Catalyzed Combustion of Hydrogen-Oxygen in Platinum Tubes for Micro-Propulsion Applications

Authors: G. A. Boyarko, C. J. Sung, and S. J. Schneider

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The present investigation addresses the need to understand the physics and chemistry involved in propellant combustion processes in micro-scale combustors for propulsion systems on micro-spacecraft. These spacecraft are planned to have a mass less than 50 kg with attitude control estimated to be in the 1–10 mN thrust class. Micropropulsion devices behave differently than macro-scale devices because of the differences in magnitude of flow rates and heat transfer. Reducing the combustor size increases the relative surface area, increasing the heat loss, and as combustors are continuously reduced in size, they approach the quenching dimensions of the propellants. Combustors of this size are expected to significantly benefit from surface catalysis processes. A miniature flame tube apparatus is chosen for this study because microtubes can be easily fabricated from known catalyst materials, and their simplicity in geometry can be used in fundamental simulations for validation purposes. Experimentally, we investigated the role of catalytically active surfaces within 0.4 and 0.8 mm internal diameter microtubes, with special emphases on ignition processes in fuel rich gaseous hydrogen and gaseous oxygen. Calculations of flame thickness and reaction zone thickness predict that the diameters of our test apparatus are below the quenching diameter of the propellants in most atmospheric test conditions. The temperature and pressure rise in resistively heated platinum microtubes and the exit hydrogen concentration were used as an indication of exothermic reactions. Data on imposed heat flux/preheat temperature required to achieve ignition versus mass flow rate are presented. With a plug flow model, the experimental conditions were simulated with detailed gas-phase chemistry and surface kinetics. Computational results, in general, support the experimental findings.

Citation: G. A. Boyarko, C. J. Sung, and S. J. Schneider, “Catalyzed Combustion of Hydrogen-Oxygen in Platinum Tubes for Micro-Propulsion Applications,” Proceedings of the Combustion Institute 30, 2481-2488 (2005).