Laser ignition of an experimental combustion chamber with a multi-injector configuration at low pressure conditions


In search of reliable and light-weight ignition systems for re-ignitable upper stage engines, a laser ignition system was adapted and tested on an experimental combustion chamber for propellant injection into low combustion chamber pressures at 50–80 mbar. The injector head pattern consisted of five coaxial injector elements. Both, laser-ablation-driven ignition and laser-plasma-driven ignition were tested for the propellant combination liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen. The 122 test runs demonstrated the reliability of the ignition system for different ignition configurations and negligible degradation due to testing. For the laser-plasma-driven scheme, minimum laser pulse energies needed for 100% ignition probability were found to decrease when increasing the distance of the ignition location from the injector faceplate with a minimum of 2.6 mJ. For laser-ablation-driven ignition, the minimum pulse energy was found to be independent of the ablation material tested and was about 1.7 mJ. The ignition process was characterized using both high-speed Schlieren and OH* emission diagnostics. Based on these findings and on the increased fiber-based pulse transport capabilities recently published, new ignition system configurations for space propulsion systems relying on fiber-based pulse delivery are formulated. If the laser ignition system delivers enough pulse energy, the laser-plasma-driven configuration represents the more versatile configuration. If the laser ignition pulse power is limited, the application of laser-ablation-driven ignition is an option to realize ignition, but implies restrictions concerning the location of ignition.

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The authors acknowledge funding received from the European Space Agency within the TRP “Laser Ignition Technology.” The authors thank Henrike Jakob, Tobias Messer, Markus Dengler, and Manuel Hofmann for their support at the M3.1 test bench during the test campaign.

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Correspondence to Michael Börner.

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Börner, M., Manfletti, C., Kroupa, G. et al. Laser ignition of an experimental combustion chamber with a multi-injector configuration at low pressure conditions. CEAS Space J 9, 299–311 (2017).

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  • Laser ignition
  • Laser-ablation ignition
  • Laser-plasma ignition
  • Upper stage engine
  • Minimum ignition energy
  • Flame development