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Successful Test of ORBITEC's New Vortex Hybrid Rocket Motor
December 2009

Moving Toward Reliable, Safe, Low-Cost Access to Space
Madison, Wisconsin. Dr. Eric E. Rice, CEO of Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITECTM) has announced that a 10,000 lbf thrust class vortex hybrid rocket motor was successfully static tested on October 27th, representing a key step in the development of this type of hybrid motor for space and military use.

Vortex Hybrid Rocket Motor Test

The testing was performed at ORBITEC’s Rocket Test Facility in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The 15-inch diameter motor utilizes HTBP solid fuel with additives and liquid oxygen. Oxygen is injected in a swirling fashion from the aft end to generate a bi-directional vortex flow field in the single fuel port, driving fuel regression rates that are both very fast and axially uniform. The high regression rates allow for a single-port, cartridge-loaded fuel grain approach. The test program aims to demonstrate the functionality of the bi-directional vortex hybrid design, stable and efficient combustion, high reliability, the potential for low cost, and reusability.

Additional testing is planned for the near future and will include both HTPB-based and alternative fuels. "We were very pleased with the test results," said Dr. Martin Chiaverini, principal investigator on the project. "The motor performed beyond our expectations. I think this bodes well for our plans for a hybrid rocket flight program in the future."

This successful test represented the largest test to date of a vortex hybrid rocket motor, and also served to demonstrate successful scaling of the vortex hybrid configuration. “We designed and implemented a new type of pre-burner specifically for use with our vortex hybrid,“ said lead designer Chris St.Clair. Using liquid oxygen and a little bit of fuel, it generates warm oxygen gas for injection into the main chamber to enhance combustion and allow the motor to be more efficient.”

"They told us it couldn't be done, but we did it!" According to development engineer, Martin Lichtman, “hybrid rockets are prime contenders for future low-cost launch vehicles. Hybrid rockets are cheap and safe. They have the potential to provide low-cost, reliable and safe launch capabilities for small to medium satellites, space adventure (tourism) vehicles, and various military systems”.