Chapter 12: Materials for Liquid Propulsion SystemsEarth to orbit launch vehicles are propelled by rocket engines and motors, both liquid and solid. This chapter will discuss liquid engines. The heart of a launch vehicle is its engine. The remainder of the vehicle (with the notable exceptions of the payload and guidance system) is an aero structure to support the propellant tanks which provide the fuel and oxidizer to feed the engine or engines. The basic principle behind a rocket engine is straightforward. The engine is a means to convert potential thermochemical energy of one or more propellants into exhaust jet kinetic energy. Fuel and oxidizer are burned in a combustion chamber where they create hot gases under high pressure. These hot gases are allowed to expand through a nozzle. The molecules of hot gas are first constricted by the throat of the nozzle (de-Laval nozzle) which forces them to accelerate; then as the nozzle flares outwards, they expand and further accelerate. It is the mass of the combustion gases times their velocity, reacting against the walls of the combustion chamber and nozzle, which produce thrust according to Newton's third law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Solid rocket motors are cheaper to manufacture and offer good values for their cost. Liquid propellant engines offer higher performance, that is, they deliver greater thrust per unit weight of propellant burned. They also have a considerably higher thrust to weigh ratio. Since liquid rocket engines can be tested several times before flight, they have the capability to be more reliable, and their ability to shut down once started provides an extra margin of safety. Liquid propellant engines also can be designed with restart capability to provide orbital maneuvering capability. In some instances, liquid engines also can be designed to be reusable. On the solid side, hybrid solid motors also have been developed with the capability to stop and restart. Solid motors are covered in detail in chapter 11. Liquid rocket engine operational factors can be described in terms of extremes: temperatures ranging from that of liquid hydrogen (-423 F) to 6000 F hot gases; enormous thermal shock (7000 F/sec); large temperature differentials between contiguous components; reactive propellants; extreme acoustic environments; high rotational speeds for turbo machinery and extreme power densities. These factors place great demands on materials selection and each must be dealt with while maintaining an engine of the lightest possible weight. This chapter will describe the design considerations for the materials used in the various components of liquid rocket engines and provide examples of usage and experiences in each.