An improved material system has been developed for rocket engine combustion chambers for burning oxygen/hydrogen mixtures or novel monopropellants, which are highly oxidizing at operating temperatures. The baseline for developing the improved material system is a prior iridium/rhenium system for chambers burning nitrogen tetroxide/monomethyl hydrazine mixtures, which are less oxidizing. The baseline combustion chamber comprises an outer layer of rhenium that provides structural support, plus an inner layer of iridium that acts as a barrier to oxidation of the rhenium. In the improved material system, the layer of iridium is thin and is coated with a thermal fatigue-resistant refractory oxide (specifically, hafnium oxide) that serves partly as a thermal barrier to decrease the temperature and thus the rate of oxidation of the rhenium. The oxide layer also acts as a barrier against the transport of oxidizing species to the surface of the iridium. Tests in which various oxygen/hydrogen mixtures were burned in iridium/rhenium combustion chambers lined with hafnium oxide showed that the operational lifetimes of combustion chambers of the improved material system are an order of magnitude greater than those of the baseline combustion chambers.
This work was done by Arthur J. Fortini and Robert H. Tuffias of Ultramet for Johnson Space Center. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Materials category. MSC-23214.