Methane-Powered Rocket Propulsion Key to Future Launch Technology?
According to newspaper reports, under a special R and D project on propulsion engines, Russia plans to develop a oxyhydrogen-powered rocket engine -- another term for methane-powered rocket propulsion.
And to fund the development, Roscosmos is reported to be ready to commit 25 billion rubles ($326 million.
The entire sum, however, is not slated for just a methane-powered rocket engine.
The project also includes developing prototypes of new-generation liquid-fueled rocket engines equipped with diagnostics and protection systems as well as structural components made from composite materials.
According to an unnamed source for the Russian newspaper Izvestia:
We plan to build a methane-powered engine prototype even though a rocket-carrier equipped with it is not in development so far. It would be a stepping stone for our future projects, and it would help us compete with foreign rivals. Currently, the plan is developing a medium-thrust engine for the second stage of a future rocket.
The initial plan was to install a methane-powered engine on the new Feniks rocket. But with budget adjustements, that idea was abandoned in favor of restoring the Zenit project, equipped with a modernized RD-171 engine.
As a whole, the project is an important part of Russia's efforts to create a low-cost, easy-to-maintain returnable rocket. The new booster could cut costs of space transportation thanks to its reliance on new engines powered by environmentally safe and widely available propellant made of cryogenically cooled natural gas (or methane) instead of traditional kerosene fuel.
Russia has been researching methane-powered rocket propulsion for over 25 years as a replacement to kerosene, a common rocket fuel used in the first stage of a stack.
Led by Chemical Automatics Design Bureau, based in the city of Voronezh, methane-powered rocket propulsion could produce a higher specific impulse than kerosene while at the same time costing up to 30 times less than kerosene, by some estimates.
And, according to Izvestia, the development of a methane-powered propulsion system would not require any new major infrastructure or newly qualified personnel.
Source: Sputnik News