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NASA technology. (Technology Spotlight).

Kerosene--the same as fuels an oil lantern--is being considered as a fuel for two main engine candidates for a second-generation reusable launch vehicle, now in development by the Space Launch Initiative. The Initiative is NASA'S technology development program for designing a complete space transportation system with increased safety and reliability at a lower cost. Managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, the Space Launch Initiative Propulsion Project Office is developing both the kerosene-fueled RS-84 prototype engine with Boeing Rocketdyne, Canoga Park, CA, and the TR107 prototype engine with TRW Space and Electronics of Redondo Beach, CA. Kerosene is a low maintenance fuel, that allows easier ground handling and decreased operational costs, as compared to hydrogen. In addition, because it is not a cryogenic fuel like hydrogen, the propulsion system does not require insulation for propulsion-related ducts, valves, lines and actuators--saving weight and cost. Kerosene was used as a pr opellant in the F-1 engines on the Saturn V rockets that propelled Apollo astronauts to the Moon. What is new is a staged combustion cycle that results in greater fuel efficiency than the F-1's gas generator cycle by reusing some of the fuel and oxidizer used in the pre-burner to power the main combustion chamber. Pre-burners heat the propellants to ready them for the engine's turbo pumps before the propellants are injected into the main combustion chamber, where the fuels combust to create thrust. To achieve a higher performance level, the propellant is burned at higher pressure permitting a reduction in the size of the main combustion chamber. The smaller engine will generate a powerful 1.1 million pounds of force--only 400,000 pounds of force lower than the F-1 engine. However, kerosene is not as efficient a coolant as hydrogen--a fuel more commonly used as a first- or second-stage propellant in the U.S. space program. To help offset these challenges, engineers are looking for ways to limit the kerosene te mperature while cooling the thrust chamber and limiting the sooty kerosene build-up in the turbine drive systems.

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Author:Gooch, Stephanie; Mandel, Richard
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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