A hybrid rocket is a rocket with a rocket motor which uses propellants in two different states of matter - one solid and the other either gas or liquid. The Hybrid rocket concept can be traced back at least 75 years.
Hybrid rockets exhibit advantages over both liquid rockets and solid rockets especially in terms of simplicity, safety, and cost. Because it is nearly impossible for the fuel and oxidizer to be mixed intimately (being different states of matter), hybrid rockets tend to fail more benignly than liquids or solids. Like liquid rockets and unlike solid rockets they can be shut down easily and are simply throttle-able. The theoretical specific impulse() performance of hybrids is generally higher than solids and roughly equivalent to hydrocarbon-based liquids. as high as 400s has been measured in a hybrid rocket using metalized fuels. Hybrid systems are slightly more complex than solids, but the significant hazards of manufacturing, shipping and handling solids offset the system simplicity advantages.
 Basic concepts
In its simplest form a hybrid rocket consists of a pressure vessel (tank) containing the liquid propellant, the combustion chamber containing the solid propellant, and a valve isolating the two. When thrust is desired, a suitable ignition source is introduced in the combustion chamber and the valve is opened. The liquid propellant (or gas) flows into the combustion chamber where it is vaporized and then reacted with the solid propellant. Combustion occurs in a boundary layer diffusion flame adjacent to the surface of the solid propellant.
Generally the liquid propellant is the oxidizer and the solid propellant is the fuel because solid oxidizers are problematic and lower performing than liquid oxidizers. Furthermore, using a solid fuel such as HTPB or paraffin wax allows for the incorporation of high-energy fuel additives such as aluminium, lithium, or metal hydrides.
 Advantages compared with bipropellant liquid rockets
- Mechanically simpler - requires only a single liquid propellant resulting in less plumbing, fewer valves, and simpler operations.
- Denser fuels - fuels in the solid phase generally have higher density than those in the liquid phase, reducing overall system volume.
- Metal additives - reactive metals such as aluminium, magnesium, lithium or beryllium can be easily included in the fuel grain increasing specific impulse(), density specific impulse, or both.
 Advantages compared with solid rockets
- Higher theoretical is possible.
- Less explosion hazard - Propellant grain more tolerant of processing errors such as cracks.
- More controllable - Start/stop/restart and throttling are all achievable with appropriate oxidizer control
- Relatively safe and non-toxic oxidizers such as liquid oxygen and nitrous oxide can be used
- Can be transported to site in a benign form and loaded with oxidizer remotely immediately before launch, improving safety.
 Disadvantages of hybrid rockets
Hybrid rockets also exhibit some disadvantages when compared with liquid and solid rockets. These include:
- Oxidizer-to-fuel ratio shift ("O/F shift") - with a constant oxidizer flow-rate, the ratio of fuel production rate to oxidizer flow rate will change as a grain regresses. This leads to off-peak operation from a chemical performance point of view.
- Low regression-rate (rate at which the solid phase recedes) fuels often drive multi-port fuel grains. Multi-port fuel grains have poor volumetric efficiency and, often, structural deficiencies. High regression-rate liquefying fuels developed in the late 1990s offer a potential solution to this problem.
- Compared with Liquid based propulsion, re-fuelling a partially or totally depleted hybrid rocket would present significant challenges, as the solid propellant cannot simply be pumped into a fuel tank. This may or may not be an issue, depending upon how the rocket is planned to be used.
For a well-designed hybrid, O/F shift has a very small impact on performance because is insensitive to O/F shift near the peak.
In general, much less development work has been performed with hybrids than liquids or solids and it is likely that some of these disadvantages could be rectified through further investment in research and development.
 Hybrid safety
Generally, well designed and carefully constructed hybrids are very safe. The primary hazards associated with hybrids are:
- Pressure vessel failures - Chamber insulation failure may allow hot combustion gases near the chamber walls leading to a "burn-through" in which the vessel ruptures.
- Blow back - For oxidizers that decompose exothermically such as nitrous oxide or hydrogen peroxide, flame or hot gasses from the combustion chamber can propagate back through the injector, igniting the oxidizer and leading to a tank explosion. Blow-back requires gases to flow back through the injector due to insufficient pressure drop which can occur during periods of unstable combustion. Blow back is inherent to specific oxidizers and is not possible with oxidizers such as oxygen or nitrogen tetroxide unless fuel is present in the oxidizer tank.
