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Propellant-Flow-Actuated Rocket Engine Igniter

A pneumatically driven hammer initiates ignition.

A rocket engine igniter has been created that uses a pneumatically driven hammer that, by specialized geometry, is induced into an oscillatory state that can be used to either repeatedly impact a piezoelectric crystal with sufficient force to generate a spark capable of initiating combustion, or can be used with any other system capable of generating a spark from direct oscillatory motion.

This innovation uses the energy of flowing gaseous propellant, which by means of pressure differentials and kinetic motion, causes a hammer object to oscillate. The concept works by mass flows being induced through orifices on both sides of a cylindrical tube with one or more vent paths. As the mass flow enters the chamber, the pressure differential is caused because the hammer object is supplied with flow on one side and the other side is opened with access to the vent path. The object then crosses the vent opening and begins to slow because the pressure differential across the ball reverses due to the geometry in the tube.

Eventually, the object stops because of the increasing pressure differential on the object until all of the kinetic energy has been transferred to the gas via compression. This is the point where the object reverses direction because of the pressure differential. This behavior excites a piezoelectric crystal via direct impact from the hammer object. The hammer strikes a piezoelectric crystal, then reverses direction, and the resultant high voltage created from the crystal is transferred via an electrode to a spark gap in the ignition zone, thereby providing a spark to ignite the engine. Magnets, or other retention methods, might be employed to favorably position the hammer object prior to start, but are not necessary to maintain the oscillatory behavior. Various manifestations of the igniter have been developed and tested to improve device efficiency, and some improved designs are capable of operation at gas flow rates of a fraction of a gram per second (0.001 lb/s) and pressure drops on the order of 30 to 50 kilopascal (a few psi).

An analytical model has been created and tested in conjunction with a precisely calibrated reference model. The analytical model accurately captures the overall behavior of this innovation. The model is a simple “volume-orifice” concept, with each chamber considered a single temperature and pressure “node” connected to adjacent nodes, or to vent paths through flow control orifices. Mass and energy balances are applied to each node, with gas flow predicted using simple compressible flow equations.

This work was done by Mark Wollen of Innovative Engineering Solutions, Inc. for Johnson Space Center.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

   Innovative Engineering Solutions, Inc
   26200 Adams Avenue
   Murrieta, CA 92562-7060

MSC-25078-1

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