Steam Powered Rocket to Blast Off to Space

2959 views
80 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 8,261 posts
Posted by Overmod on Thursday, August 15, 2019 9:35 AM

Shades of the Goon Show "Wings over Dagenham"

Cut the string ... now, I'm going to accelerate to 30 miles per hour!

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 11,203 posts
Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 2:31 PM

Mythbusters had an episode that explored stories that the Confederacy had (or were at least working on) a steam-powered rocket. As I recall, they determined it was plausible.

Stix
  • Member since
    January, 2019
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 1,904 posts
Posted by Flintlock76 on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 3:53 PM

There was  a steam-powered cannon built during the Civil War but it was a bust.  If I remember correctly one shot was all it was good for, then it took forever to build up pressure again for a second shot.  

It was called the Winans' Steam Gun.  Designed by Charles S. Dickenson and built by Ross Winans (I think we all know THAT name!) in Baltimore it was intended for the Confederates but was confiscated by the US Army ( the 6th Massachusetts) in May of 1861.  

Here's the NASA Spaceflight Forum discussion on the Confederate rocket.  Interesting reading!

https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=19894.0 

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 8,261 posts
Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 4:33 PM

The "Winans" steam gun was centrifugal, not pressure-limited.  Mythbusters built a replica in 2007 that ran the disc at something like 2000 rpm but found even the 'point blank' velocity not 'lethal'.  See John Lamb's book and Strange Engines blog for more.

The long pointed cowl is a shield against counter fire: it has a thin horizontal slot that allows barrel traverse and the whole device is elevated as the plane of the horizontal wheel.  Note that the design would greatly benefit from large 'flywheel' mass.  There are a couple of other guns, one patented as early as 1838, that use the same 'sling' principle.

Somewhat surprisingly, no one seems to have used this to sling dynamite grenades, or to drive any of the contemporary high rate-of-fire magazine weapons with either an engine or clockwork wound by one.  (Railroad tie-in is that similar high-speed clockwork can be used for high-precision riding cutoff with trick-ported slide valves)  

Seems it took until 1883 for the first dynamite guns to be tried, and a decade more for the free-piston gas generator version (that was actually used in the Spanish-American War!)

There are steam guns that can achieve very high muzzle velocities using a 'multiplicity' of fairly small Perkins boilers, if you have good precision timing to release the steam sequentially behind the projectile -- who was that Canadian guy the Israelis killed?  Ah yes, Gerald Bull.

  • Member since
    January, 2019
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 1,904 posts
Posted by Flintlock76 on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 4:48 PM

Very good.  I didn't catch that "Mythbusters" episode, and I don't have a lot of info here in the archives of the "Fortress Flintlock" about the steam gun, just a short blurb in one of my Civil War books.

I did catch the "M-B" show where they built a Hale rocket, that was fun!

The only other thing I could find out about the steam gun was it was never tried in combat, but it was installed as part of the defenses of a B&O bridge over the Patuxant River.

I remember reading about the "dynamite gun," that turned out to be a disappointment as well.

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 8,261 posts
Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 6:43 PM

Flintlock76
I remember reading about the "dynamite gun," that turned out to be a disappointment as well.

It was an idea that made enormous sense at the time: you couldn't fire contemporary high-explosive charges from rifled guns as the perceived combination of concussion and friction heat would cause the charge to go off prematurely, perhaps while still in the barrel.  Therefore the idea of using compressed air (at about 2500psi, which seems high until you look at the kinetics and, more importantly, the required mass flow) to provide a smooth push for the available length of the barrel.  The 1890s guns that used a powder charge to flash-compress the air are probably the most interesting in terms of thinking about what's going on; it's also valuable to note why compressed air, and not steam, was used as the 'working fluid' in these guns.  

I admit I still have fun with the true high-velocity gun designs like SHARP that use hydrogen of some flavor as the driver gas.  It's sooooo just-the-opposite from what you want in rocketry.

I still think it's strange that nobody with a Hale tubular launcher thought to put the thing on padding on his shoulder and point it straight at the enemy...

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 7:21 PM

What sort of exit muzzle velocity did these devices have,  compared to Pak 43 8.8 cm's 3400-3700 ft/sec?

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 8,261 posts
Posted by Overmod on Friday, August 23, 2019 7:00 AM

charlie hebdo
What sort of exit muzzle velocity did these devices have, compared to Pak 43 8.8 cm's 3400-3700 ft/sec?

Took me a little digging to get substantiable numbers.  The answer of course is 'piss-poor' but there is some more to the story.

