Solar thermal rocket

solar thermal rocket is a theoretical spacecraft propulsion system that would make use of solar power to directly heat reaction , and therefore would not require an electrical generator, like other forms of solar-powered propulsion do. The rocket would only have to carry the means of capturing solar energy, such as concentrators and mirrors . The heated propellant would be fed through a conventional rocket nozzle to produce thrust. Its engine would be directly related to the surface area of ​​the solar collector and to the local intensity of solar radiation.

In the short term, solar thermal propulsion has been proposed both for longer-life, lower-cost and more-flexible cryogenic upper stage launch vehicles and for on-orbit propellant deposits . Solar thermal propulsion is also a good candidate for reusable inter-orbital tugs, not verified in body ] as it is a high-efficiency low-thrust system that can be refueled with relative ease.

Solar-thermal design concepts

There are two solar thermal propulsion concepts, differing primarily in the method by which they use solar power propellant: citation needed ]

  • Indirect solar heating involves the propellant through passages in a heat exchanger that is heated by solar radiation. The windowless heat exchanger cavity concept is a design taking this radiation absorption approach.
  • Direct solar heating involves exposing the propellant directly to solar radiation. The rotating bed concept is one of the preferred concepts for direct solar radiation absorption; it offers higher specific impulse than other direct heating designs by using a retained seed ( tantalum carbide or hafnium carbide ) approach. The propellant flows through the porous walls of a rotating cylinder, which is retained on the walls by the rotation. The carbides are stable at high temperatures and have excellent heat transfer properties.

Due to limitations in the temperature that heat exchanger materials can withstand (approximately 2800 K ), the indirect absorption designs can not achieve specific impulses beyond 900 seconds (9 kN · s / kg = 9 km / s) (or up to 1000 seconds, see below). The direct absorption designs allow higher propelling temperatures and therefore higher specific impulses, approaching 1200 seconds. Even the lower specific impulse Represents a significant Increase over That of conventional chemical rockets , HOWEVER, year Increase That can Provide substantial businesses payload gains (45 percent for a LEO -to- GEO mission) at the expense of Increased trip time (14 days Compared To 10 hours). quote needed ]

Small-scale hardware has been designed and manufactured for the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (AFRPL) for ground test evaluation. [1] Systems with 10 to 100 of SST. [2]


Most proposed designs for solar thermal rockets use hydrogen as their propellant due to its low molecular weight which gives excellent specific impulse of up to 1000 seconds (10 kN · s / kg) using heat exchangers made of rhenium. [3]

Conventional thought has been made that hydrogen-but it gives excellent specific impulse-is not space storable. Design Recent in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in in….. [4] : p. 3,4,7

Other substances could also be used. Water gives quite poor performance of 190 seconds (1.9 kN · s / kg), and is proposed for interplanetary use, by whom? using in-situ resources . quote needed ]

Ammonia has been proposed as propellant. [5] It offers more specific impulse than water, but is easily storable, with a boiling point of -77 degrees Celsius. The result is that of a higher molecular weight, and thus a higher Isp (65% of hydrogen). quote needed ]

A solar-thermal propulsion architecture outperforms architectures involving electrolysis and liquification of hydrogen by a quantity of magnitude, since it requires only a single and compact heat source (either nuclear or solar); so the propellant production rate is correspondingly far higher for any given initial mass of equipment. HOWEVER ict use does Rely on HAVING clear ideas of the rental of water ice in the solar system, PARTICULARLY is lunar and asteroidal bodies, and Such information is Not Known, other than que la bodysuits with the asteroid belt and further Top from the Sun are expected to be rich in water ice. [6] [7]

Solar-thermal for ground launch

Solar thermal rockets have been proposed [8] [ full citation needed ] a system for launching a small personal spacecraft into orbit. The design is based on a high altitude airship which uses its envelope to focus sunlight onto a tube. The propellant, which would likely be ammonia, is then fed through to produce thrust. Possible design flaws include whether the engine could produce sufficient thrust to overcome drag, and whether the skin would not fail at hypersonic velocities. This has many similarities to the orbital airship proposed by JP Aerospace .

Proposed solar-thermal space systems

As of 2010 , two proposals for utilizing solar-thermal propulsion on in-space post-launch spacecraft systems have been made.

A concept to provide low earth orbit (LEO) propelling deposits that could be used as a way-stations for other spacecraft to stop and refuel on the way to beyond-LEO missions has proposed that waste gaseous hydrogen -an inevitable byproduct of long-term liquid hydrogen storage in the radiative heat environment of space -would be usable as a monopropellant in a solar-thermal propulsion system. The waste hydrogen would be productively used for both orbital stationkeeping and attitude control , as well as providing limited propellant and thrust to use for orbital maneuvers to betterrendezvous with other spacecraft That Would Be inbound recevoir fuel from the depot. [9]

Solar-thermal monoprop hydrogen thrusters are also integral to the design of the next-generation cryogenic upper stage rocket proposed by US company United Launch Alliance (ULA). The Advanced Common Evolved Stage(ACES) is intended as a lower-cost, more-capable and more-flexible upper course that would supplement, and possibly replace, the existing ULA Centaur and ULA Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) upper stage vehicles. The ACES Integrated Vehicle Fluids option eliminates all hydrazine monopropellant and all heliumpropulsive from the space vehicle-conventionally used to maintain the position of solar monopyrs. [4] : p. 5

The viability of various trips using Solar Thermal propulsion was investigated by Gordon Woodcock and Dave Byers in 2003. [10]


  1. Jump up^ Solar Thermal Propulsion for Small Spacecraft – Engineering System Development and Evaluation PSI-SR-1228 publisher AIAA July 2005
  2. Jump up^ Webpage DLR Solar Thermal Propulsion of the Institut für Raumfahrtantriebe Abteilung Systemanalyse Raumtransport (SART) date = November 2006
  3. Jump up^ Ultramet. “Advanced Propulsion Concepts – Solar Thermal Propulsion” . Ultramet . Retrieved June 20, 2012 .
  4. ^ Jump up to:b Zegler and Kutter, 2010
  5. Jump up^ PSI. “Solar Thermal Propulsion for Small Spacecraft_Engineering System Development and Evaluation” (PDF) . PSI . Retrieved August 12, 2017 .
  6. Jump up^ Zuppero, Anthony (2005). “Propulsion to Moons of Jupiter Using Heat and Water Without Electrolysis Or Cryogenics” (PDF) . Space Exploration 2005 . SESI Conference Series. 001 . Retrieved June 20, 2012 .
  7. Jump up^ Zuppero, Anthony. “new fuel: Near Earth Object Fuel (Neofuel, using abundant off-earth resources for interplanetary transport)” . Retrieved June 20, 2012 .
  8. Jump up^ NewMars, Solar Thermal Tech for Ground Launch? Archived2012-02-20 at theWayback Machine.
  9. Jump up^ Zegler, Frank; Bernard Kutter (2010-09-02). “Evolving to a Depot-Based Space Transportation Architecture” (PDF) . AIAA SPACE 2010 Conference & Exhibition . AIAA. p. 3 . Retrieved March 31, 2017 . the propellant (as a monopropellant in a basic solar-thermal propulsion system) for this task. A practical depot must evolve hydrogen at a minimum rate that matches the station keeping demands.
  10. Jump up^ Byers, Woodcock (2003). “Results of Evaluation of Solar Thermal Propulsion, AIAA 2003-5029”. AIAA.

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