mechanically activated Magnesium Boride surprisingly plays a dual role of a catalyst and fuel due to its two-dimensional boron honeycomb planes sandwiched with metal atoms with a unique chemistry.

Capabilities of the Technology

  • The novel nano-additive replaces other multiple additives that are used with the propellants for rocket propulsion thus eliminating the need for any other additive.
  • The economical and scalable way of making the additive makes it a promising technology for the market. As per the estimates of the research team, its production will be 40 times cheaper as compared to the conventional additives.
  • Also, this nano-material takes only 1% of the total weight of the fuel compared to conventional additives that can take up to 30% of the total weight meaning that the dead mass associated with other multiple additives is eliminated. This ultimately helps to improve the rocket’s performance. 
  • Reducing the 30 wt.% will help carry additional satellites into orbit.

Other Potential Applications

The technology is also found to be valuable for:

  • energy storage in batteries, 
  • hydrogen production, and hydrogen storage.

The preliminary results for these applications have already been tried and are encouraging.

To Wrap Up

The energy-efficient fuels for space and defense applications are increasing in demand with the growing competition among space agencies to cheaply place satellites in the earth’s orbit. In rocket propulsion technology, this innovation is an important step in building energy-rich fuels cheaply.