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Feasibility and Performance of the Microwave Thermal Rocket Launcher

Parkin, Kevin L. G. and Culick, Fred E. C. (2004) Feasibility and Performance of the Microwave Thermal Rocket Launcher. In: Beamed energy propulsion : Second International Symposium on Beamed Energy Propulsion : Sendai, Japan, 20-23 October 2003. American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings. No.702. American Institute of Physics , Melville, NY, pp. 407-417. ISBN 0-7354-0175-6.

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Beamed-energy launch concepts employing a microwave thermal thruster are feasible in principle, and microwave sources of sufficient power to launch tons into LEO already exist. Microwave thermal thrusters operate on an analogous principle to nuclear thermal thrusters, which have experimentally demonstrated specific impulses exceeding 850 seconds. Assuming such performance, simple application of the rocket equation suggests that payload fractions of 10% are possible for a single stage to orbit (SSTO) microwave thermal rocket. We present an SSTO concept employing a scaled X-33 aeroshell. The flat aeroshell underside is covered by a thin-layer microwave absorbent heat-exchanger that forms part of the thruster. During ascent, the heat-exchanger faces the microwave beam. A simple ascent trajectory analysis incorporating X-33 aerodynamic data predicts a 10% payload fraction for a 1 ton craft of this type. In contrast, the Saturn V had 3 non-reusable stages and achieved a payload fraction of 4%.

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Additional Information:©2004 American Institute of Physics The author is grateful to Prof. Albert Ratner for numerous helpful discussions and to the Caltech President’s Fund for supporting this work under grant PF-495 / NASA contract NAS7-1407.
Subject Keywords:space vehicles; propulsion; masers; plasma production; atmospheric electromagnetic wave propagation; force measurement; hydrogen
Series Name:American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings
Issue or Number:702
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:PARaipcp04a
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:3303
Deposited By: Archive Administrator
Deposited On:26 May 2006
Last Modified:08 Nov 2021 19:55

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