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Small Business Leader

ORBITEC is a national leader in small business innovations for the space industry, with over $90 million in government and industrial contracts since its founding in 1988.

VHRE Vortex Hybrid Rocket Engine Technology

VHRE is Simple and Low Cost

Mission Statement
To serve government and industry by developing and demonstrating innovative technologies and advanced products that enhance the quality of human life and support mankinds exploration of the Universe.

Main Business Areas

Advanced concepts and technology development Space resource systems Space propulsion and propellant systems Space flight systems Human, animal, and plant habitation systems.

Company Background
VHRE has been Demonstrated

Experimental Regression Rate, mm/s p g ,


VHRE is an innovative, vortex-injected, hybrid rocket engine technology that exhibits high regression rates in simple cylindrical propellant grains.

VH-20 VH-100 VH-200




Headquartered in Madison, WI, ORBITEC is Wisconsins leader in space research, technology and product development, working with the federal small business innovation research and other major technology development programs of the nation. ORBITEC was awarded Wisconsins Professional Service Business of the Year Award (1995) and the Tibbitts Award (1996 and 1999) from the SBA for outstanding work for the US Government.


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0.45 -0.59 0.45 0.37


r = 0.0085 CR



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Predicted Regression Rate, mm/s

VHRE Performance is Predictable

ORBITAL TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION Space Center, 1212 Fourier Drive Madison, WI 53717 Phone: (608) 827-5000; FAX: (608) 827-5050

Vortex Hybrid Rocket Engine (VHRE)

With the goal of achieving practical and functional hybrid rocket propulsion systems, ORBITEC has patented a unique hybrid propulsion technology called the vortex-hybrid rocket engine. Rather than injecting oxidizer parallel to the fuel port at the head-end, as in a classic hybrid, oxidizer is injected tangentially through a swirl ring at the aftend of the fuel grain. This injection method generates in a bi-directional, co-axial vortex flowfield in the combustor. The swirling, highvelocity gas causes enhanced heat transfer to the fuel surface which, in turn, drives high solid fuel regression rates. Testing has already demonstrated regression rates up to 650% faster than a classical hybrid for a given mass flux. The rapid regression rate allows the use of a single cylindrical grain port which offers significant benefits, including: (1) increased volumetric grain loading; (2) simplified grain manufacture, and (3) reduced grain sliver at engine burnout. Additionally, the unique flowfield enhances mixing and increases the combustion efficiency. Recently, we have applied vortex hybrid technology to paraffin and paraffin and other fuel blends. With paraffin, extremely high regression rates compared to classic hybrids with rubberbased fuels have been obtained. Blending paraffin and other fuels adds another degree of freedom for tailoring the regression rate in precise specifications and may provide fuel strength advantages over pure paraffin.

Classical Hybrid Engines

Because fuel and oxidizer are physically separate and stored in different phases, classic hybrid rocket engines have several important operational and safety advantages over both liquid propellant and solid propellant rocket engines. Unlike solid propellant grains, solid fuel grains are inert, insensitive to cracks and imperfections, and safe to manufacture, transport, store, and handle. Like liquid propellant engines, hybrid engines can be throttled, but require only half the feed system hardware. Due to their relatively simple design and inherent safety, classic hybrid engines should display lower manufacture and launch costs than current propulsion systems. However, current classical hybrid engines suffer from low solid-fuel regression rates, low volumetric loading, and relatively low combustion efficiency. Common solid fuels, such as Hydroxyl-Terminated Polybutadiene (HTPB), usually regress quite slowly compared to solid propellants. Complex cross-sectional geometries with large burning surface areas must be employed to obtain the necessary fuel flow rate consistent with the desired thrust level. Such grains require large cases and display poor volumetric loading and high manufacturing costs. The fuel may occupy as little as 50% of the total grain case volume. As the grain webs thin down near the end of burn, they are prone to release fuel chunks which results in sharp thrust pulses. The combustion of fuel and oxidizer in a classic hybrid occurs in a boundary-layer flame zone, distributed along the length of the combustion chamber above the fuel surface. Portions of the propellants may pass through the chamber without reacting. Secondary combustion chambers at the end of the fuel grain are often employed to complete propellant mixing and increase combustion efficiency. These chambers add length and mass to the overall conventional design, and may serve as a potential source of combustion instability. These drawbacks are avoided in the VHRE.

Vortex Hybrid Applications

The vortex hybrid propulsion system can mature into a significant size range of propulsion systems. The systems would be suited for applications ranging from zero-stage strap-on boosters, to pump-fed large reusable first stage boosters and second stage sustainer engines for highly reusable launch vehicles. The vortex hybrid is also efficient in smaller sizes, and should find applications as propulsion for orbit transfer stages, orbital maneuvering systems for space vehicle propulsion, CEV capsule escape propulsion, and for orbit insertion kick stages. Additionally, the vortex hybrid has the potential to serve as a replenishable in-space propulsion system. Such a system would be re-fueled in space by fuel grain cartridges and pre-packaged liquid oxidizer tanks launched for the purpose, and continue to serve for extended periods from a parking orbit in space. ORBITEC is currently evaluating the use of the vortex hybrid upper stage propulsion for satellite and booster applications. Another family of applications concerns a vortex hybrid that would make use of in-situ resources from a lunar or Martian base. In more advanced future systems the propellant supplies could be delivered from lunar resources at lower energy due to the weaker gravity well of the Moon. For example, it may be feasible to produce metallic fuel grains of aluminum to burn with oxygen extracted from lunar oxides.
Swirl injector

VHRE Features
Application flexibility Very high regression rates Simplified grain geometry Reduced grain sliver at burnout Increased volumetric fuel loading Enhanced combustion performance Excellent safety and low risk Low-cost and reusable Large design, experimental, and analytical database.

Swirl injector CFD Modeling of the Vortex Hybrid Flowfield