Hansen's article in Technology and Culture (1984) indicates that muzzle velocity for a Zelinsky gun (at 2000psi supply) was 1400f/s.  This resulted in very high angles being needed for ranging, and a practical range of not more than about 3 miles.  It did not help that the devices were not rifled and it does not appear that any secondary guidance means, even extensible vanes, were tried.

This muzzle velocity is slightly incomparable with the PaK because it is the result of a long, slow acceleration with assumed near-constant driving pressure.  I do not know the peak pressure behind the shell in that weapon but presume it is well in excess of 54kpsi; this will produce a quick initial acceleration but the rate of change will be relatively large as the gas space extends and various losses remove heat from the gas.  Compare this with the German multistage pipe gun (which was one of the bases for Bull's designs) where new hot gas was periodically introduced at high pressure close behind the base of the accelerating projectile independent of its accrued speed.  That will get you some interesting muzzle velocities, well up into the range necessary for FOBS or even full LEO velocities.

 

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, August 23, 2019 11:59 AM

As they say,  the proof is in the pudding.  The 8.8 cm Pak 36 - 41s were some of the finest cannons ever produced in large numbers.  Given it was able to be effective at over 35,000 feet,   I  would think its velocity must have maintained pretty well. 

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 8,261 posts
Posted by Overmod on Friday, August 23, 2019 12:30 PM

charlie hebdo
Given it was able to be effective at over 35,000 feet,   I  would think its velocity must have maintained pretty well. 

That, and that in the ways it was usually used as a 'Panzerabwehrkanone', it was even more preternaturally lethal.  Essentially flat to 2 miles, which is about the maximum range I think non-spotted tank duels would be fought, with up to 8lb practical warload. 

The difference is (as usual with the British and Americans missing the train for a while) the German work into careful desensitizing and other design of things like HEAT payload to be accelerated at the necessary rate and survive the incident heating.  The "air" dynamite guns were designed neither to shock nor heat stuff like blasting gelatin until impact on the target ... and somewhat minimize forces on the shell even then.

Something I don't know, though, is whether the PaK guns provide enough blast, smoke, directionally-identifiable shock and supersonic trace to permit easy identification and triangulation of their presence and then their position.  An advantage of the dynamite guns, mentioned fairly often in accounts of them, was their almost inaudible cough (followed by the terror roar of the charge going off) and high-lob trajectory that would be difficult to trace from the ground (particularly if the shell were painted to be low-visible against ambient skylight).  

 

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, August 23, 2019 2:31 PM

[duplicate]

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, August 23, 2019 3:13 PM

If you were in a Sherman, aka, a Ronson or Tommycooker, within a mile of a Tiger,  it's doubtful you would have time to triangulate and be close enough to get in a side shot to penetrate before you were a goner. 

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 8,261 posts
Posted by Overmod on Friday, August 23, 2019 4:01 PM

Jagdtiger, not Tiger.  And no, you wouldn't have the chance.

The appropriate technology didn't come along until many decades later, anyway: it postdates the Vietnam War efforts into battlefield sensors.

Nowadays the situation is a bit different: hunkered-down troops with PCM would take the tank out long before its crew could get that long gun tube to bear and settle.  If there is sufficient cover.

Interesting that we now have faster guns, and more accurate ones, but they depend on expensive propellants and even more expensive terminal guidance to replace what a PaK 43 does inherently.

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, August 23, 2019 4:47 PM

We were discussing the various 88s, such soon a Tiger or as freestanding  anti-tank guns.  The Jagdtiger mounted a 128 mm.

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 8,261 posts
Posted by Overmod on Saturday, August 24, 2019 11:16 AM

charlie hebdo
We were discussing the various 88s, such soon a Tiger or as freestanding  anti-tank guns.

You're mixing KwK with PaK (which is not 'wrong' but if you're going to stickle, sticle correctly), and the 'equivalent' to the PaK 43 was on the Tiger II, not the Tiger.

And the sources I have indicate that yes, this KwK 43 was the gun used on many, if not most, of the Jagdpanzers as built.  I will look more carefully into this.

The Jagdtiger mounted a 128 mm.

But when did anyone say 'Jagdtiger'? Wink

 

[/quote]

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, August 24, 2019 1:30 PM

You did.  Look  at your post.

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, August 24, 2019 1:53 PM

I was not confounding anything. So, for clarity: 

The Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. E (Tiger I) mounted an 8.8 cm KwK 36 L/56. 

The Pzkw VI Ausf. B (Tiger II or King Tiger) mounted an 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71 cannon.

Its chassis was used for the Jagdtiger (Panzerjäger Tiger Ausf B) tank destroyer, which mounted a larger 12.8 cm Pak 44 L/55 [yes!] anti tank cannon. 

