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Garbage-In Garbage-Out (GIGO): The Use and Abuse of Combustion Modeling and Recent U.S. Spacelaunch Environmental Impacts
  • PattiMichelle Sheaffer
PattiMichelle Sheaffer
Aerospace Corp (ret.), Aerospace Corp (ret.)

Corresponding Author:pattimichelle000@gmail.com

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Although adequately detailed kerosene chemical-combustion Arrhenius reaction-rate suites were not readily available for combustion modeling until ca. the 1990’s (e.g., Marinov [1998]), it was already known from mass-spectrometer measurements during the early Apollo era that fuel-rich liquid oxygen + kerosene (RP-1) gas generators yield large quantities (e.g., several percent of total fuel flows) of complex hydrocarbons such as benzene, butadiene, toluene, anthracene, fluoranthene, etc. (Thompson [1966]), which are formed concomitantly with soot (Pugmire [2001]). By the 1960’s, virtually every fuel-oxidizer combination for liquid-fueled rocket engines had been tested, and the impact of gas phase combustion-efficiency governing the rocket-nozzle efficiency factor had been empirically well-determined (Clark [1972]). Up until relatively recently, spacelaunch and orbital-transfer engines were increasingly designed for high efficiency, to maximize orbital parameters while minimizing fuels and structural masses: Preburners and high-energy atomization have been used to pre-gasify fuels to increase (gas-phase) combustion efficiency, decreasing the yield of complex/aromatic hydrocarbons (which limit rocket-nozzle efficiency and overall engine efficiency) in hydrocarbon-fueled engine exhausts, thereby maximizing system launch and orbital-maneuver capability (Clark; Sutton; Sutton/Yang). The combustion community has been aware that the choice of Arrhenius reaction-rate suite is critical to computer engine-model outputs. Specific combustion suites are required to estimate the yield of high-molecular-weight/reactive/toxic hydrocarbons in the rocket engine combustion chamber, nonetheless such GIGO errors can be seen in recent documents. Low-efficiency launch vehicles also need larger fuels loads to achieve the same launched mass, further increasing the yield of complex hydrocarbons and radicals deposited by low-efficiency rocket engines along launch trajectories and into the stratospheric ozone layer, the mesosphere, and above. With increasing launch rates from low-efficiency systems, these persistent (Ross/Sheaffer [2014]; Sheaffer [2016]), reactive chemical species must have a growing impact on critical, poorly-understood upper-atmosphere chemistry systems.