Operation of Polycarbonate Projectiles in the Ram Accelerator
Elder, Timothy John
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The ram accelerator is a hypervelocity launcher with direct space launch applications in which a sub-caliber projectile, analogous to the center-body of a ramjet engine, flies through fuel and oxidizer that have been premixed in a tube. Shock interactions in the tube ignite the propellant upon entrance of the projectile and the combustion travels with it, creating thrust on the projectile by stabilizing a high pressure region of gas behind it. Conventional ram accelerator projectiles consist of aluminum, magnesium, or titanium nosecones and bodies. An experimental program has been undertaken to determine the performance of polycarbonate projectiles in ram accelerator operation. Experimentation using polycarbonate projectiles has been divided into two series: determining the lower limit for starting velocity (i.e., less than 1100 m/s) and investigating the upper velocity limit. To investigate the influence of body length and starting velocity, a newly developed "combustion gun" was used to launch projectiles to their initial velocities. The combustion gun uses 3-6 m of ram accelerator test section as a breech and 4-6 m of the ram accelerator test section as a launch tube. A fuel-oxidizer mix is combusted in the breech using a spark plug or electric match and bursts a diaphragm, accelerating the ram projectile to its entrance velocity. The combustion gun can be operated at modest fill pressures (20 bar) but can only launch to relatively low velocities (approximately 1000 m/s) without destroying the projectile and obturator upon launch. Projectiles were successfully started at entrance velocities as low as 810 m/s and projectile body lengths as long as 91 mm were used. The tests investigating the upper Mach number limits of polycarbonate projectiles used the conventional single-stage light-gas gun because of its ability to reach higher velocities with a lower acceleration launch. It was determined that polycarbonate projectiles have an upper velocity limit in the range of 1500-1550 m/s which is lower than that of magnesium projectiles.