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Solid Rocket Motors

Solid rocket stages are termed as MOTORS. Both fuel and oxidizer and
together mixed to form a single mixture and is casted inside a thruster
chamber known as motor casing. It can also be molded outside as cartridges
and then loaded in to the casing and is called as cartridge loading. A solid
motor does not require any turbo pumps or propellant feeding systems.
Since everything needed for the sustained combustion are already available
inside the thrust chamber, a solid motor cannot controlled once it is ignited.
Thrust profile is indirectly controlled by shaping the burning surface of
propellant grain to ensure that it burns in a predictable fashion. Solid motors
are good for long term storage and are easy to maintain since there are no
moving elements. The nozzle of the motors will be shaped in such a way
that, the chamber [pressure is maintained at a required value while
producing the desired thrust from the burning gases.
Required Characteristics of a solid motor
1) Should have high chemical energy to produce high combustion
temperatures, thrust and specific impulse.
2) Should have high density to accommodate maximum energy in small
volumes.
3) Combustion products should have low molecular weight to obtain high
exhaust velocity.
4) There should not be much thermal expansion with rise in temperature.
5) It should have good mechanical strength and elastic properties
6) It should be resistant to crack propagation
7) High bond and peel strength
8) It should not ignite easily under accidental shock or high temperature
9) It should not undergo any degradation with atmospheric conditions
such as humidity, cold, heat etc
10)
Should be easy and inexpensive to manufacture
11)
It should be insensitive in performance with fabrication impurities
12)
It should be easy to ignite
13)
It should have low thermal conductivity
14)
It should give smoke free and non toxic exhaust gas
15)
It should burn at a steady and predictable rate.
Typical grain shapes
In solid motors, once the ignition is started, all the exposed surfaces
will undergo combustion and the resulting products of combustion will flow
out of the nozzle as exhaust gases. Hence the thrust profile required a
mission can be obtained by deliberately shaping the solid grains. Some
examples are given in the sketch.

Tubular design is a progressive burn design in which the thrust increases with
burn time because the surface area increases.
Star and rod and tube grain cross sections are employed to produce a
constant thrust known as neutral burning. Here burning surface area remains
same during the action time of motor.
Double anchor shaped grain, gives aggressive burning in which the burning
surface area and the thrust decreases with time
Most of the solid rockets consist of only one grain, but some are provided
with dual grain design. Both the grains will be normally two different
propellants and will have two different burning rates. This is mainly
employed in missiles to obtain high accelerations at lift off and during
impact. In the intermediate cruising stage it should fly with a constant
velocity.

Classification of Solid propellants


Solid propellants are widely classified in to three groups
1) Homogenous propellants (Colloidal propellants)
2) Heterogeneous propellants (Composite propellants)
3) Composite modified double base propellants
In homogeneous propellants both fuel and oxidize elements are
contained within the same molecule. Nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose
are examples of homogeneous propellants. Sine both fuel and oxidizer
are combined together these are very unstable and are capable of
combustion in the absence all other controlling materials. Hence it can
result in manufacturing hazards. These can be again divided as single
based, double based and triple based depending on the number of
compounds presented. Double based propellants are generally
smokeless and non toxic.
In hetero generous propellants, separate oxidizer particles are
imbedded in to a polymeric binder. Generally this polymeric binder will
act as a combustible fuel also. In those cases the binder is called as
fuel binder. Separate fuel particles and other chemical additives are
also added to the binder to enhance the performance of the grain.
These propellants are more stable and have a better performance and
burn rate control than a double based propellant. However, the dis
advantage is that the addition of light metals such as aluminium
powder and other chemicals will create a toxic and smoky exhaust.
These are more expensive to produce also.
CMDB propellants are heterogeneous mixtures of colloidal double
based propellants and composite propellant compounds. These
propellants combine the benefit of other two propellants. These have
more combustion stability and performance compared to colloidal type
and lesser toxic and smoke compared to composite type.
Manufacturing cost is also lesser than the pure composite type.
Oxidizers

Stoichiometric mixture
A Stoichiometric mixture is one in which the proportions of fuel and oxidizer
are such that there will be complete combustion. In Stoichiometric
combustion, none of the propellant is wasted. A homogeneous propellant like
NC or NG can be said as oxygen balanced only if it contains sufficient oxygen
for converting all
1)
2)
3)
4)

