Warning

 

Close

Confirm Action

Are you sure you wish to do this?

Confirm Cancel
Member Login
Site Notices
Posted: 3/4/2006 2:18:28 PM EDT
From the thread where the guy found out he had a smoke bomb, me and a friend are finally gonna make out own from the recipe 40% sugar and 60% potassium nitrate(stump remover) We got 16oz.s of stump remover from walmart for 4 bucks, and I had a 10lb bag of sugar already.


Will report back how this goes.


Also, we dont have any fuses, so were just gonna light it on fire or something. Any ideas?
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:19:25 PM EDT

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
From the thread where the guy found out he had a smoke bomb, me and a friend are finally gonna make out own from the recipe 40% sugar and 60% potassium nitrate(stump remover) We got 16oz.s of stump remover from walmart for 4 bucks, and I had a 10lb bag of sugar already.


Will report back how this goes.


Also, we dont have any fuses, so were just gonna light it on fire or something. Any ideas?



Do you have someone nearby to hold your beer???
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:20:07 PM EDT
We used sugar\saltpeter wrapped in a piece of notebook paper, seemed to work just fine
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:21:29 PM EDT

Originally Posted By bastiat:

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
From the thread where the guy found out he had a smoke bomb, me and a friend are finally gonna make out own from the recipe 40% sugar and 60% potassium nitrate(stump remover) We got 16oz.s of stump remover from walmart for 4 bucks, and I had a 10lb bag of sugar already.


Will report back how this goes.


Also, we dont have any fuses, so were just gonna light it on fire or something. Any ideas?



Do you have someone nearby to hold your beer???




No, we will not put them down
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:23:02 PM EDT

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
From the thread where the guy found out he had a smoke bomb, me and a friend are finally gonna make out own from the recipe 40% sugar and 60% potassium nitrate(stump remover) We got 16oz.s of stump remover from walmart for 4 bucks, and I had a 10lb bag of sugar already.


Will report back how this goes.


Also, we dont have any fuses, so were just gonna light it on fire or something. Any ideas?



If you dont we will know how it went also
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:24:18 PM EDT

Originally Posted By bastiat:

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
From the thread where the guy found out he had a smoke bomb, me and a friend are finally gonna make out own from the recipe 40% sugar and 60% potassium nitrate(stump remover) We got 16oz.s of stump remover from walmart for 4 bucks, and I had a 10lb bag of sugar already.


Will report back how this goes.


Also, we dont have any fuses, so were just gonna light it on fire or something. Any ideas?



Do you have someone nearby to hold your beer???




ahahahahhahah
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:35:42 PM EDT
Damn, this shit is done already. Goin to light the first of it.
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:36:45 PM EDT

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
From the thread where the guy found out he had a smoke bomb, me and a friend are finally gonna make out own from the recipe 40% sugar and 60% potassium nitrate(stump remover) We got 16oz.s of stump remover from walmart for 4 bucks, and I had a 10lb bag of sugar already.


Will report back how this goes.


Also, we dont have any fuses, so were just gonna light it on fire or something. Any ideas?



IBSI

In Before Serious Injury
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:37:15 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 3/4/2006 2:37:44 PM EDT by Epsilon]
They work pretty well.....not as well as the cheap colored ones you can buy on the 4th though. The cherry sized ones.
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:42:48 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 3/4/2006 2:45:54 PM EDT by 1BMF]
Did a spoonful of it, lit it with a torch light. It was cool made quite a bit of smoke for it's size. We got a cookie sheet size portion now, it's just gotta cool! Pic coming in a minute

Link Posted: 3/4/2006 2:47:12 PM EDT
IBT-BATFE
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 6:42:56 PM EDT
.
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 6:46:38 PM EDT
Road flare? And what part of FL are you in. A frind and I were at Walmart this afternoon and were looking but did not see any stump remover. Seems like it was a thought of many today. Try again tomorrow. I also have 120 feet of Fuse if you are way south FL.

V
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 7:03:37 PM EDT

Originally Posted By vedubin01:
Road flare? And what part of FL are you in. A frind and I were at Walmart this afternoon and were looking but did not see any stump remover. Seems like it was a thought of many today. Try again tomorrow. I also have 120 feet of Fuse if you are way south FL.

V



Orlando.

It comes in a 16oz bottle, i think im gonna get it at home depot in a larger container, im already out of it. Ask for it, they've got it.

This shit works great! I made a 2nd batch with better proportions, oh my god! I took a large plastic cup, filled it with water, and put a beer pong cup inside of that and just poored the melted mixture into the cup so it would harden in a little cake shape.

Lit that sucker off, god damn! Burned for about 30 seconds of THICK grey/white smoke. Smoke covered an area of about 75 square feet, and 75 feet high, we only used a little more than a 1/3 of a cup of sugar, and a little less than 2/3s stump remover. So it wasnt that big of a mixture.

Just got done with the 4th one a minute ago

This shit is awesome, but im out of stump remover, im gonna try to find a big bag of that shit!

Ive got pics, but it's dark out, and they were taken from the 3rd story of an apartment building, ill get them in a day or two.

Cost me a total of less than 5 bucks
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 8:13:23 PM EDT
Used to make those as a kid, just be careful, those things burn like thermite!! Make sure that you're doing it on pavement or something away from anything dry!!!

Link Posted: 3/4/2006 8:25:53 PM EDT
Basicly what you are making is solid rocket fuel.

members.aol.com/nonillion/sucrose.html

Introduction
This web page describes the "classic" sugar-based rocket propellant comprised of a fused mixture of Potassium Nitrate serving as the oxidizer, and Sucrose (table sugar) serving as the fuel and binder. I first became familiar with the Potassium Nitrate-Sugar propellant in the early 1970's from Captain B.R.Brinley's book Rocket Manual for Amateurs. In his book, Brinley briefly describes this propellant, focusing mainly on its drawbacks. To his credit, however, he did state that "it might be worth your while to undertake a development project on this particular propellant...". And so this is exactly what I proceeded to do, and spent many years experimenting with this propellant. I conducted numerous static motor tests in order to determine the optimum O/F ratio, measured burning rate at various temperatures, pressures and O/F ratios, tried various grain configurations, performed combustion product analysis (using the old ORSAT apparatus, as well as apparatus of my own design), measured the propellant "impetus" by use of "closed vessel" combustion. And of course, I launched many rockets powered by this propellant, over 57 flights in total. I performed further investigation on this propellant during my final year at university, in particular, the theoretical performance, and wrote my graduation thesis Solid Propellant Rocket Motor Design and Testing based on both my theoretical and experimental work. So I got to know this propellant quite well indeed!

For convenience, I now use the acroynm KNSU in reference to the contemporary formulation of this propellant, which is 65% Potassium Nitrate and 35% Sucrose.

Although not a high performance propellant, KNSU delivers a fair specific impulse. Its main advantage over many other amateur formulations is the relative ease and safety of preparation and usage. Another factor that makes this propellant popular is the ingredients, both of which are commonly available.

The propellant described in this web page is heat cast, using a melting technique, to form the propellant body, or grain. Although some experimentalists have utilized the combination of KN and sucrose in the powdered, pressed form, or cold cast (using a solvent such as water), I have avoided such for a number of reasons. The two main reasons, however, are superior mechanical properties of the fused form, and the consistency of performance that is ensured by an essentially invariable final product that results from the melting method.

KNSU propellant grain

Figure 1 -- KNSU propellant grain for the B-200 motor
Formulation

As mentioned earlier, the standard ratio of constituents is 65% Potassium Nitrate and 35% Sucrose, by mass. This ratio has proven to give the best overall performance combined with acceptable casting qualities. Theoretically, the highest specific impulse is delivered at a 66/34 ratio, although the standard 65/35 ratio tends to be used by most experimentalists. There are three reasons for this:

1. The propellant characterization data has been obtained mainly for the 65/35 ratio
2. The performance difference is slight (about 1%).
3. The combustion temperature rises sharply with increased O/F ratio. At the 65/35 ratio, steel nozzles suffer no erosion, as there is an adequate margin between the theoretical flame temperature (1450C) and the melting point of steel (approx. 1500C). At higher O/F ratios, this margin is reduced such that a small error in weighing during preparation could result in a heat damaged nozzle (this happened to me once).

