3D Printing of Hybrid Rocket Fuel

Background

Rockets generally consist of a fuel cell, nozzle or thrust vector array, guidance system/crew quarters and payload capacity. Rocket motors are the thrust generators used to lift payloads into outer space. Rocket motors require both a fuel source and an oxidiser to ensure continued combustion in the vacuum of space. Traditionally, rocket motors have used a liquid fuel (similar to kerosene) and a liquid oxidiser (liquid oxygen – LOX), or a combination of both fuel and oxidiser in solid form, cast into the desired shape. However, recent advances in additive manufacturing have reinvigorated interest in the ‘hybrid’ rocket motor, which utilises gaseous oxygen being fed through the longitudinal combustion chamber of a solid fuel cell. Using 3D printing techniques, it is possible to create far more complex combustion chamber shapes, in relation to both cross-sectional shape and area as well as ‘twisting’ the pattern through the length of the fuel to further increase the combustion chamber surface area.

James Cook University are developing new filaments with innovative compositions aimed at enhancing performance of 3D printing fuel grains. Chemical composition is a fundamental characteristic of fuel grains, however geometry is also a critical variable. 3D printing is the selected manufacturing process as it allows production of very complex shapes. Rocket science is a combination of chemical and physical characteristics of fuel grains.

Figure 1. 3D printed rocket fuel in action.

Our research at JCU is focused in studying both variables, geometry and chemical composition, and its impact on impulse, thrust and overall performance. While our research is mainly at laboratory scale, we are also looking at the scale-up of hybrid rockets.

Publication:

McFarland, M., & Antunes, E. (2019). Small-Scale Static Fire Tests of 3D Printing Hybrid Rocket Fuel Grains Produced from Different Materials. Aerospace, 6(7), 81.

  • Safer to manufacturing than conventional rockets
  • Fuel can be manufactured anywhere, anytime with a 3D printer
  • Low volatility and less risk of explosion
  • Light weight
  • Safe to handle and store

3D printing fuel grains for:

  • space exploration
  • Defence industry

The University would like to understand the industry requirements and tailor our research to satisfy the local and national industry needs. JCU has a small static fire test rig and 3D printers to fabricate small fuel grains for rockets. In addition, we have the facilities to fabricate our innovative 3D printing filament. We are working towards investing in a large static test fire rig and bigger 3D printer in the near future. Time and size of new test station is flexible to the needs of industry partners.

Seeking:

  • Development partner
  • Commercial partner
  • No patent
  • Know-how based
  • Copyright

Contact details

Photo of Tony Tucker

Tony Tucker

Business Development Manager

tony.tucker@jcu.edu.au