Carbon to carbon dioxide


Hydrogen to water
Sulfur to sulfur dioxide
N2 to mono atomic N

If the propellant compound contains insufficient oxygen, then it is


called as under oxidized and if it contains too much of oxygen it is
called over oxidized.
Combustion of solid propellants
Rocket combustion generally is a very efficient combustion process as
it involves complete combustion of fuel due to the very high temperatures
involved. The complete combustion mechanism of the solid propellants is
very complex and not yet understood. So the development field more
emphasis is given for studying controlling the combustion and preventing
any instabilities.
However, there are few simple laws on finding out the burning rates. It
is observed that during the combustion the burning surface regrets in normal
direction of the surface. This is known as Pioberts law of burning by parallel
layers. The burning rate of a propellant significantly varies with chamber
pressure. This dependence of burning rate to chamber pressure is given by
Vielles law.

Here rb is burning rate in mm/s and Pc is chamber pressure in bar. K is a


constant which varies from 0.1 to 0.5. The equation is very sensitive to the
index n. design has to be made in such a way that the value of n is within 0
to 1 for ensuring a stable combustion. N can have a negative value over a
small pressure rage called mesa burning. As n approaches or exceeds 1,
any slight disturbance in pressure caused by a crack or fissure in the
propellant grain structure can create a sudden rise in chamber pressure
resulting in detonation, explosion or motor case failure. On the other hand if
n is very low approaching 0, the burning process will become unstable and
ultimately it can lead to combustion extinction.

Another relation connects the chamber pressure and mass flow rate of
generated combustion gases.
Mass flow rate of combustion gas = density x burning surface area x burning
rate

m.b Ab rb Ab kPc n
From the conservation of mass, the above mass burn rate is equal to mass flow rate
through the nozzle.

Ab kPc n
=

From this equation it is seen that the chamber pressure is primarily


dependent on the throat area to burning surface area ratio and the
propellant type due to the constants c1 and n. From vielles law, it is
understood that the burning rate not only depends on the pressure but also
on the initial temperature of the propellant. The effect of initial temperature
on the decomposition and burn rate can be quantified by burning rate
temperature sensitivity. This relation defines the variation of burning rate
with temperature change at constant chamber pressure.

The unit of sensitivity is given in such a way that it gives the percentage
change of burning rate when the propellant temperature is changed by 1
degree. If the change in temperature is small, the burning rate can be
obtained by another formula

Here, rb0 is the reference burning rate and r b the change in burn rate for a
change in temperature of T

Not only has the burn rate, Chamber pressure also changed as the initial
temperature changes. Hence another sensitivity equation known as pressure
temperature sensitivity defines the effect of an initial temperature at a fixed
Ab /A*.

Igniters and Ignition systems


Ignition of solid propellant grains is achieved by an igniter mounted
internally or externally to the motor casing. The sequence of ignition is as
follows
1)
2)
3)
4)
5)

Igniter receives an ignition signal


Igniter combusts
Igniter produces hot gas flow in to the main thrust chamber
Heat is transferred from the hot gas to the grain
The grain surface ignite and this spreads until all the exposed grain
surfaces starts burning
6) An equilibrium operating pressure and flow rate is achieved in the
thrust chamber.
Igniters are mainly classified in to two groups namely Pyrotechnics and
pyrogen. Initiation of both of these igniters is carried out by squibs. When
squib receives an ignition signal, it releases a sensitive pyrotechnic. There
are two kinds of pyrotechnic igniters unconfined igniters and totally confined
igniters. Un confined igniters are simple and low weighed as it does not
require a nozzle closure to obtain the confinement. However these are
difficult and dangerous to support and maintain. Film igniter and jelly roll
igniters are examples.
Totally confined igniters are also called as rupture or burst igniters. In
these igniters the ignition material is completely contained. When a signal is
received, the squib fires and ignites the ignition material pellet of the igniter.
The ignition material will burn quickly over a large surface area. This reaction
causes the pressure inside the chamber to increase which eventually
ruptures it and spreads the burning material in to the motor and ignites the
grain.