Another consequence of using higher O/F ratios is that the consistency of the melted mixture (slurry) is greater. This makes casting more difficult. The effect of using a lower O/F ratio is reduced performance and a slower burning rate. However, the slurry has a lower consistency, which makes casting easier. It is therefore suggested that those who are casting this propellant for the first time use the 60/40 O/F ratio. There is also less tendency for the slurry to caramelize during heating.

The Sucrose that I used was the very fine powdered form, commonly referred to as icing (or confectioners) sugar, rather than the common granular (table) sugar. This form contains up to 5% cornstarch. Since cornstarch and sucrose are chemically similar, the effect of this impurity may be neglected. Granular sugar may be used, it simply needs to be ground to a fine powder first.

Potassium nitrate, also known as saltpetre, is a commonly used chemical (used, for example, for pickling meats, and in toothpaste for "sensitive teeth") and as such is quite readily available. Other uses for potassium nitrate are for hydroponics, and in gardening for raising the nitrate level of soils. I’ve purchased potassium nitrate in 2 kg. lots at a veterinary chemical supply store. It is also available at many pharmacies, sold typically in 100 gram or 8 oz. tins. Potassium nitrate is also sold as 14-0-45 fertilizer at farm supply stores, typically 98-99% pure.This is by far the most economical form, and the performance is no different that purer grade. Other commercial sources for potassium nitrate are listed in my Links webpage.

Recent experimentation has shown that stump-remover is a viable source of potassium nitrate, at least the particular brand tested (Wilson's). According to the MSDS's, Spectracide, Later's and Dragon brands of Stump Remover are essentially pure potassium nitrate. Stump-remover is readily available at garden shops, home renovation outlets, and some hardware stores. Before use, however, the product may need to be washed in methanol to remove any caustic coating.

Preparation and Mixing

The first step in preparation of the propellant is to grind, or pulverize, the potassium nitrate to a fine texture. This may easily be done with the use of a Fluid Energy Mill (electric coffee grinder), such as that shown in Figure 2. The hopper should be half filled, then run the grinder for about 30-40 seconds. This will reduce the particle size to an average of 50-100 microns. As obtained, the potassium nitrate particles are typically 150-250 microns.
If granulated sugar is used rather than icing sugar, this should also be pulverized. A second grinder should then be used, rather than the one used for the potassium nitrate. The reason is that the seal that separate the grinding compartment from the motor compartment is not perfect. Over time, some fine powder finds its way into the motor compartment, and slowly accumulates. If the accumulated powder is solely sucrose, or solely potassium nitrate, the risk of the accumulation igniting is minimal. However, if the same grinder were used for both sucrose and oxidizer, the risk of combustion is much greater, creating an obvious hazard.

Following the grinding process, the two constituents are carefully weighed out using an accurate scale or balance beam. Enough of the powdered mixture of potassium nitrate and sucrose has to be prepared to take into account the inevitable waste resulting from the casting procedure, typically 20-25% for small batches, less for larger batchs. For the B-200 motor, which has a grain capacity of 225 grams, I would prepare 182 grams potassium nitrate, and 98 grams sucrose, for a total of 280 grams powdered mix. For the C-400 motor, with a grain capacity of 380 grams, the mixture would be 297 grams potassium nitrate, and 160 grams sucrose, totaling 457 grams dry mix. For the smaller A-100 motor, with a grain capacity of 100 grams, 131 grams of mix would be prepared, consisting of 85 grams potassium nitrate, and 46 grams of sucrose.

It should be noted that both sucrose and potassium nitrate, particular the finely divided form, are slightly hygroscopic and therefore a small percentage of the mass is due to moisture. If this percentage were sufficiently high, this could affect the final O/F ratio. However, testing that was conducted on sucrose showed that less than one percent moisture is present. Similar testing indicated the same is true for potassium nitrate, and thus moisture content may be neglected with little error in the final product.

coffee grinder
Figure 2 -- This $15 coffee grinder does a superb job of pulverizing the potassium nitrate to a fine texture.

After individually weighing out the two constituents, the two are blended together in a single container. Complete mixing of the two is necessary for optimum and consistent performance. I built an electric rotating mixer for this purpose (Figure 2). The powdered mixture is loaded into a tupperware container, then secured to the rotating drum with rubber bands, and, then allowed to mix for several hours. As a guideline, I allowed one hour per hundred grams of powdered mixture.
Once the mixing operation has been completed, the dry mixture is transferred immediately to a closed container for safe storage. Since the propellant, at this stage, is readily combustible, sensible precautions would be observed to keep it away from any possible ignition sources.

Propellant Mixer
Figure 3 --Propellant powder mixer
Mould
The mould is the "form" into which the propellant is cast to make the grain of the desired shape. All of my motors have had a "hollow cylindrical" shaped grain. This is simply a cylinder with a round, centrally located hole, or core. With such a grain, the mould can be any circular form, such as a metal tube. The core is formed in the grain by inserting a coring tool into the mould after the propellant has been loaded.
Coring tool For the A-100, B-200 and C-400 motors, the motor casing (with attached nozzle) served as the mould. Since the grain is to be removed after casting, the inside surface of the motor is first sprayed with light oil. In order to form the grain with a diameter slightly less than that of the inside diameter of the motor casing, a spacer is placed inside the motor (the grain is required to be a slightly loose fit in the motor in order to have all surfaces exposed for burning). The spacer consists of a sheet of medium weight paper (24 lb/90g/sq.m.), well lubricated first with oil, then with a light coating of grease. The paper should be sized such that it forms two or three layers. The grease that I used was automotive wheel bearing grease, which retains its viscosity at elevated temperature. For the B-200 motor, the paper size was 6.35 x 8.75 in., large enough to form a double layer around the inside perimeter of the casing. The sheet is carefully rolled and placed inside the motor, tightly against the walls.

The nozzle throat must be plugged to prevent the molten mixture from escaping. A cork plug provides a simple solution. Prior to casting, the motor must be held in a fixture, with an open, lightly lubricated metal funnel positioned to guide the molten mixture into the motor. I found that it is not necessary to preheat the mould.

The coring tool is a steel or aluminum rod, tapered at one end. The other end is fitted with a handle, and an adjustable guide that allows for exact centering of the coring tool in the mould. Prior to casting, the coring tool should be lightly coated with silicone lubricant, then preheated in an oven set at 300 F (150C.).
Another tool that aids the casting process is a plunger. This is simply an aluminum or steel rod of a diameter slightly less than the grain diameter. This tool is used to press down on the molten mixture once it is poured into the mould in order to compact the slurry and squeeze out any trapped air. Prior to casting, the plunger should be placed in a freezer for an hour or so. This is important and serves to prevent the molten mixture from sticking to the plunger.
Casting
The "slurry" casting process involves heating of the powdered mixture until it becomes molten, then casting into a mould to produce the propellant grain of the desired shape. The required temperature that the mixture must attain is just above the melting point of sucrose. The potassium nitrate, which has a much higher melting point, remains as solid particles. The result is a slurry of solid oxidizer particles suspended in liquid sucrose medium.

The vessel which I originally used for heating the mixture was a cast iron pot, of about one litre capacity, modified to be held partly submersed in an oil bath. Cast iron retains heat, which is beneficial for maintaining the mixture in a fluid state during the actual pouring operation, important, since the mixture "freezes" rapidly once it begins to cool. More recently, I've been using an oil-free method, which involves heating the mixture directly in a thermostatically controlled electric "deep fryer", with the thermostat set to 380 F. (Figure 5).

