Vol. 38, No. 9, September 2000
Review of Propulsion Applications of Detonation Waves
U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. 20375
Applications of detonations to propulsion are reviewed. First, the advantages of the detonation cycle over theconstant pressure combustion cycle, typical of conventional propulsion engines, are discussed. Then the earlystudies of standing normal detonations, intermittent(or pulsed)detonations, rotating detonations, and obliqueshock-induced detonations are reviewed. This is followed by a brief discussion of detonation thrusters, laser-supported detonations and oblique detonation wave engines. Finally, a more detailed review of research duringthe past decade on ram accelerators and pulsed detonation engines is presented. The impact of the early work onthese recent developments and some of the outstanding issues are also discussed.
HE power of detonations has been well recognized.For exam-ple,ithasbeenestimatedthata20-m
detonationwaveoperatesat a power level equal to that received by the Earth from the sun.
The difculty in harnessing this power efciently has been a majorstumbling block inthe development of propulsion systemsbasedondetonations. Although there are no practicalpropulsion systems(tothe author’s knowledge)using detonations, it has not been due tolackofeffort.Aswillbediscussed,therehavebeenseriousattempts,at leastsince the 1940s.Inprinciple,detonationsareanextremelyefcientmeansofburn-ing a fuel
air mixture and releasing its chemical energy content.However, detonations have been explored for propulsion applica-tions only for the past 50 years or so
because of the difcultiesinvolved in rapidly mixing the fuel and air at high speeds and initi-ating and sustaining a detonation in a controlled manner in fuel
airmixtures. Recently, there has been a renewed interest in the appli-cationof detonations topropulsion, and hence,itistimelytoreviewthe past work. There have beenseveralreviewpapers(e.g.,Refs.4
8)in the past dealing with particular applications of detonations topropulsion. Here, an attempt is made to include the work reportedin those papers, put them in the context of other related research,include additional studies, and extend the review to more recentpapers.In this paper, the status of propulsion applications of detonationsis reviewed. First, a cycle analysis is performed to show that the ef-ciencyof a detonation cycleisclosetothat of the constant-volumeHumphrey cycle, which is much more efcient than the constant-pressure Brayton cycle,characteristicof most conventional propul-sion systems. Other advantages of detonations are also discussed.Then a review of the early attempts to use detonations for propul-sionispresented.Aftera briefdiscussionof the possible reasonsforthe successes and failures of the early attempts, more recent work during the 1980s on oblique detonation wave engines is reviewed.This is followed by a detailedanalysis of the ram acceleratorin thedetonative mode and the pulsed detonation engine, a topic of greatcurrent interest. Finally, some observations from the lessons learntin the past and their potential implications for further developmentof detonations for propulsion applications are presented.
As mentioned before, very rapid materialand energy conversionisakeyfeatureofdetonations.Thisrapidburningormaterialconver-
Presented as Paper 99-1067 at the 37th Aerospace Sciences Meeting,Reno, NV, 11
14 January 1999; received 4 June 1999; revision received21 January 2000; accepted for publication 22 February 2000. This materialis declared a work of the U.S. Government and is not subject to copyrightprotection in the United States.
Head, Center for Reactive Flowand Dynamical Systems, Laboratory forComputational Physics and Fluid Dynamics, Code 6410. Associate FellowAIAA.
sion rate,typicallytens of thousands of times fasterthan in a ame,canleadtoseveraladvantages forpropulsion, suchasmore compactand efcientsystems.Becauseofthe rapidityof theprocess,thereisnot enough time for pressure equilibration, and the overall processis thermodynamically closer to a constant volume process than theconstant pressure process typical of conventional propulsion sys-tems. To illustratethis point, three idealizedthermodynamic cyclesare compared in Fig. 1.For purposes of comparison, the only process that is differentin the three cycles is the mode of energy conversion or heat addi-tion. For the three cases, heat is added at constant pressure, con-stant volume, or in a detonation. Hence, the three cycles have beenreferred to as constant pressure, constant volume, and detonationcycle, respectively. The amount of heat added is kept the same forthe three cycles. In all cases, the fuel
air mixture is initially com-pressed adiabatically from 1 to 3 atm before heat addition. Afterheat addition, the products of combustion are expanded adiabati-callyto 1 atm. Finally, the system is returned to its initial state.Theworkdone duringthethreecyclesisobtained fromtheareaenclosed(Fig. 1). Because all processes except for heat addition have beenmaintained, the work done or relative thermodynamic efciency of the three combustion processes can be obtained by comparing thethree areas. For the efciency, the work output is divided by theheat input, which was set to be the same for the three cycles. Thethermodynamic efciencies for the three cycles are 27% for con-stant pressure, 47% for constant volume, and 49% for detonation.From Fig. 1 and the given values, we see that the thermodynamicefciencyof the detonation cycleiscloseto that of the constant vol-ume cycle. The process itselfis different with a decreasein specicvolume and a signicantly higher pressure being attained duringdetonations.One of the factors that could change the relative efciencies isthe amount of initial compression. To illustrate this, several suchcycles were computed with all factorsheld the same, except for theamount of initial compression. There is some change in the relativevalues, but in all of these casesthe efciency of the detonation pro-cessis closeto that of the constant volume processand signicantlybetter than that of the constant pressure process. Other factors thatcould affect the relative efciencies are the amount of energy con-version(heat addition)and the rates of initial compression(if any)and nal expansion. These do not drastically alter the results justpresented.Itisimportanttoemphasizethattheprecedingcomparisonsareforidealized thermodynamic cycles for systems operating in a steadystate and are not representative of any particular propulsion sys-tem. As will be discussed, attempts at developing engines usinga steady or stabilized detonation wave have been less successfulthan those taking advantage of the unsteady aspects of detonationwaves.Several other advantages have been stated for using detonationsin propulsion devices, and these will be brought up, as appropriate,when the different applications of detonations are discussed.