The most iconic part of a space mission is arguably its launch. The fiery spectacle of a rocket blasting off is a sight most humans recognise. While the intense heat gives us an exciting show, it also creates a major technical challenge.
The flames that erupt under a rocket engine are the result of gases ejecting from the combustion chamber at high temperatures. The exhaust plume from the RS-25 engines on NASA’s Artemis-era Space Launch System can exceed 3000°C.
Rocket engineers have the important job of managing the risks these extreme temperatures pose to the launch vehicle’s structure, components, payload and occupants.
One way to keep the temperature under control is with a cooling system inside the engine. Geelong-based Conflux Technology, a leading supplier of heat exchangers for multiple industries on Earth, is now bringing its expertise to the space industry.
Heat exchangers are devices that take heat out of one fluid (either a liquid or a gas) and transfer it into another. They’re found just about anywhere something mechanical needs cooling or heating – whether that’s a bar fridge or a jet aeroplane.
While the technology itself is conventional, Conflux’s approach to making it is the opposite. The company uses additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) to design and build heat exchangers in unique shapes and sizes.
This approach unlocks almost limitless options to customise a solution that fits a specific environment. This puts Conflux in an ideal position to tackle the extreme thermal challenges presented by rocket engines and other space systems.
Conflux founder and CEO Michael Fuller said, ‘Space applications see large changes in relative temperatures, densities, and viscosities of the working fluids throughout the heat exchangers.
‘With additive manufacturing, we’re able to adapt our 3D surface geometry designs throughout our heat exchangers to optimise for the changing thermal-physical properties of the fluids.’
Using this approach, Conflux is creating a heat exchanger designed to sit inside the gas duct of a rocket engine. Conflux is designing the heat exchanger with support from the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Initiative.