NASA 1998 SBIR Phase I


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 98-1 04.03-0890B

PROJECT TITLE: Mars In-Situ Based Rocket Propulsion Using Methanol

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (LIMIT 200 WORDS)

Methanol (CH3OH) can be produced from the Marian atmosphere with little difficulty. This fact makes methanol an attractive propulsion fuel option for Mars exploration missions. Using methanol as a rocket propulsion fuel also addresses key issues in current state-of-the-art hydrocarbon cooled rocket engines, such as coking, environmental compatibility and ground processing operations, from exhaust product and safety standpoints, respectively. Coking is a major problem that limits the op-eration and performance of such systems. Methanol can be decomposed endothermically, in the presence of a catalyst, into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, absorbing a great deal of enthalpy in the process. It can also absorb more enthalpy for a given temperature change than hydrogen, making it a superior coolant. A methanol fuel rocket system can use the test and operational infrastructure that are currently in place to support current hydrocarbon fueled engine systems. Additionally, it is likely that no exotic, advanced technologies will be required to develop low-cost, modest perform-ance methanol fuel rocket engine systems. Use of this low-cost propulsion system technology should provide significant improvement in life cycle cost, reliability, and safety of future space sys-tems, as well as make both manned and unmanned Mars exploration missions, attractive, realistic cost options.

POTENTIAL COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

There are three major commerical applications that can be identified for a methanol engine. The low freezing point of methanol makes it a promising candidate for a space storable upper stage. Such a stage would be capable not only of restarting, like the Centaur upper stage, but also of operating for extended periods of time in interplanetary space, which the Centaur cannot. Methanol's perform-ance and density make it superior in system performance when compared with other upper stage fuels as well, such as solid propellants and hydrazine. Replacement of the Shuttle's Orbital Maneu-vering System (OMS), as well as booster and maneuvering engines for expendable and future reusable launch systems, are other potential applications. Improved cooling for annular aerospike engines is also a possibility. Finally, there is a concept for a unique type of space transportation ve-hicle called a propellant transfer spaceplane, which gets one propellant from the ground and transfers the other from a subsonic tanker. For nearly every propellant combination of interest, the mixture ratio favors the oxidizer, requiring the development of aerial oxidizer transfer technology and the use of a dedicated tanker aircraft. If a liquid oxygen/methanol engine is used, it may be operated at a mixture ratio of 1:1 with the loss of only a few seconds of performance. This offers the prospect of being able to transfer the fuel instead of the oxidizer, removing the need for a dedicated aircraft and requiring no new technology development.

NAME AND ADDRESS OF PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Dennis G. Pelaccio
Pioneer Astronautics
445 Union Blvd., Suite 125
Lakewood , CO 80228

NAME AND ADDRESS OF OFFEROR

Pioneer Astronautics
445 Union Blvd., Suite 125
Lakewood , CO 80228