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Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Tech Transfer

Thermo-Catalytic Ignition of Cryogenic Oxygen-Methane

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Thermo-Catalytic Ignition of Cryogenic Oxygen-Methane, Phase I
Liquid oxygen and methane propellants for in space chemical propulsion of future space exploration vehicles is desired for increased performance and elimination of toxicity of conventional hypergolic storable propellants. LOX/LCH4 propulsion systems may reduce space vehicle design complexity and inert mass by utilizing commodities common with other vehicle systems (e.g., oxygen for life-support systems, methane for solid-oxide fuel cell power). Methane can be produced through the Sabatier process from CO2 and water recovered from spacecraft life support systems and, or in-situ resource utilization technologies. SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other companies are developing methane/oxygen engines for launch vehicles. All types of liquid oxygen/liquid methane engines need to be provided with safe and reliable ignition systems. The majority of current ignition systems use heavy spark torch igniters. Spark torch igniter systems require high voltage electronics to generate the spark which may interfere with other spacecraft electronics. Catalytic ignition significantly reduces energy requirements in comparison with other methods. Plasma Processes proposes an investigation of thermo-catalytic ignition of cryogenic methane-oxygen and the development of an ignition system using innovative nanocrystal catalysts on high temperature metal foams. This catalyst was successfully used for ignition of advanced non-toxic AF-M315E monopropellant in a 100lbf class engine. More »

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