Pulse Detonation Engine : The Future Of Space Programs


Pulse Detonation Engine

Did you read the sci-fi novel Aelita in which two Russian travels to Mars utilizing a rocket that was based on Pulse Detonation concept or the 1939 soviet novel “The mystery of two oceans” written by Grigory Adamov that was centered around a submarine, was also based on Pulse Detonation concept. Beside these two famous novels there are also cultures that are based on the concept of the Pulse Detonation. Some of these cultures are X-COM – UFO Defense, drama television series JAG – The one that got away – episode in season 9, movie “Stealth” and the novel Deception Point. And also in 2008, JAXA – Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, successfully tested a Pulse Detonation principle based rocket engine in space.


What is Pulse Detonation Engine (PDE)?

A Pulse Detonation Engine or simply you can say PDE, is a type of propulsion system in which detonation waves are used to combust fuel and oxidizer mixture. Detonation is a type of combustion which involves a supersonic exothermic front accelerating through a medium that eventually drives a shock front propagating directly in front of it. The engine is called “Pulse” because as the fuel and oxidizer mixture must be renewed in combustion chamber between each detonation wave and next.

F22 Raptor - Afterburner


Why Researchers Are Approaching Pulse Detonation Engine?

In modern jet engines most of rocket engines operates on deflagration of fuel and in this process of combustion, the combustion took place rapidly but at subsonic speed and this subsonic burning of fuel greatly impact fuel efficiency. On the other hand, the Pulse Detonation is a concept in development creates a jet engine that operates on supersonic detonation of fuel. As the combustion takes place rapidly i.e. supersonic speed, the fuel mixture charge has no time to expand during the process so it take place under constant volume almost and in practice constant volume process is more efficient than open cycle design like gas turbine engine.

In present date there is no practical Pulse Detonation Engine is into production. In 2008 DARPA (Defense Advance Research Project Agency) unveiled its program Blackswift which was based on the similar concept of Pulse Detonation and the aim was to reach 6 Mach. NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration) is also working on a research program based on the concept of PDE whose intention is to reach at Mach 5 for civilian aircrafts. But most of the research programs are military in nature because the technology can be used to develop high speed aircraft for next generation. On the other hand Pratt & Whitney and General Electric are working in attempt to commercialize the design.

In present date Pulse Detonation Engine is under development phase and many countries including Japan, Russia, China, India and France are exploring this technology because if commercialization of PDE starts, it will change the equation of aerospace industries and space programs. As already said it increase the fuel efficiency of engine.  



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