It is essential, from a long-term safety consideration, that only these methods be employed for heating propellant, the critical intent being that no exposed heating surface being of higher temperature than the melting point of the propellant. For this reason, heating the mixture in a container over an electric or gas stove element is absolutely unacceptable and must never be attempted (actually, common sense tells us this!). Although this propellant is highly tolerant of overheating, we want to keep this feature solely as a valuable safety margin. Suitable protective gear must be worn during the casting operation (see Effects of Overheating during Casting).

Casting setup

Figure 5 -- Casting setup for KNSU employing 'tilt-table' for the heating vessel (oil-free method).
(click for larger image)

The oil bath method utilizes a deep fryer, half filled with oil. Vegetable shortening works well, as it does not smoke at the required temperature, and becomes solid once cooled, convenient for storage. Other oils or fats with a high smoke point may alternatively be used. To monitor the temperature of the oil (or mixture), I used a Taylor, dial-type candy thermometer with a range of 100 - 400 deg. F. A better solution is to use a digital thermometer equipped with a probe (many of today's multimeters have this capability).

The casting procedure involves first preheating the oil/deep fryer to a temperature of 380 F, and maintaining this temperature +/- 5 degrees (for the 65/35 ratio; for 60/40 the temperature should be 370 F). Then, starting with a small amount, the powdered mix is added, and stirred often to assist melting. One this has melted, more powdered mix is added, and such is continued until all has been incorporated. Stirring often is important to prevent overheating , which leads to a greater degree of caramelization, and consequently reduced performance of the propellant. Caramelization is characterized by a darkening of the melt. The initial colour of the melted slurry is nearly colourless, but begins to turn tan colour as caramelization commences. Eventually, the colour will become that of peanut butter, as the whole mixture becomes fully molten, and is ready to be cast. A colour darker than this implies that the mixture has been heated too long, as caramelization is a function of time as well as temperature. The entire casting operation, from start of melting, to final pouring, usually took me about 1/2 hour with the oil bath method, twenty minutes if heated directly in the deep fryer.

Once all the powdered mixture has been incorporated into the melt, it is further heated and stirred, to eliminate any lumps that may be present. An additional five to ten minutes of heating will bring the slurry up to the casting temperature. Note that the slurry will not become fluid enough to pour. The consistency will remain quite thick, and must be simultaneously poured and scooped with a spoon onto the funnel, and allowed to flow into the mould. Immediately after loading, the coring tool would be inserted into the mould, making certain it is fully inserted all the way down. This completes the casting operation. The mixture is then allowed to cool and harden.

I found that it was very important to remove the grain from the motor mould after an exact amount of time had elapsed. If allowed to cool too long, it would be difficult to remove the grain. If removed too soon, it would still be flexible and could become deformed. I found that 45 minutes was the required cooling period. Using the handle of the coring tool, the entire grain could be quite easily extracted. The paper spacer could then be peeled off, and with a twist of the handle, the coring tool would snap loose and slide out of the grain. I would then use mineral spirits to clean the oil and grease from the grain, trim it to size, and (importantly) accurately weigh and measure the grain, record colour and amount and type of defects (such as bubbles), then place it inside a plastic bag. Better yet, vacuum seal the grain. At this point, the grain would be put inside a protective container and stored in a deep freeze until ready to be loaded into the motor. Loading the grain into the motor is one of the last steps before a flight (or static) test is performed. Two finished grains for the B-200 motor are shown in Figure 6.

For the neophyte who has never cast any sugar-based propellants, it is suggested that the grain casting process be first practiced using INERT propellant. The INERT propellant is prepared in exactly the same manner as KNSU, with the important exception that table salt (sodium chloride) is substituted for the potassium nitrate. This "propellant" melts and casts in a similar manner to the genuine thing, however, INERT propellant is completely non-combustible and inexpensive.

Notes on casting sucrose-based propellant

* The fully melted slurry is quite thick, and further heating will result in only marginally reduced viscocity.

* The slurry should be poured & scooped simultaneously into the mould. A spoon with an insulated handle works well to direct the slurry into the mould.

* Once all the mixture has been loaded into the mould, a plunger is used to press & compact the mixture and to squeeze out any trapped air. The plunger can be a steel or aluminum rod, of approximately 90% of the diameter of the mould. To prevent the propellant from sticking to the plunger, the plunger is pre-cooled in a freezer for several hours. An alternative plunger design is a hollow metal tube, closed & sealed at one end (see Figure 5). Prior to casting, a couple of ice cubes are dropped into the plunger to chill it.
Compacting the propellant in this manner is very effective in eliminating air bubbles, and the resulting grains typically have a density of 95-97% theoretical.

* The coring tool should be preheated in an oven set at 150oC. To allow for ease of removal of the coring tool, it is lightly coated with silicon grease (plumbers lubricant works very well). The most effective means to remove the coring tool after the propellant has solidified is to clamp the end of the coring tool in a work vise. The grain is then given a forceful rotational twist. The coring tool will then snap free and can be subsequently withdrawn with mininal effort.

The cast propellant should be within the colour range of the two grains shown in Figure 6 below:

Photo of two propellant grains
Figure 6 -- Two completed propellant grains: Top is 60/40 O/F ratio; Below is 75/25 O/F ratio. Note colour difference.
Alternative Casting Methods
There are alternative methods of casting KNSU propellant that other rocketry experimenters have developed. Two methods that I am aware of deserve particular attention. Both involve the inclusion of water and/or corn syrup to the basic propellant ingredients. One method involves dissolving the potassium nitrate and sucrose in water, then boiling until all the water has been eliminated. The suggested ratio of water to potassium nitrate/sucrose is 2 to 3. Interestingly, the thermostat of the heating vessel may be set to a lower temperature than with the slurry method, typically 130 to 150oC. (260 to 300o F.).

Although I have not used this technique to cast an actual propellant grain, I have conducted preliminary experimentation of both the standard 65/35 ratio, as well as the 60/40 ratio. For both, I have have produced small samples of propellant, including strands for burn rate measurement. It was found that the water boils away quite rapidly. An off-white slurry results, which must be heated further to drive out all residual water. This condition is indicated by a slight odour of caramelization. Further heating is done until the colour of the slurry is a light tan. The consistency of the 65/35 rato is definitely thicker than that of the slurry method, and the propellant needs to be packed into the mould rather than poured or scooped. However, it was found that the viscosity of the 60/40 ratio is sufficiently lower such that it can be cast in a manner similar to regular KNSU. Curiously, when the propellant cools and hardens, it is completely dry, unlike propellant prepared by the slurry method, which tends to develop a sticky film immediately after casting. Indeed, the hygroscopic nature of the propellant seems to be reduced...a sample strand that has been left in the open air for 6 months, at humidity levels ranging from 50 to 70%, has remained bone dry.

There are interesting advantages to using water as a medium for the propellant constituents during the heating process. There is no need to premix or to grind up the constituents, as both fully dissolve in the water. Combustion appears to be more efficient -- samples burned showed no sign of residue. Importantly, the water solution would clearly add additional safety to the process, at least during the initial phase where the water content is great. The casting temperature may also be lower. As well, the fact that both potassium nitrate and sucrose are soluble in water should produce a more homogenious propellant, which differs from the "composite" mixture of the heated slurry technique. Burn rate measurements at ambient pressure indicate a burn rate slightly greater than the "composite" version (0.45 cm/s versus 0.40 cm/s, typical). The difference in burn rate at elevated pressure, if any, is currently not known.

Dan Pollino ( www.inverseengineering.com) has developed a similar technique, with certain differences. Dan's formulation consists of 60% KN, 36% sucrose, and 4% corn syrup. To this, water is added to the tune of 10% of the constituents mass. The inclusion of the corn syrup apparently improves the fluidity of the melted mixture, which improves castability. This innovative casting method is detailed in Dan's web site.

