Engineering doctoral student performs explosive research into rocket fuel

Past space rocket launches have been plagued by fiery explosions that happen as a result of combustion failure.

To avoid disasters, the fuel has to be delivered to a rocket engine in a controlled manner, especially when the rocket moves away from Earth’s gravity, said engineering doctoral student Amin Zarandi (center in the photo above, flanked by Krishna Pillai, professor of mechanical engineering, and Dawid Zimnik, visiting doctoral student).

Rocket fuel tanks are designed for this by including channels filled with porous material, which provide a path for fuel to flow from the fuel tank to the combustion chamber through a process called wicking. Think of it as a liquid moving through facial tissue or a diaper as it is absorbed.

It’s the way that the wicking unfolds that’s really important, said Zarandi, who works in the lab of Krishna Pillai. In one of the two wicking patterns that Zarandi has identified, the porous material is partially saturated and, in the other, the material is fully saturated. Only the latter will result in steady delivery of fuel under any conditions.

Zarandi said the microstructure of the wicking material affects the fuel’s resulting pattern of saturation. His research could enable engineers to “tune” the porous material to improve the fuel-burning process, achieving stable combustion and leading to safer space travel.

Originally appeared June 28, 2019 in UWM Report: UWM Research Aims to Contribute to the Next 50 Years of Space Exploration (third item).