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An Open Access article: A compact reaction mechanism of methane oxidation at high pressures

Posted on 27. April, 2018.

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In the past decade, there has been increasing interest in fuel propellants for in-space and launcher rocket propulsion that reduce the operational cost of launching and improve rocket operating efficiency and performance. Hydrogen provides the best performance in terms of specific impulse at a high cost for the rocket engine while kerosene provides a cost optimised option for the launch vehicle. 

Methane has intermediate properties between hydrogen and kerosene. In order to obtain good performance at moderate cost, methane has since stood out as a promising option for reusable boosters, main stage and upper stage rocket engines. The use of methane instead of kerosene solves the problems of soot formation and coking in cooling channels. In addition, methane has cheaper costs in production and storage, and better cooling properties compatible with liquid oxygen due to similar thermodynamic properties. Methane is also a green propellant with low pollution to the environment and is safe to handle and store. The rocket fuel tank size can be reduced due to the high density of methane as compared to hydrogen and a less complicated cooling system can be designed, thus providing more payload mass in return. Therefore, methane is an excellent choice for upper stage and main stage engines. With the increasing interest for Mars return missions, the motivation to use methane becomes prevalent. Studies have suggested that methane is abundant in the Martian atmosphere and possibly under the surface crust. This implies that methane could be synthesised on Mars to be used for the return mission from Mars as rocket fuel and this, in the future, could enable a manned mission to Mars. For the present work, the rocket operating conditions of both upper stage and main stage rocket engines have been considered.

Read the full article in Progress in Reaction Kinetics and Mechanism, Volume 43, Number 1, 2018, pp. 62-78(17).


Authors: Victor P. Zhukov* and Alan F. Kong
Institute of Space Propulsion, German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Langer Grund, 74239 Hardthausen, Germany

Keywords: methane, chemical kinetics, reduced mechanism, high pressure, liquid rocket engine, oxidation of alkanes, free radical, oxygen, flame

Image: Simulated temperature profiles in counterflow methane–oxygen flame at 60 atm.