Effects of Overheating
As the casting process of this propellant involves operation at an elevated temperature, it is important to know how much of a "safety margin" one has, with regard to possible hazards associated with inadvertent overheating. To determine the effects of possible overheating during the casting process, an experiment was performed in which a sample of KNSU propellant, of 65/35 O/F ratio, was overheated. This involved placing a small sample (approx. 10 grams) of the propellant mixture into an aluminum pan, and heating the sample with a forced-air heat gun (1400 watt; 1100 deg.F max. rating). A type-K thermocouple (chromel-alumel) was inserted into the propellant mixture to monitor temperature. The setup for this experiment is illustrated in Figure 7.

setup for overheat experiment
Figure 7 -- Setup for propellant "overheating" experiment

Melting of the mixture was rapid, owing to the high output of the heat gun, and brown coloured regions soon appeared in the melted mixture, as rapid decomposition of the sucrose began. The sample soon fully caramelized, with the temperature recorded at 200 C. (395 F.). Interestingly, the temperature of the propellant reached a "plateau" at this point, and would not rise even after several minutes of further heating, At this point, the propellant was a highly decomposed, with the appearance being that of a charred mixture of brown and black fused together, with some smoke emanating. Since the temperature of the mixture was not increasing beyond this plateau, it was decided to "force" ignition of the mixture by placing the tip of the heat gun about 2-3 cm. away from the sample, directed down from above. This caused a black carbon "skin" to form on the propellant closest to the heat source. After about 10 seconds, ignition occurred, and propellant sample burned nearly instantly, due to its greatly elevated temperature.
It would seem that, once decomposition of the sucrose initiates, that the added thermal energy of heating goes solely into decomposing the sucrose, rather than raising the thermal energy (temperature) of the propellant, a rather nice characteristic. As such, it would seem improbable that accidental ignition during casting would occur due to overheating, given the obvious indicators of overheating, such as severe caramelizing, and the fact that ignition does not readily occur.

Needless to say, appropriate safety precautions must always be taken when casting the propellant. Inadvertent ignition due to other unforseen causes (e.g. electrical short, static electricity, etc.) must be considered as a possibility. Appropriate apparel must be worn when casting the propellant, such as face & hand protection, as well as body & arm protection. Face shield or welders facemask, leather gloves, long-sleeve leather jacket are the absolute minimum. The fact that the KNSU propellant is highly tolerant of overheating must not lead to lax standards of safety, rather, this characteristic should only be considered to be a valuable margin of safety.
Safety Precautions

Heated propellant is inherently more hazardous than cool propellant for two reasons. For one thing, being already hot, less energy is required to ignite it. Cool propellant, even if exposed to a flame, takes time to ignite, as the absorbed energy first goes into melting. Hot propellant, being already melted, ignites readily if exposed to a flame. Secondly, the burn rate of hot propellant is much greater. Cool KNSU propellant will burn in the open air at a rate of 0.15 in/sec. Although I have not quantified the burn rate of molten propellant, ad hoc testing indicated it is much greater, perhaps by a factor of five.

During the entire casting operation, as a safety precaution, I would wear protective clothes. These included long leather welder's gloves, leather welder's arm protection and apron, and complete face protection, consisting of an arc welder's head and face shield. (of course, I only used the clear glass in the viewing port, not the darkened glass!). Other sensible precautions were also taken, such as having a fire extinguisher available (although it may not extinguish burning propellant) and keeping anything at all flammable away from the casting operation. I always had a large pail of water nearby (water can extinguish burning propellant by means of heat absorption).

In all the years of my rocketry work, I never had an accident that resulted in injury. Mishaps, and the unexpected, certainly occurred, but because I always took sensible precautionary measures, and considered safety as the number one priority, no harm resulted.
Propellant Chemistry and Performance Characteristics
Details of the KNSU propellant chemistry, combustion equation, and performance characteristics are detailed here.
Drawbacks of the KNSU propellant

There are a number of drawbacks to the KNSU propellant, the most significant of which are:

1) Casting at an elevated temperature. Since hot propellant ignites and burns more readily than cold propellant, this requires that special precautions be taken during the casting process to avoid any potential ignition sources. The propellant rapidly begins to harden as it cools, requiring that the pouring operation be conducted quickly. The melted mixture is also quite sticky (as one might expect!). I found it necessary to lubricate anything the mixture was to come into contact with during the casting procedure, such as the pouring funnel, and the coring tool. The sucrose in the mixture, once heated to melting temperature, begins to caramelize (decompose), which reduces the performance. Therefore, the heating process must be conducted over the minimum possible time duration.

2) High elastic modulus and brittle nature of the propellant grain. Although the material has reasonable strength and toughness, it is brittle in nature, meaning that if overstressed, will crack or break, rather than plastically deform to absorb energy. Care must be taken during handling to avoid cracking a grain. Before loading a grain into the motor, it should be inspected for cracks. I have found that a visual inspection is sufficient to detect cracks, owing to the translucent nature of the propellant which tends to make a crack readily visible. My experience has shown, however, that if a grain is overstressed, it will almost always break rather than crack, owing to the high elastic modulus.

3) Hygroscopic nature of the propellant grain. In its cast form, the KNSU propellant is hygroscopic, meaning that it readily absorbs moisture from the air. Of course, the more humid the air, the more significant the problem. My experience has indicated, however, that the effects are relatively minor, and more of a nuisance than anything else. Only the outer surface will become "sticky", if exposure to the air is kept to a minimum. There is no noticeable performance reduction. Ignition of the grain becomes somewhat more difficult, but if anything, I consider this to be an advantage on the side of safety.

4) Corrosive nature of exhaust products. One of the products of combustion is potassium carbonate, which is hygroscopic, absorbing moisture from the air to form an aqueous solution of hydroxide ions which can be rather corrosive. As well, the trace amount of KOH that forms exacerbates this. Although this is not a serious problem, it is a nuisance. Metals, especially aluminum, become etched or corroded if not cleaned immediately with warm water. It is best to shield any equipment or other components to prevent exposure, or to paint any surfaces that cannot be shielded. As well, the skin may can be irritated by the residue, if exposure is prolonged.
Assessment

The KNSU propellant may not be a particularly "sophisticated" one, nor such a high-performance propellant. As well, it does have its drawbacks. However, it is also clear that it does have significant merit, such that it meets or exceeds any reasonable expectation of the requirements set forth for an amateur rocket propellant. It is, after all, important to recognize that amateur requirements for a rocket propellant are not necessarily the same as the requirements for a professional rocket propellant, so lack of sophistication or performance may not be an important concern.

As a final note, I should mention that I rarely use this propellant for my rocket motors. Rather, I now use the more contemporary "sugar" propellants, namely the KN-Dextrose Propellant (KNDX) and the KN-Sorbitol Propellant (KNSB). Although very similar, these propellants have notable advantages over the "classic", such as a much lower casting temperature.


Vulcan94
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 8:28:38 PM EDT
tag
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 8:28:47 PM EDT
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 8:30:03 PM EDT
Been there, done that.

Lots of smoke, yes
Link Posted: 3/4/2006 8:30:59 PM EDT
Make it more interesting.

Throw some gun-powder, ammonium nitrate, or whatever in there & make it go BOOM, too!!



