MEDIA RELEASE 22nd February 2023
DefendTex achieves thermal management of its Additively Manufactured Rotating Detonation Engine
Australian owned defence technology development company DefendTex Research Labs, with research partners RMIT University, The University of Sydney and Universitat der Bundeswehr have achieved thermal management of Australia’s first completely additively manufactured Rotating Detonation Engine (RDE). A RDE is a type of engine that uses an annulus rather than a conventional combustion chamber to control a continuously rotating detonation wave, creating thrust for propulsion. This game changing achievement in rocketry reduces risk. Not only does an RDE combustor contain no moving parts, it operates on a pressure gain form of combustion which sets it apart from traditional rocket motors with an associated efficiency increase of 10-20%.
The Cooperative Research Centre Project, funded through the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources developed Australia’s first RDE. The RDE has been ground tested in a bespoke world class test facility over 750 times, remaining intact and operational. Historically, most conventional laboratory based RDEs have only operated for a few seconds without cooling before thermal degradation of material surfaces led to deficient engine performance and the need for costly repairs or total mechanical failure.
The RMIT University team of researchers and engineers led by project Technical Lead Associate Professor Adrian Pudsey developed the RDE which is capable of long duration operation under a wide range of power settings. “The flight scale engine was a huge technical challenge in terms of the design and systems integration in order to achieve thermal steady state operation. I am proud to have worked with such a great team across all of the participants. Together we met the challenges and delivered a highly successful project and an Australian first” said Adrian Pudsey. The project has enabled a unique hub of RDE knowledge and practical experience that will enable Australia to play a key role in this exciting new technology at an international level. While the technology has the potential to revolutionise propulsion and ground power generation, there is still a large amount research and development required to realise fully operational systems.
A unique feature of the complex design was the use of advanced manufacturing techniques. The RDE was entirely additively manufactured by the RMIT Centre for Additive Manufacturing (RCAM). The Centre Director and a member of the team, Professor Milan Brandt, said that “this project not only contributed the Centre expertise in the design and additive manufacture of metal alloys through Dr. Maciej Mazur and the RCAM technical staff, but also demonstrated the potential for additive technology to make new types of rocket propulsion systems with demanding performance requirements and operating conditions.”
The unique engine design brings together the traditional concept of cooling channels with creative advanced manufacturing to cool the engine under high thermal loads and non-uniform heat distribution in what is believed to be a world first. “We determined achievement of thermally stable and continuous operation when the engine was able to operate with no temperature increase after 18 seconds” says DefendTex CEO Travis Reddy.
The simulation and modelling work undertaken by the University of Sydney led by Professor Matthew Cleary provided the foundations from which to understand the thermal distribution. “The highly compressible mixing and reaction of fuel, oxidiser and products has a complex pattern and predicting this with modern computational fluid dynamics is critical to analysing the RDE design variations and, ultimately, achieving sustained detonation in an operational and thermally stable engine.”
The project that collaboratively engaged a dynamic team of engineers and researchers across both industry and academia successfully achieved this feat in 3 short years. DefendTex is keen to advance the development of the engine to real world flight trials.
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$3M in funding will be provided to produce Australia’s first 3D printed rocket booster for space, in Gippsland, regional Victoria. Project Lead, DefendTex along with project participants including the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT) – Centre for Additive Manufacturing, Defence Science Technology Group (DSTG) and Rocktech Pty Ltd have demonstrated successful 3D printing of small-scale rocket motors in a previous CRC-P and this 3-year project will scale this to modular booster sizes capable of reaching space.
Travis Reddy, DefendTex CEO states “The novel approach of additive manufacturing will allow for reduced cost, waste and greater responsiveness for space access, enabling domestic production of commercial rocket boosters which translates to affordable space access for Australia’s emerging space industry.” While imported rocket boosters are available, the regulatory burden and cost combined with foreign government control on their use are significant barriers.
“DefendTex will use the funding to join with industry and research partners to address Australia’s space industrycapability gap where there are no commercially available, domestically manufactured rocket boosters for launch in Australia.” Federal member for Gippsland Mr Chester said. “The project also has the potential to grow jobs in Gippsland and build the local economy.” DefendTex is one of two Gippsland companies to received funding under Round 11 of the Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-Ps).
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Breakthrough space technology for Australian research consortium sees first successful Rotating Detonation Engine test bringing Australia closer to a sovereign space launch capability.
Australian research consortium led by DefendTex last week achieved Australia’s first successful test firing of a Rotating Detonation Engine (RDE) designed and developed as part of the Cooperative Research Centre Project for Responsive Access to Space. RDEs are a next generation propulsion technology which provide highly efficient propulsion, potentially unlocking applications such as high-speed flight or responsive space access.
DefendTex Chief Executive Travis Reddy said in relation to the successful test firing, “I am proud of the work of the researchers to achieve what is an Australian first, putting us in an elite list of countries who have successfully demonstrated this technology. With follow on efforts, this innovative Research and Development aims to provide a cost-effective alternative for responsive space access.”
Mr Reddy also stated, “a few years ago, little funding and support was available for early-stage research in space technology, and through the Cooperative Research Centre Program the opportunity for collaborative engagement between academia, industry and defence has been made possible. This is allowing Australia to rapidly strengthen capability and expertise in this field to achieve game changing breakthroughs, future-proofing our economy and capturing a greater share of the space launch market”.
The research, funded by the Commonwealth Cooperative Research Centre Programme would not have been possible without the support of the Australian government with contributions from DefendTex Pty Ltd, RMIT University, University of Sydney, University of South Australia, Department of Defence and international partner Universität der Bundeswehr.
Project technical lead and Senior Lecturer at RMIT University, Dr. Adrian Pudsey, said “this has been an exceptionally challenging project, but through a strong collaboration we have successfully developed a truly unique capability and demonstrated the know-how and science required to push the boundaries of this technology”. There is significant excitement around these initial successes demonstrated at the RMIT operated, DefendTex rocket engine test cell.
Although this technology is in the early stages of research, future development of RDE technology could lead to an integrated space launch system enabling sovereign Low Earth Orbit launch capability allowing Australia to launch satellites and other space assets. Once commercialised, the RDE could directly benefit Australia’s space industry and indirectly support telecommunications, agriculture, transport, logistics and other industries.
Mr Reddy continued, “The success of the RDE puts DefendTex and our research partners at the forefront of developing sovereign capability in propulsion system technology and high-speed flight having previously completed the CRC-P for Hydrocarbon Fuel Technology for Hypersonic Air Breathing Vehicles and development of the Defence funded rocket propulsion systems”.
Media Enquiries: Director Innovation & Partnerships