- Hard starts - An excess of oxidizer in the combustion chamber prior to ignition, particularly for monopropellants such as nitrous oxide, can result in a temporary over-pressure or "spike" at ignition.
Because the fuel in a hybrid does not contain an oxidizer, it will not combust explosively on its own. For this reason, hybrids are classified as having no TNT equivalent explosive power. In contrast, solid rockets often have TNT equivalencies similar in magnitude to the mass of the propellant grain. Liquids typically have TNT equivalencies calculated based on the amount of fuel and oxidizer which could realistically intimately combine before igniting explosively; this is often taken to be 10–20% of the total propellant mass. For hybrids, even filling the combustion chamber with oxidiser prior to ignition will not generally create an explosion with the solid fuel, the explosive equivalence is often quoted as 0%.
 Operational hybrids
In 1998 SpaceDev acquired all of the intellectual property, designs, and test results generated by over 200 hybrid rocket motor firings by the American Rocket Company over its eight year life. SpaceShipOne, the first private manned spacecraft, was powered by SpaceDev's hybrid rocket motor burning HTPB with nitrous oxide. However nitrous oxide was the prime substance responsible for the explosion that killed three in the development of the successor of SpaceShipOne at Scaled Composites in 2007. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo follow-on commercial suborbital spaceplane intends to use a scaled-up hybrid motor.
SpaceDev was developing the SpaceDev Streaker, an expendable small launch vehicle, and SpaceDev Dream Chaser, capable of both suborbital and orbital human space flight. Both Streaker and Dream Chaser use hybrid rocket motors that burn nitrous oxide and the synthetic rubber HTPB. SpaceDev was acquired by Sierra Nevada Corporation in 2009, becoming its Space Systems division, which continues to develop Dream Chaser for NASA's Commercial Crew Development contract. Sierra Nevada is also developing RocketMotorTwo, the hybrid engine for SpaceShipTwo.
 Organizations working on hybrids
Space Propulsion Group was founded in 1999 by Dr. Arif Karabeyoglu, Prof. Brian Cantwell and others from Stanford University to develop high regression-rate liquefying hybrid rocket fuels. They have successfully fired motors as large as 12.5 in. diameter which produce 13,000 lbf. using the technology and are currently developing a 24 in. diameter, 25,000 lbf. motor to be initially fired in 2010. Stanford University is the institution where liquid-layer combustion theory for hybrid rockets was developed. The SPaSE group at Stanford is currently working with NASA Ames Research Center developing the Peregrine Sounding rocket which will be capable of 100 km altitude. Engineering challenges include various types of combustion instabilities.
Orbital Technologies Corporation (Orbitec) has been involved in some US government funded research on hybrid rockets including the "Vortex Hybrid" concept.
Environmental Aerospace Corporation (eAc) was incorporated in 1994 to develop hybrid rocket propulsion systems. It was included in the design competition for the SpaceShipOne motor but lost the contract to SpaceDev.
Rocket Lab sells hybrid sounding rockets and related technology.
The Reaction Research Society (RRS), although known primarily for their work with liquid rocket propulsion, has a long history of research and development with hybrid rocket propulsion.
Copenhagen Suborbitals, a Danish rocket group, has designed and test-fired several hybrids using N2O at first and currently LOX. Their fuel is epoxy, paraffin, or polyurethane. The group eventually moved away from hybrids because of thrust instabilities, and now uses an motor similar to that of the V-2 rocket.
Several universities have recently experimented with hybrid rockets. BYU, the University of Utah, and Utah State University launched a student-designed rocket called Unity IV in 1995 which burned the solid fuel hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) with an oxidizer of gaseous oxygen, and in 2003 launched a larger version which burned HTPB with nitrous oxide.
The WARR student-team at the Technical University of Munich is developing hybrid engines and rockets since the beginning of the 1970s. Using acids, oxygen or nitrous oxide in combination with polyethylene or HTPB. The development includes test stand engines as well as airborne versions, like the first German hybrid rocket Barbarella.