Link Posted: 3/5/2006 12:36:21 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Vulcan94:
Basicly what you are making is solid rocket fuel.

members.aol.com/nonillion/sucrose.html

Introduction
This web page describes the "classic" sugar-based rocket propellant comprised of a fused mixture of Potassium Nitrate serving as the oxidizer, and Sucrose (table sugar) serving as the fuel and binder. I first became familiar with the Potassium Nitrate-Sugar propellant in the early 1970's from Captain B.R.Brinley's book Rocket Manual for Amateurs. In his book, Brinley briefly describes this propellant, focusing mainly on its drawbacks. To his credit, however, he did state that "it might be worth your while to undertake a development project on this particular propellant...". And so this is exactly what I proceeded to do, and spent many years experimenting with this propellant. I conducted numerous static motor tests in order to determine the optimum O/F ratio, measured burning rate at various temperatures, pressures and O/F ratios, tried various grain configurations, performed combustion product analysis (using the old ORSAT apparatus, as well as apparatus of my own design), measured the propellant "impetus" by use of "closed vessel" combustion. And of course, I launched many rockets powered by this propellant, over 57 flights in total. I performed further investigation on this propellant during my final year at university, in particular, the theoretical performance, and wrote my graduation thesis Solid Propellant Rocket Motor Design and Testing based on both my theoretical and experimental work. So I got to know this propellant quite well indeed!

For convenience, I now use the acroynm KNSU in reference to the contemporary formulation of this propellant, which is 65% Potassium Nitrate and 35% Sucrose.

Although not a high performance propellant, KNSU delivers a fair specific impulse. Its main advantage over many other amateur formulations is the relative ease and safety of preparation and usage. Another factor that makes this propellant popular is the ingredients, both of which are commonly available.

The propellant described in this web page is heat cast, using a melting technique, to form the propellant body, or grain. Although some experimentalists have utilized the combination of KN and sucrose in the powdered, pressed form, or cold cast (using a solvent such as water), I have avoided such for a number of reasons. The two main reasons, however, are superior mechanical properties of the fused form, and the consistency of performance that is ensured by an essentially invariable final product that results from the melting method.

KNSU propellant grain

Figure 1 -- KNSU propellant grain for the B-200 motor
Formulation

As mentioned earlier, the standard ratio of constituents is 65% Potassium Nitrate and 35% Sucrose, by mass. This ratio has proven to give the best overall performance combined with acceptable casting qualities. Theoretically, the highest specific impulse is delivered at a 66/34 ratio, although the standard 65/35 ratio tends to be used by most experimentalists. There are three reasons for this:

1. The propellant characterization data has been obtained mainly for the 65/35 ratio
2. The performance difference is slight (about 1%).
3. The combustion temperature rises sharply with increased O/F ratio. At the 65/35 ratio, steel nozzles suffer no erosion, as there is an adequate margin between the theoretical flame temperature (1450C) and the melting point of steel (approx. 1500C). At higher O/F ratios, this margin is reduced such that a small error in weighing during preparation could result in a heat damaged nozzle (this happened to me once).

Another consequence of using higher O/F ratios is that the consistency of the melted mixture (slurry) is greater. This makes casting more difficult. The effect of using a lower O/F ratio is reduced performance and a slower burning rate. However, the slurry has a lower consistency, which makes casting easier. It is therefore suggested that those who are casting this propellant for the first time use the 60/40 O/F ratio. There is also less tendency for the slurry to caramelize during heating.

The Sucrose that I used was the very fine powdered form, commonly referred to as icing (or confectioners) sugar, rather than the common granular (table) sugar. This form contains up to 5% cornstarch. Since cornstarch and sucrose are chemically similar, the effect of this impurity may be neglected. Granular sugar may be used, it simply needs to be ground to a fine powder first.

Potassium nitrate, also known as saltpetre, is a commonly used chemical (used, for example, for pickling meats, and in toothpaste for "sensitive teeth") and as such is quite readily available. Other uses for potassium nitrate are for hydroponics, and in gardening for raising the nitrate level of soils. I’ve purchased potassium nitrate in 2 kg. lots at a veterinary chemical supply store. It is also available at many pharmacies, sold typically in 100 gram or 8 oz. tins. Potassium nitrate is also sold as 14-0-45 fertilizer at farm supply stores, typically 98-99% pure.This is by far the most economical form, and the performance is no different that purer grade. Other commercial sources for potassium nitrate are listed in my Links webpage.

Recent experimentation has shown that stump-remover is a viable source of potassium nitrate, at least the particular brand tested (Wilson's). According to the MSDS's, Spectracide, Later's and Dragon brands of Stump Remover are essentially pure potassium nitrate. Stump-remover is readily available at garden shops, home renovation outlets, and some hardware stores. Before use, however, the product may need to be washed in methanol to remove any caustic coating.

Preparation and Mixing

The first step in preparation of the propellant is to grind, or pulverize, the potassium nitrate to a fine texture. This may easily be done with the use of a Fluid Energy Mill (electric coffee grinder), such as that shown in Figure 2. The hopper should be half filled, then run the grinder for about 30-40 seconds. This will reduce the particle size to an average of 50-100 microns. As obtained, the potassium nitrate particles are typically 150-250 microns.
If granulated sugar is used rather than icing sugar, this should also be pulverized. A second grinder should then be used, rather than the one used for the potassium nitrate. The reason is that the seal that separate the grinding compartment from the motor compartment is not perfect. Over time, some fine powder finds its way into the motor compartment, and slowly accumulates. If the accumulated powder is solely sucrose, or solely potassium nitrate, the risk of the accumulation igniting is minimal. However, if the same grinder were used for both sucrose and oxidizer, the risk of combustion is much greater, creating an obvious hazard.

Following the grinding process, the two constituents are carefully weighed out using an accurate scale or balance beam. Enough of the powdered mixture of potassium nitrate and sucrose has to be prepared to take into account the inevitable waste resulting from the casting procedure, typically 20-25% for small batches, less for larger batchs. For the B-200 motor, which has a grain capacity of 225 grams, I would prepare 182 grams potassium nitrate, and 98 grams sucrose, for a total of 280 grams powdered mix. For the C-400 motor, with a grain capacity of 380 grams, the mixture would be 297 grams potassium nitrate, and 160 grams sucrose, totaling 457 grams dry mix. For the smaller A-100 motor, with a grain capacity of 100 grams, 131 grams of mix would be prepared, consisting of 85 grams potassium nitrate, and 46 grams of sucrose.

It should be noted that both sucrose and potassium nitrate, particular the finely divided form, are slightly hygroscopic and therefore a small percentage of the mass is due to moisture. If this percentage were sufficiently high, this could affect the final O/F ratio. However, testing that was conducted on sucrose showed that less than one percent moisture is present. Similar testing indicated the same is true for potassium nitrate, and thus moisture content may be neglected with little error in the final product.

coffee grinder
Figure 2 -- This $15 coffee grinder does a superb job of pulverizing the potassium nitrate to a fine texture.

After individually weighing out the two constituents, the two are blended together in a single container. Complete mixing of the two is necessary for optimum and consistent performance. I built an electric rotating mixer for this purpose (Figure 2). The powdered mixture is loaded into a tupperware container, then secured to the rotating drum with rubber bands, and, then allowed to mix for several hours. As a guideline, I allowed one hour per hundred grams of powdered mixture.
Once the mixing operation has been completed, the dry mixture is transferred immediately to a closed container for safe storage. Since the propellant, at this stage, is readily combustible, sensible precautions would be observed to keep it away from any possible ignition sources.

Propellant Mixer
Figure 3 --Propellant powder mixer
Mould
The mould is the "form" into which the propellant is cast to make the grain of the desired shape. All of my motors have had a "hollow cylindrical" shaped grain. This is simply a cylinder with a round, centrally located hole, or core. With such a grain, the mould can be any circular form, such as a metal tube. The core is formed in the grain by inserting a coring tool into the mould after the propellant has been loaded.
Coring tool For the A-100, B-200 and C-400 motors, the motor casing (with attached nozzle) served as the mould. Since the grain is to be removed after casting, the inside surface of the motor is first sprayed with light oil. In order to form the grain with a diameter slightly less than that of the inside diameter of the motor casing, a spacer is placed inside the motor (the grain is required to be a slightly loose fit in the motor in order to have all surfaces exposed for burning). The spacer consists of a sheet of medium weight paper (24 lb/90g/sq.m.), well lubricated first with oil, then with a light coating of grease. The paper should be sized such that it forms two or three layers. The grease that I used was automotive wheel bearing grease, which retains its viscosity at elevated temperature. For the B-200 motor, the paper size was 6.35 x 8.75 in., large enough to form a double layer around the inside perimeter of the casing. The sheet is carefully rolled and placed inside the motor, tightly against the walls.

