Ending NASA’s Space Shuttle into orbit required more than 3.5 million pounds of fuel, which is about 15 times heavier than a blue whale. But a new type of engine — called a rotating detonation engine — promises to make rockets not only more fuel-efficient but also more lightweight and less complicated to construct. There’s just one problem: Right now, the engine is too unpredictable to be used in an actual rocket.
Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a mathematical model that describes how these engines work. With this information, engineers can, for the first time, develop tests to improve these engines and make them more stable.