Combustion Stability Characteristics of the Project Morpheus Liquid Oxygen / Liquid Methane Main Engine
50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference
The project Morpheus liquid oxygen (LOX) / liquid methane (LCH4) main engine is a Johnson Space Center (JSC) designed˜5,000 lbf-thrust, 4:1 throttling, pressure-fed cryogenic engine using an impinging element injector design. The engine met or exceeded all performance requirements without experiencing any in-flight failures, but the engine exhibited acoustic-coupled combustion instabilities during sea-level ground-based testing. First tangential (1T), first radial (1R), 1T1R, and higher order
... and higher order modes were triggered by conditions during the Morpheus vehicle derived low chamber pressure startup sequence. The instability was never observed to initiate during mainstage, even at low power levels. Ground-interaction acoustics aggravated the instability in vehicle tests. Analysis of more than 200 hot fire tests on the Morpheus vehicle and Stennis Space Center (SSC) test stand showed a relationship between ignition stability and injector/chamber pressure. The instability had the distinct characteristic of initiating at high relative injection pressure drop at low chamber pressure during the start sequence. Data analysis suggests that the two-phase density during engine start results in a high injection velocity, possibly triggering the instabilities predicted by the Hewitt stability curves. Engine ignition instability was successfully mitigated via a higher-chamber pressure start sequence (e.g.,˜50% power level vs˜30%) and operational propellant start temperature limits that maintained "cold LOX" and "warm methane" at the engine inlet. The main engine successfully demonstrated 4:1 throttling without chugging during mainstage, but chug instabilities were observed during some engine shutdown sequences at low injector pressure drop, especially during vehicle landing.