The nozzle throat must be plugged to prevent the molten mixture from escaping. A cork plug provides a simple solution. Prior to casting, the motor must be held in a fixture, with an open, lightly lubricated metal funnel positioned to guide the molten mixture into the motor. I found that it is not necessary to preheat the mould.

The coring tool is a steel or aluminum rod, tapered at one end. The other end is fitted with a handle, and an adjustable guide that allows for exact centering of the coring tool in the mould. Prior to casting, the coring tool should be lightly coated with silicone lubricant, then preheated in an oven set at 300 F (150C.).
Another tool that aids the casting process is a plunger. This is simply an aluminum or steel rod of a diameter slightly less than the grain diameter. This tool is used to press down on the molten mixture once it is poured into the mould in order to compact the slurry and squeeze out any trapped air. Prior to casting, the plunger should be placed in a freezer for an hour or so. This is important and serves to prevent the molten mixture from sticking to the plunger.
Casting
The "slurry" casting process involves heating of the powdered mixture until it becomes molten, then casting into a mould to produce the propellant grain of the desired shape. The required temperature that the mixture must attain is just above the melting point of sucrose. The potassium nitrate, which has a much higher melting point, remains as solid particles. The result is a slurry of solid oxidizer particles suspended in liquid sucrose medium.

The vessel which I originally used for heating the mixture was a cast iron pot, of about one litre capacity, modified to be held partly submersed in an oil bath. Cast iron retains heat, which is beneficial for maintaining the mixture in a fluid state during the actual pouring operation, important, since the mixture "freezes" rapidly once it begins to cool. More recently, I've been using an oil-free method, which involves heating the mixture directly in a thermostatically controlled electric "deep fryer", with the thermostat set to 380 F. (Figure 5).

It is essential, from a long-term safety consideration, that only these methods be employed for heating propellant, the critical intent being that no exposed heating surface being of higher temperature than the melting point of the propellant. For this reason, heating the mixture in a container over an electric or gas stove element is absolutely unacceptable and must never be attempted (actually, common sense tells us this!). Although this propellant is highly tolerant of overheating, we want to keep this feature solely as a valuable safety margin. Suitable protective gear must be worn during the casting operation (see Effects of Overheating during Casting).

Casting setup

Figure 5 -- Casting setup for KNSU employing 'tilt-table' for the heating vessel (oil-free method).
(click for larger image)

The oil bath method utilizes a deep fryer, half filled with oil. Vegetable shortening works well, as it does not smoke at the required temperature, and becomes solid once cooled, convenient for storage. Other oils or fats with a high smoke point may alternatively be used. To monitor the temperature of the oil (or mixture), I used a Taylor, dial-type candy thermometer with a range of 100 - 400 deg. F. A better solution is to use a digital thermometer equipped with a probe (many of today's multimeters have this capability).

The casting procedure involves first preheating the oil/deep fryer to a temperature of 380 F, and maintaining this temperature +/- 5 degrees (for the 65/35 ratio; for 60/40 the temperature should be 370 F). Then, starting with a small amount, the powdered mix is added, and stirred often to assist melting. One this has melted, more powdered mix is added, and such is continued until all has been incorporated. Stirring often is important to prevent overheating , which leads to a greater degree of caramelization, and consequently reduced performance of the propellant. Caramelization is characterized by a darkening of the melt. The initial colour of the melted slurry is nearly colourless, but begins to turn tan colour as caramelization commences. Eventually, the colour will become that of peanut butter, as the whole mixture becomes fully molten, and is ready to be cast. A colour darker than this implies that the mixture has been heated too long, as caramelization is a function of time as well as temperature. The entire casting operation, from start of melting, to final pouring, usually took me about 1/2 hour with the oil bath method, twenty minutes if heated directly in the deep fryer.

Once all the powdered mixture has been incorporated into the melt, it is further heated and stirred, to eliminate any lumps that may be present. An additional five to ten minutes of heating will bring the slurry up to the casting temperature. Note that the slurry will not become fluid enough to pour. The consistency will remain quite thick, and must be simultaneously poured and scooped with a spoon onto the funnel, and allowed to flow into the mould. Immediately after loading, the coring tool would be inserted into the mould, making certain it is fully inserted all the way down. This completes the casting operation. The mixture is then allowed to cool and harden.

I found that it was very important to remove the grain from the motor mould after an exact amount of time had elapsed. If allowed to cool too long, it would be difficult to remove the grain. If removed too soon, it would still be flexible and could become deformed. I found that 45 minutes was the required cooling period. Using the handle of the coring tool, the entire grain could be quite easily extracted. The paper spacer could then be peeled off, and with a twist of the handle, the coring tool would snap loose and slide out of the grain. I would then use mineral spirits to clean the oil and grease from the grain, trim it to size, and (importantly) accurately weigh and measure the grain, record colour and amount and type of defects (such as bubbles), then place it inside a plastic bag. Better yet, vacuum seal the grain. At this point, the grain would be put inside a protective container and stored in a deep freeze until ready to be loaded into the motor. Loading the grain into the motor is one of the last steps before a flight (or static) test is performed. Two finished grains for the B-200 motor are shown in Figure 6.

For the neophyte who has never cast any sugar-based propellants, it is suggested that the grain casting process be first practiced using INERT propellant. The INERT propellant is prepared in exactly the same manner as KNSU, with the important exception that table salt (sodium chloride) is substituted for the potassium nitrate. This "propellant" melts and casts in a similar manner to the genuine thing, however, INERT propellant is completely non-combustible and inexpensive.

Notes on casting sucrose-based propellant

* The fully melted slurry is quite thick, and further heating will result in only marginally reduced viscocity.

* The slurry should be poured & scooped simultaneously into the mould. A spoon with an insulated handle works well to direct the slurry into the mould.

* Once all the mixture has been loaded into the mould, a plunger is used to press & compact the mixture and to squeeze out any trapped air. The plunger can be a steel or aluminum rod, of approximately 90% of the diameter of the mould. To prevent the propellant from sticking to the plunger, the plunger is pre-cooled in a freezer for several hours. An alternative plunger design is a hollow metal tube, closed & sealed at one end (see Figure 5). Prior to casting, a couple of ice cubes are dropped into the plunger to chill it.
Compacting the propellant in this manner is very effective in eliminating air bubbles, and the resulting grains typically have a density of 95-97% theoretical.

* The coring tool should be preheated in an oven set at 150oC. To allow for ease of removal of the coring tool, it is lightly coated with silicon grease (plumbers lubricant works very well). The most effective means to remove the coring tool after the propellant has solidified is to clamp the end of the coring tool in a work vise. The grain is then given a forceful rotational twist. The coring tool will then snap free and can be subsequently withdrawn with mininal effort.

The cast propellant should be within the colour range of the two grains shown in Figure 6 below:

Photo of two propellant grains
Figure 6 -- Two completed propellant grains: Top is 60/40 O/F ratio; Below is 75/25 O/F ratio. Note colour difference.
Alternative Casting Methods
There are alternative methods of casting KNSU propellant that other rocketry experimenters have developed. Two methods that I am aware of deserve particular attention. Both involve the inclusion of water and/or corn syrup to the basic propellant ingredients. One method involves dissolving the potassium nitrate and sucrose in water, then boiling until all the water has been eliminated. The suggested ratio of water to potassium nitrate/sucrose is 2 to 3. Interestingly, the thermostat of the heating vessel may be set to a lower temperature than with the slurry method, typically 130 to 150oC. (260 to 300o F.).