University of Brasilia's Hybrid Team has extensive research in paraffin/nitrous oxide hybrids having already made more than 50 tests fires. Hybrid Team is currently working liquefied propellant, numeric optimization and rocket design
Many other universities, such as Purdue University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Hendrix College, the University of Illinois, Portland State University, and Texas A&M University have hybrid motor test stands that allow for student research with hybrid rockets. Boston University's student-run "Rocket Team", which in the past has launched only solid motor rockets, has completed several static tests of motors using paraffin and HTPB solid fuels and nitrous oxide as the oxidizer; the latest design is a 500psig, 75 lbf thrust HTPB/N2O design dubbed "Mk.II."
Florida Institute of Technology has successfully tested and evaluated hybrid technologies with their Panther Project.
A United Kingdom-based team (laffin-gas) is using four N2O hybrid rockets in a drag-racing style car. Each rocket has an outer diameter of 150mm and is 1.4m long. They use a fuel grain of high-density wound paper soaked in cooking oil. The N2O supply is provided by Nitrogen-pressurised piston accumulators which provide a higher rate of delivery than N2O gas alone and also provide damping of any reverse shock.
There are a number of hybrid rocket motor systems available for amateur/hobbyist use in high-powered model rocketry. These include the popular HyperTek systems and a number of 'Urbanski-Colburn Valved' (U/C) systems such as RATTWorks, Skyripper Systems, West Coast Hybrids, Contrail Rockets, and Propulsion Polymers. All of these systems use nitrous oxide as the oxidizer and a plastic fuel (such as PVC or PolyPropylene) or a polymer-based fuel such as HTPB. This reduces the cost per flight compared to solid rocket motors, although there is generally more 'GSE' (ground support equipment) required with hybrids.
In Italy one of the leading centers for research in hybrid propellants rockets is CISAS (Center of Studies and Activities for Space) "G. Colombo", University of Padua. The activities cover all stages of the development: from theoretical analysis of the combustion process to numerical simulation using CFD codes, and then by conducting ground tests of small scale and large-scale rockets (up to 20 kN, N2O-Paraffin based motors). One of these engines flew successfully in 2009.
 In popular culture
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
An October 26, 2005 episode of the Television show MythBusters entitled "Confederate Rocket" featured a hybrid rocket motor using liquid nitrous oxide and paraffin. The myth purported that during the American Civil War, the Confederate Army was able to construct a rocket of this type. The myth was revisited in a later episode entitled Salami Rocket, using hollowed out dry salami as the solid fuel.
In the February 18, 2007 episode of Top Gear, a Reliant Robin was used by Richard Hammond and James May in an attempt to modify a normal K-reg Robin into a reusable space shuttle. Steve Holland, a professional radio-controlled aircraft pilot, helped Hammond to work out how to land a Robin safely. The craft was built by Senior members of UKRA and achieved a successful launch, flew for several seconds into the air and managed to successfully jettison the solid fuel rocket boosters on time. This was the largest rocket launched by a non-government organisation in Europe. It used 6 x 40960 NS O Contrail Rockets motors giving a maximum thrust of 8 metric tons. However, the car failed to separate from the large external fuel tank due to faulty explosive bolts between the Robin and the external tank and the Robin subsequently crashed into the ground and seemed to have exploded soon after. In fact this explosion was added for dramatic effect as hybrids do not explode in the way depicted.
 See also
- "GIRD-09". Encyclopedia Astronautix. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
- "Hybrid Rocket Propulsion Overview". Space Propulsion Group, Inc.
- "A Brief History of Hybrid Rocket Technology". Space Propulsion Group, Inc.
- "Wax Hybrids". Science@NASA. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
- Bosker, Bianca (2009-11-30). "Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo getting ready for test flights ahead of space tourism". Huffington Post.
- Peregrine rocket poster (2008)
- Peregrine rocket poster (2012)
- Copenhagen Suborbitals HEAT booster development and tests, with photos and video. Accessed 2010-06-03
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Hybrid rocket engines|
- Developing and testing of a 2kN hybrid rocket engine (German)
- Hybrid Rocket Engines, AspireSpace, membership-based organisation (in UK) (particularly see technical papers)
- Portland State Aerospace Society paraffin hybrid links
- Hybridrocket, Private page (German)
- WARR, students developing hybrid engines (German)
- Hit09 S.r.l Company - Advanced Solution for Aerospace Application