Electrodynamic Combustion Control for Rocket Engines

  • Thread starter sanman
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Main Question or Discussion Point

A company called ClearSign says it can use electric fields to shape combustion flames to improve powerplant efficiency by upto 30%:

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/520466/flame-shaping-electric-fields-could-make-power-plants-cleaner/

http://www.treehugger.com/energy-efficiency/electric-fields-could-shape-fires-inside-power-plants-burn-cleaner-more-efficiently.html


What I'd like to know is whether this approach could be used to improve rocket engine efficiency.

For instance, we know that ion propulsion engines provide higher Isp at the cost of lower thrust, which is still quite useful in low-gravity environments where high thrust isn't necessary.
But meanwhile in the Earth's gravity field, where high thrust is a necessity, we're stuck having to depend upon combustion rockets with their lower Isp.

Is it possible that Electrodynamic Combustion Control could allow us to mate ion propulsion and combustion rockets into a hybrid solution?

VASIMR is famous for allowing flexible tradeoff between Isp and thrust, but requires an unwieldy power source like nuclear or very large solar array. Meanwhile, a conventional combustion rocket produces a large amount of waste heat which might potentially be captured and recycled as electrical energy. Perhaps this could then be used to power electric fields used in Electrodynamic Combustion Control.

Clearly, a conventional rocket has a high power combustion reaction which would likely require a very large electrical field to meaningfully influence it. But ClearSign says their approach requires only a tenth of a percent of a powerplant's combustion energy to work - would that similarly be the case for a rocket engine, too?

If Electrodynamic Combustion Control can indeed work in powerplants, then does adapting it for use in a rocket engine represent a scalability problem? Could ECC be effectively used to improve rocket engine efficiency? Could it perhaps also further be used to create a hybrid rocket utilizing both chemical and ion propulsion? Could ECC be used to benefit reusable launch vehicles by reducing hotspots and associated thermal stress on engine parts, thereby increasing their longevity?
 

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