An experimental investigation of liquid methane convection and boiling in rocket engine cooling channels

Abraham Gerardo Trujillo, University of Texas at El Paso


In the past decades, interest in developing hydrocarbon-fueled rocket engines for deep spaceflight missions has continued to grow. In particular, liquid methane (LCH4) has been of interest due to the weight efficiency, storage, and handling advantages it offers over several currently used propellants. Deep space exploration requires reusable, long life rocket engines. Due to the high temperatures reached during combustion, the life of an engine is significantly impacted by the cooling system's efficiency. Regenerative (regen) cooling is presented as a viable alternative to common cooling methods such as film and dump cooling since it provides improved engine efficiency. Due to limited availability of experimental sub-critical liquid methane cooling data for regen engine design, there has been an interest in studying the heat transfer characteristics of the propellant. For this reason, recent experimental studies at the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research (cSETR) at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) have focused on investigating the heat transfer characteristics of sub-critical CH4 flowing through sub-scale cooling channels. To conduct the experiments, the csETR developed a High Heat Flux Test Facility (HHFTF) where all the channels are heated using a conduction-based thermal concentrator. In this study, two smooth channels with cross sectional geometries of 1.8 mm x 4.1 mm and 3.2 mm x 3.2 mm were tested. In addition, three roughened channels all with a 3.2 mm x 3.2 mm square cross section were also tested. For the rectangular smooth channel, Reynolds numbers ranged between 68,000 and 131,000, while the Nusselt numbers were between 40 and 325. For the rough channels, Reynolds numbers ranged from 82,000 to 131,000, and Nusselt numbers were between 65 and 810. Sub-cooled film-boiling phenomena were confirmed for all the channels presented in this work. Film-boiling onset at Critical Heat Flux (CHF) was correlated to a Boiling Number (Bo) of approximately 0.1 for all channels. Convective Nusselt number follows predicted trends for Reynolds number with a wall temperature correction for both the boiling and non-boiling regimes.

Subject Area

Aerospace engineering|Mechanical engineering

Recommended Citation

Trujillo, Abraham Gerardo, "An experimental investigation of liquid methane convection and boiling in rocket engine cooling channels" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1564702.