The recent emphasis on reusable launch vehicles (RLV) most visibly by SpaceX and soon by Vulcan Aerospace is part of a much bigger trend in the aerospace industry to lower payload costs from $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound. Rockwell International first developed the X33 Aerospike in the 1970s and revived the project in the 1990s to try to improve the efficiency of engines.
At stake today are huge multibillion-dollar contracts that will go to companies that provide low cost and robust launch systems, not to mention the knowledge that will be developed that will help humans, eventually, colonize nearby planets.
How the Aerospike Engine Changes Launches
Most rockets to date have had conventional bell-shaped rocket nozzles and their expanding exhaust gases produce forward thrust. However, as the altitude of a rocket increases, pressures change and so does the shape of the rocket engine, reducing the quality of flight.
Over time, new rocket designs, including the X-33 Aerospike (see graphic below), have resulted in changes to the flow of gases out of the rocket engine as well as the placement of the thrusters. This has led to changes in the shape of the exhaust plume which expands against the atmosphere during flight, leading to better efficiency at all altitudes and ambient pressures, according to Rockwell.
X-33 Aerospike Specifications
- Length: 69 ft
- Width: 77 ft
- Takeoff weight: 285,000 lbs
- Fuel: LH2/LO2
- Fuel weight: 210,000 lbs
- Main Propulsion: 2 J-2S Linear Aerospikes
- Take-off thrust: 410,000 lbs
- Maximum speed: Mach 13+
The following image shows an Aerospike engine:
The following is a video of the X-33 Aerospike engine test:
The following are keywords and concepts related to atomic rockets from stories already published by IndustryTap or that will be covered in future industry articles:
- Linear Aerospike Engine
- Hybrid Aerospike Engine
- Aerospike Engine,
- Toroidal Aerospike Engine,
- XRS 2200 Linear Aerospike Engine,
- Method of Characteristics Nozzle Design,
- Nozzle Design and Application