A team of Army researchers developed a new gel-propellant engine called the vortex engine. Michael Nusca Ph.D., a researcher in Army Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Science Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground, explained the new technology.
"Gelled, hypergolic propellants are swirled with the combustion chamber to promote mixing and combustion," Nusca said. "Traditionally, Army missiles used on the battlefield utilize solid propellant in the rocket engine. These engines require an ignition source and once initiated cannot be throttled without special hardware, both of which add weight to the engine. Liquid hypergolic propellants ignite on contact without an igniter and the engine can be throttled by regulating the propellant flow. In addition, if the propellants are gelled, the storage tanks have been shown to be insensitive to attack, unlike liquids that can explode when the container is punctured."
This new engine was developed with researchers at the Aviation Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, which is one of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's, or AMRDEC, elements located at Redstone Arsenal, AL.
"At AMRDEC, the propellants, injection systems and engines were developed and test fired, while at ARL the physics of propellant injection, combustion and engine operation were modeled using supercomputers," Nusca said. This modeling included both current engine and fuel designs as well as proposals for design alternatives aimed at enhanced performance."
Commenting on the impact this body of work could have on the operational Army, Nusca said, "This technology has the potential for game-changing impacts on the future of small, selectable thrust rocket engines for Army tactical missiles, as the main propulsion system, as well as strategic missiles as a course correction system."