Although I have not used this technique to cast an actual propellant grain, I have conducted preliminary experimentation of both the standard 65/35 ratio, as well as the 60/40 ratio. For both, I have have produced small samples of propellant, including strands for burn rate measurement. It was found that the water boils away quite rapidly. An off-white slurry results, which must be heated further to drive out all residual water. This condition is indicated by a slight odour of caramelization. Further heating is done until the colour of the slurry is a light tan. The consistency of the 65/35 rato is definitely thicker than that of the slurry method, and the propellant needs to be packed into the mould rather than poured or scooped. However, it was found that the viscosity of the 60/40 ratio is sufficiently lower such that it can be cast in a manner similar to regular KNSU. Curiously, when the propellant cools and hardens, it is completely dry, unlike propellant prepared by the slurry method, which tends to develop a sticky film immediately after casting. Indeed, the hygroscopic nature of the propellant seems to be reduced...a sample strand that has been left in the open air for 6 months, at humidity levels ranging from 50 to 70%, has remained bone dry.

There are interesting advantages to using water as a medium for the propellant constituents during the heating process. There is no need to premix or to grind up the constituents, as both fully dissolve in the water. Combustion appears to be more efficient -- samples burned showed no sign of residue. Importantly, the water solution would clearly add additional safety to the process, at least during the initial phase where the water content is great. The casting temperature may also be lower. As well, the fact that both potassium nitrate and sucrose are soluble in water should produce a more homogenious propellant, which differs from the "composite" mixture of the heated slurry technique. Burn rate measurements at ambient pressure indicate a burn rate slightly greater than the "composite" version (0.45 cm/s versus 0.40 cm/s, typical). The difference in burn rate at elevated pressure, if any, is currently not known.

Dan Pollino ( www.inverseengineering.com) has developed a similar technique, with certain differences. Dan's formulation consists of 60% KN, 36% sucrose, and 4% corn syrup. To this, water is added to the tune of 10% of the constituents mass. The inclusion of the corn syrup apparently improves the fluidity of the melted mixture, which improves castability. This innovative casting method is detailed in Dan's web site.

Effects of Overheating
As the casting process of this propellant involves operation at an elevated temperature, it is important to know how much of a "safety margin" one has, with regard to possible hazards associated with inadvertent overheating. To determine the effects of possible overheating during the casting process, an experiment was performed in which a sample of KNSU propellant, of 65/35 O/F ratio, was overheated. This involved placing a small sample (approx. 10 grams) of the propellant mixture into an aluminum pan, and heating the sample with a forced-air heat gun (1400 watt; 1100 deg.F max. rating). A type-K thermocouple (chromel-alumel) was inserted into the propellant mixture to monitor temperature. The setup for this experiment is illustrated in Figure 7.

setup for overheat experiment
Figure 7 -- Setup for propellant "overheating" experiment

Melting of the mixture was rapid, owing to the high output of the heat gun, and brown coloured regions soon appeared in the melted mixture, as rapid decomposition of the sucrose began. The sample soon fully caramelized, with the temperature recorded at 200 C. (395 F.). Interestingly, the temperature of the propellant reached a "plateau" at this point, and would not rise even after several minutes of further heating, At this point, the propellant was a highly decomposed, with the appearance being that of a charred mixture of brown and black fused together, with some smoke emanating. Since the temperature of the mixture was not increasing beyond this plateau, it was decided to "force" ignition of the mixture by placing the tip of the heat gun about 2-3 cm. away from the sample, directed down from above. This caused a black carbon "skin" to form on the propellant closest to the heat source. After about 10 seconds, ignition occurred, and propellant sample burned nearly instantly, due to its greatly elevated temperature.
It would seem that, once decomposition of the sucrose initiates, that the added thermal energy of heating goes solely into decomposing the sucrose, rather than raising the thermal energy (temperature) of the propellant, a rather nice characteristic. As such, it would seem improbable that accidental ignition during casting would occur due to overheating, given the obvious indicators of overheating, such as severe caramelizing, and the fact that ignition does not readily occur.

Needless to say, appropriate safety precautions must always be taken when casting the propellant. Inadvertent ignition due to other unforseen causes (e.g. electrical short, static electricity, etc.) must be considered as a possibility. Appropriate apparel must be worn when casting the propellant, such as face & hand protection, as well as body & arm protection. Face shield or welders facemask, leather gloves, long-sleeve leather jacket are the absolute minimum. The fact that the KNSU propellant is highly tolerant of overheating must not lead to lax standards of safety, rather, this characteristic should only be considered to be a valuable margin of safety.
Safety Precautions

Heated propellant is inherently more hazardous than cool propellant for two reasons. For one thing, being already hot, less energy is required to ignite it. Cool propellant, even if exposed to a flame, takes time to ignite, as the absorbed energy first goes into melting. Hot propellant, being already melted, ignites readily if exposed to a flame. Secondly, the burn rate of hot propellant is much greater. Cool KNSU propellant will burn in the open air at a rate of 0.15 in/sec. Although I have not quantified the burn rate of molten propellant, ad hoc testing indicated it is much greater, perhaps by a factor of five.

During the entire casting operation, as a safety precaution, I would wear protective clothes. These included long leather welder's gloves, leather welder's arm protection and apron, and complete face protection, consisting of an arc welder's head and face shield. (of course, I only used the clear glass in the viewing port, not the darkened glass!). Other sensible precautions were also taken, such as having a fire extinguisher available (although it may not extinguish burning propellant) and keeping anything at all flammable away from the casting operation. I always had a large pail of water nearby (water can extinguish burning propellant by means of heat absorption).

In all the years of my rocketry work, I never had an accident that resulted in injury. Mishaps, and the unexpected, certainly occurred, but because I always took sensible precautionary measures, and considered safety as the number one priority, no harm resulted.
Propellant Chemistry and Performance Characteristics
Details of the KNSU propellant chemistry, combustion equation, and performance characteristics are detailed here.
Drawbacks of the KNSU propellant

There are a number of drawbacks to the KNSU propellant, the most significant of which are:

1) Casting at an elevated temperature. Since hot propellant ignites and burns more readily than cold propellant, this requires that special precautions be taken during the casting process to avoid any potential ignition sources. The propellant rapidly begins to harden as it cools, requiring that the pouring operation be conducted quickly. The melted mixture is also quite sticky (as one might expect!). I found it necessary to lubricate anything the mixture was to come into contact with during the casting procedure, such as the pouring funnel, and the coring tool. The sucrose in the mixture, once heated to melting temperature, begins to caramelize (decompose), which reduces the performance. Therefore, the heating process must be conducted over the minimum possible time duration.

2) High elastic modulus and brittle nature of the propellant grain. Although the material has reasonable strength and toughness, it is brittle in nature, meaning that if overstressed, will crack or break, rather than plastically deform to absorb energy. Care must be taken during handling to avoid cracking a grain. Before loading a grain into the motor, it should be inspected for cracks. I have found that a visual inspection is sufficient to detect cracks, owing to the translucent nature of the propellant which tends to make a crack readily visible. My experience has shown, however, that if a grain is overstressed, it will almost always break rather than crack, owing to the high elastic modulus.

3) Hygroscopic nature of the propellant grain. In its cast form, the KNSU propellant is hygroscopic, meaning that it readily absorbs moisture from the air. Of course, the more humid the air, the more significant the problem. My experience has indicated, however, that the effects are relatively minor, and more of a nuisance than anything else. Only the outer surface will become "sticky", if exposure to the air is kept to a minimum. There is no noticeable performance reduction. Ignition of the grain becomes somewhat more difficult, but if anything, I consider this to be an advantage on the side of safety.

