A paper suggests the development of a hybrid rocket engine and associated equipment for returning a sample of material from Mars at relatively low cost. In a hybrid rocket engine, a solid fuel is burned by use of a liquid or gaseous oxidizer, the flow of which can be throttled to control the engine. Unlike conventional solid rocket propellants, a solid rocket fuel can be made relatively inert in the absence of the oxidizer and therefore presents little hazard of explosion or inadvertent ignition. Unlike conventional (and relatively expensive) liquid rocket propellants, a solid rocket fuel is not corrosive or susceptible to leakage. The solid fuel in the proposed system would be in granular form, packed into the rocket motor. Oxygen or another suitable oxidizer could be transported from Earth together with this solid fuel. Alternatively, oxygen could be generated from CO2 in the Martian atmosphere by use of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) equipment. Inasmuch as ISRU is not yet a mature technological discipline, some research on ISRU would be necessary to estimate the reduction in cost achieved by not having to carry the oxidizer to Mars.

This work was done by Kumar Ramohalli of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. To obtain a copy of the paper, "Hybrids for Low-Cost Sample Return Missions," access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com under the Machinery/Automation category, or circle no. 141 on the TSP Order Card in this issue to receive a copy by mail ($5 charge). NPO-20195