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Liquid Propellant Positioning and Control in Example Propellant Tank

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posted on 19.12.2021, 17:39 by Logan Daniel WaltersLogan Daniel Walters
Two topics relating to low gravity fluid behavior in satellite propellant tanks are considered. In the first, static case, the problem of liquid trapping is examined. Satellite propellant tank end caps optimized for weight are generally shallower and more oblate than hemispherical end caps of the same radius. However, these shallower end caps pose an interesting challenge for propellant management. In the absence of vanes, it is possible for liquid propellant to be trapped in the tank and become unusable. Understanding of how propellant tends to distribute itself in the bare, vaneless tank can be used to drive vane design to counteract these tendencies and ensure propellant remains where desired. The first section of this thesis aims to demonstrate methods that can be used to identify when, how, and why liquid trapping occurs in a given tank geometry. A fluid statics code called Surface Evolver is used to calculate possible fluid configurations for different propellant volumes, contact angles, and end cap designs. The specific case of a cylindrical tank with 2:1 ellipsoidal end caps is studied extensively for ranges of fill fractions and contact angles to illustrate the methods used. Results are computed for each possible propellant configuration: a spherical liquid-gas interface, an asymmetric liquid-gas interface, and a liquid ring. Analytical solutions are found and compared against Surface Evolver results for the spherical liquid-gas interface and liquid ring, showing excellent agreement. Results are also found for other aspect ratio ellipsoidal end caps, superellipsoidal end caps, and torispherical end caps. Each non-hemispherical dome design is found to be able to trap liquid away from the axis of the tank regardless of contact angle. The second part of this thesis, focusing on the dynamic case, details the development of an experimental payload designed to fly on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. This experiment is designed to obtain data on sloshing behavior of liquids in microgravity in response to rotation. The payload contains eight scaled down propellant tanks that are rotated while in microgravity, and the resulting slosh is recorded by video cameras inside the payload. The video will be analyzed after the experiment to extract data on damping rates and potentially positional data of the liquid-gas interface. The impact of constraints on the design of the overall experiment are discussed. The purpose of each component in the experiment is explained and justified relative to the design constraints. The remaining work that must be completed before flight on SpaceShipTwo is reviewed, highlighting the most significant unknowns.




Degree Type

Master of Science


Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Steven Collicott

Additional Committee Member 2

Haifeng Wang

Additional Committee Member 3

Timothee Pourpoint

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