Development of low-cost pressurisation system for rocket engines

Karaveckas, Linas (2019) Development of low-cost pressurisation system for rocket engines. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Increasing demand for low-cost satellites requires new affordable launch vehicles. Rocket turbopump systems are deemed to be one of the most complex and expensive components of conventional rockets, thus cost reduction of these parts is essential to business success. The aim of this research was to evaluate existing rocket turbopumps and identify options for significant cost reductions. Alternative pressurisation options were also considered which could meet low-cost targets for a small satellite launch vehicle. Four pressurisation systems were identified which could meet the requirements for a low-cost launch vehicle were shortlisted for further studies. These were turbopumps, piston pumps, pressure-fed and pistonless pumps. A mass model was developed to estimate the Gross Lift off Mass (GLOM) of the launch vehicle and to carry out a mass sensitivity analysis. Based on these findings, the feasibility of the piston pump was explored for a low-cost launch vehicle. To test the concept and to evaluate the manufacturing techniques, two prototypes were built. The first demonstrator (Mark I) was used to evaluate the feasibility of the valves and to optimise performance. To avoid the complexities associated with cryogenic and oxidising liquids, the tests were carried out with water. Further trials were conducted on the Mark II to assess compatibility at cryogenic temperatures. The prototype has successfully demonstrated that selected components have functioned as intended at low temperatures. Through the process of development, it was determined that the piston pump is a very simple system – only a few parts require a high precision of manufacturing, such as the piston bore and piston. The project novelty and achievement are 1) Various modern pressurisation systems were critically evaluated and it was concluded that a piston pump could offer a low-cost alternative to the turbopump. 2) It was demonstrated that a piston pump could be used in a small launch vehicle, but further work is required to extend the validation. 3) Demonstrators were used to show which components and parts could be used with Liquid Oxygen in small launch vehicles.

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