LaserIgnition - Feasibility Study of Flight Weight Laser Ignition Systems for Liquid Propellant Rocket Engines
Laserignition systems are undergoing a dynamic development in the fields of automobile and large combustion engines and have reached the stage of advanced prototypes. Creating an ignition spark in a desired location in space rather than close to the cold walls results in cleaner combustion, higher engine efficiency and lower emissions.
Laserignition is very attractive for rocket engines and has in fact already been applied on test stands for its precise and perfectly reproducible ignition characteristics.
Laserignition could be the key to simpler and more reliable rocket engines. The complex and heavy torch ignition systems would become altogether unnecessary in large booster engines. For smaller rocket engines, laser ignition could enable the use of non-toxic propellants in order to replace the highly toxic and carcinogen hydrazine-based propellants commonly used in launch vehicle upper stages and satellites.
With a heritage of more than ten years in laser ignition development, the Photonics Institute can be counted to the world leaders in this field. In order to capitalize on this strength in the field of spaceflight, the project LaserIgnition assessed whether laser ignition systems for liquid propellant rocket engines would be technically viable in the coming years. The key question is, whether the design of laser ignition systems of compact size, low mass and low power consumption is feasible.
To this end, rocket ignition system requirements have been defined and key laser components identified and analyzed. System concepts based on different ignition methods, such as ablative (LAI) and plasma ignition (LPI) and others, have been determined, compared and evaluated, in order to identify which components and ignition system concepts would be the best candidates.
Two very promising system candidates have been identified and in view of the rapid progress in laser development, in particular laser power density, the result of the study is extremely positive.
For the next step, practical tests are considered indispensable, especially to obtain practical values for the minimum laser pulse energy required for reliable ignition.
Orbspace Engineering - Aron Lentsch
Vienna University of Technology, Photonics Institute - Prof. Ernst Wintner