4) Corrosive nature of exhaust products. One of the products of combustion is potassium carbonate, which is hygroscopic, absorbing moisture from the air to form an aqueous solution of hydroxide ions which can be rather corrosive. As well, the trace amount of KOH that forms exacerbates this. Although this is not a serious problem, it is a nuisance. Metals, especially aluminum, become etched or corroded if not cleaned immediately with warm water. It is best to shield any equipment or other components to prevent exposure, or to paint any surfaces that cannot be shielded. As well, the skin may can be irritated by the residue, if exposure is prolonged.
Assessment

The KNSU propellant may not be a particularly "sophisticated" one, nor such a high-performance propellant. As well, it does have its drawbacks. However, it is also clear that it does have significant merit, such that it meets or exceeds any reasonable expectation of the requirements set forth for an amateur rocket propellant. It is, after all, important to recognize that amateur requirements for a rocket propellant are not necessarily the same as the requirements for a professional rocket propellant, so lack of sophistication or performance may not be an important concern.

As a final note, I should mention that I rarely use this propellant for my rocket motors. Rather, I now use the more contemporary "sugar" propellants, namely the KN-Dextrose Propellant (KNDX) and the KN-Sorbitol Propellant (KNSB). Although very similar, these propellants have notable advantages over the "classic", such as a much lower casting temperature.


Vulcan94




Holy cliffnotes batman!


I just got back from a bar, and im waaaaay to drunk to get past the first sentenence.

All I know is I made a shit load of smoke and it was fucking cool

I set it off in the community grill in the couryard of my apt. complex. I didnt want anything to catch fire as this thing set off quite the flame

What other fun projects can be done with potassium nitrate? I was thinking about making some giant firecrackers, but Im pretty surethat;s iiilegal.

I would love to make a rocket out of this stuff, I was thinking about making multiple batchez to pore into a tube and make a giant smoke bomb, it'd be really cool.

Damn im drunk
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 12:39:46 AM EDT

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
I would love to make a rocket out of this stuff, I was thinking about making
multiple batchez to pore into a tube and make a giant smoke bomb, it'd be really cool.

Damn im drunk



You might be crossing a line there bub
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 12:45:26 AM EDT
hahahahaa, not to explode, somethind to give shape to the molten goop this stuff turns into. I filled a cup with it to give it shape, then let cool. You know those smoke bombs that are like 4 bucks each abd are a 5 inch cardbored tybe? Something like that just 10x bigger!

This shit just ingnites and send out a big flame and poores out smoke. I think the people in the buildin behind me are pretty pissed/worreid something is on fire over here hahahah. The wind pushed all the smoke back there.



I knew this was gonna be fun when I peel back the sticker on the stump remover and it said "WARHING: CONTAINTS POTASSIUM NITRATE"


Link Posted: 3/5/2006 12:52:25 AM EDT
I wouldn't light that shit off in an apartment complex...some old lady might call the fire department and you would be up shits creek...

Find some where safe to light it off..
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 12:53:51 AM EDT

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
hahahahaa, not to explode, somethind to give shape to the molten goop this stuff turns into. I filled a cup with it to give it shape, then let cool. You know those smoke bombs that are like 4 bucks each abd are a 5 inch cardbored tybe? Something like that just 10x bigger!

This shit just ingnites and send out a big flame and poores out smoke. I think the people in the buildin behind me are pretty pissed/worreid something is on fire over here hahahah. The wind pushed all the smoke back there.



I knew this was gonna be fun when I peel back the sticker on the stump remover and it said "WARHING: CONTAINTS POTASSIUM NITRATE"





Check out this website if you want to know about one mans hobby.

www.nakka-rocketry.net/

It's where I got all that info.


Vulcan94
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 12:58:38 AM EDT

Originally Posted By pv74:
I wouldn't light that shit off in an apartment complex...some old lady might call the fire department and you would be up shits creek...

Find some where safe to light it off..



It's an apartnmet complex restricted to college students. So no worries there. I was worreid security was gonna see ti, but they didnt and it's al over nows.

Quite a bit of smoke, more than I anticipateded.
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 1:15:18 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 3/5/2006 1:16:04 AM EDT by 22bad]

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
I would love to make a rocket out of this stuff, I was thinking about making
multiple batchez to pore into a tube and make a giant smoke bomb, it'd be really cool.

Damn im drunk



You might be crossing a line there bub


Originally Posted By 1BMF:
hahahahaa, not to explode, somethind to give shape to the molten goop this stuff turns into. I filled a cup with it to give it shape, then let cool. You know those smoke bombs that are like 4 bucks each abd are a 5 inch cardbored tybe? Something like that just 10x bigger!

This shit just ingnites and send out a big flame and poores out smoke. I think the people in the buildin behind me are pretty pissed/worreid something is on fire over here hahahah. The wind pushed all the smoke back there.

I knew this was gonna be fun when I peel back the sticker on the stump remover and it said "WARHING: CONTAINTS POTASSIUM NITRATE"



Okay.........I'm guessing you don't have a lot of experience dealing with the legal system, some lessons are easier(and cheaper)than others
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 1:17:24 AM EDT

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
Also, we dont have any fuses, so were just gonna light it on fire or something. Any ideas?



You can buy cannon fuse at several places.
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 1:24:44 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 3/5/2006 1:25:57 AM EDT by DavidHayter]
You could probably substitute say 10% of your KNO3 (potassium nitrate) with 10% potassium permanganate to 'color' your smoke. Might make the volume of smoke greater too. Might also make the compound slightly less stable.

Blended sulfur and KNO3 should smoke nicely, but it may be an explosive too, dependant on the ratios.

Potassium permanganate and glycerine will spontaneously combust. Smoke and fire.


Other things to do with KNO3? Give a little to your dog every day. Over time the dog will get mean as hell. If your into that sort of thing.


EDT: I would defiantely wait till your sober before playing with fire. Just ask Richard Pryor.
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 1:27:37 AM EDT

Originally Posted By 1BMF:

Originally Posted By pv74:
I wouldn't light that shit off in an apartment complex...some old lady might call the fire department and you would be up shits creek...

Find some where safe to light it off..



It's an apartnmet complex restricted to college students. So no worries there. I was worreid security was gonna see ti, but they didnt and it's al over nows.

Quite a bit of smoke, more than I anticipateded.




Oh.... a crazy college student

Find some other place to carry out your research...

You dont want your name in the paper after you light off a big one and the FD gets a call...
Link Posted: 3/5/2006 1:29:10 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Stealth:

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
Also, we dont have any fuses, so were just gonna light it on fire or something. Any ideas?



You can buy cannon fuse at several places.



Heh
Link Posted: 3/7/2006 3:40:31 PM EDT
Link Posted: 3/7/2006 3:46:26 PM EDT
Next UP:

How to burn a bag of popcorn in the microwave.
Link Posted: 3/7/2006 5:33:27 PM EDT
tag
Link Posted: 3/7/2006 5:39:28 PM EDT

Originally Posted By 1BMF:
I set it off in the community grill in the couryard of my apt. complex. I didnt want anything to catch fire as this thing set off quite the flame

What other fun projects can be done with potassium nitrate? I was thinking about making some giant firecrackers, but Im pretty surethat;s iiilegal.

I would love to make a rocket out of this stuff, I was thinking about making multiple batchez to pore into a tube and make a giant smoke bomb, it'd be really cool.

Damn im drunk



Can I add "and fucking stupid", too? Go clean the grill.
Link Posted: 3/7/2006 6:20:30 PM EDT

Originally Posted By gardenWeasel:
Next UP:

How to burn a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

Link Posted: 3/7/2006 6:39:30 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 3/7/2006 6:41:08 PM EDT by FMD]

Originally Posted By DavidHayter:
Other things to do with KNO3? Give a little to your dog every day. Over time the dog will get mean as hell. If your into that sort of thing If giving your dog a nasty ulcer to make him "mean as hell" is "your sort of thing".



Fixed it.

Asshat.

Top Top