The Jagdpanther (Sd.Kfz 173) tank destroyer mounted an 8.8 cm Pak 43/3 (similar to the gun on the Tiger II) or the 8.8 cm Pak 43/4 L71.  I hope that clarifies the differences.

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, August 24, 2019 2:19 PM

But many problems. A problem with all of these was the complex designs, prone to teeting problems and mechanical breakdowns with difficult repairs.  Hence many were abandondoned in the field for that reason, not battle damage. Another was high cost and long manufacturing times so that relatively few were operational. A third was their heavy weights and underpowering, so that they were slow movers, somewhat akin to Mallets:

https://images.app.goo.gl/dgS46zWGJbZjeuV46

 

  • Member since
    September, 2017
  • 1,791 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, August 25, 2019 4:00 PM

https://images.app.goo.gl/dgS46zWGJbZjeuV46

  • Member since
    May, 2017
  • 255 posts
Posted by xboxtravis7992 on Saturday, September 07, 2019 1:09 PM

The biggest problem a steam powered rocket would have to reach the Karman line (100 km altitude) is simply packing enough power to get to that altitude. Steam is a very heavy 'rocket fuel' with relatively low thrust and low specific impulse (sort of a fuel efficiency measure for a rocket). While a suborbital hop needs less power than a full orbital insertion; its still a hefy power requirment. The only space craft that have ever really been designed for those types of flights (excluding aborted orbital launches such as Soyuz 18a) are the X-15, Mercury-Redstone, SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo, and the New Shepard. Of those, only New Shepard and Mercury-Redstone were ground launched, on chemical fueled rockets obviously much larger than this guy's steam powered rocket thing. While the X-15 and SpaceShip series is closer in size to the steam rocket, they require an airplane to lift them to high altitude prior to launching. Of course the orbital class rockets (Soyuz, Saturn IB and V, Titan, Falcon 9, Space Shuttle, SLS, Starship, etc...) are much much much larger than the smaller suborbital classes. The fact this guy's launches have yet to reach even the cruising speed of many modern jet airliners is probably proof of steam's poor attributes for rocket fuel. 

The reason a steam-nuclear rocket is appeal for space flight is its potential in space flight with high efficiency in the atmosphere-free and low gravity environments of deep space. However to escape Earth's gravity and atmosphere requires heavy lift, hence why any proposed steam-nuclear design would be an upper stage that wouldn't start burning until high into space and free of the atmosphere. Its why engines such as Ion Drives are popular on satellites, but not used in ground based craft, they just simply don't work in atmosphere. The rocket equation is a harsh tyrant, whose's rules over spaceflight have been proven time and time again.

Lastly, if you want to prove the earth is round with your own eyes... there are so many cheaper ways to do it than attempting a rocket launch. The Greeks proved it with a stick and its shadows in the sun combined with basic trig. In the modern day one can easily use telescopes to track the orbital motion of satellites, whose orbital mechanics would simply stop working if they weren't going around a spherical earth. Or if he's dead set on the rocket idea, just save up a large wad of cash and spend it on pre-reserving a flight on SpaceShipTwo or New Shepard once those start flying tourists. 

Although to tie it back into steam trains... if I had the wad of cash needed to book a flight on SpaceShipTwo or New Shepard, frankly I could think of many heritage railroads that could use such a large donation in their favor... 

  • Member since
    January, 2019
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 1,904 posts
Posted by Flintlock76 on Saturday, September 07, 2019 1:33 PM

charlie hebdo

But many problems. A problem with all of these was the complex designs, prone to teeting problems and mechanical breakdowns with difficult repairs.  Hence many were abandondoned in the field for that reason, not battle damage. Another was high cost and long manufacturing times so that relatively few were operational. A third was their heavy weights and underpowering, so that they were slow movers, somewhat akin to Mallets:

https://images.app.goo.gl/dgS46zWGJbZjeuV46

 

 

I'm reminded of something I read about Colonel Creighton Abrams, the distinguished armor commander from WW2.

Post war, he was asked what he thought would be an ideal battle tank.  Know what he said?

"Gimme a King Tiger that works!


While we're on the subject of Tigers, King Tigers, Jagdtigers, and "88's" let me recommend an oustanding YouTube channel called "Mark Felton Productions."

Dr. Felton is an English historian who puts out some fascinating videos, mostly on World War Two but covering other 20th Century conflicts as well.  I'll tell you, Dr. Felton gets more done in ten minutes or less than a lot of History Channel documentarys do in an hour!  And the little-know stories he discovers are just amazing!   Here's the link, and I'm sure you'll find Dr. Felton as enjoyable as I do.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfCKvREB11-fxyotS1ONgww  

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy