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NASA tests eco-friendly rocket fuel

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August 23, 2009

The ALICE-powered NASA rocket launched in Indiana this month

The ALICE-powered NASA rocket launched in Indiana this month

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NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) have successfully launched a nine-foot rocket to a height of 1,300ft using an environmentally-friendly propellant made from aluminum powder and water ice. The fuel, called ALICE, has the consistency of toothpaste with a high burn rate and achieved a maximum thrust of 650 pounds during this test.

ALICE propelled the craft over Purdue University's Scholer farms in Indiana earlier this month. The fuel is safer to handle to traditional fuels and can be fitted into molds before being cooled to –30C 24 hours before flight.

What has researchers excited is that they believe ALICE has the potential to replace some liquid or solid propellants, saying that when optimized, it could have a higher performance than conventional propellants. "A sustained collaborative research effort on the fundamentals of the combustion of nanoscale aluminum and water over the last few years led to the success of this flight," said Dr Steven F. Son, a research team member from Purdue. "ALICE can be improved with the addition of oxidizers and become a potential solid rocket propellant on Earth. Theoretically, ALICE can be manufactured in distant places like the moon or Mars, instead of being transported to distant locations at high cost."

"This collaboration has been an opportunity for graduate students to work on an environmentally-friendly propellant that can be used for flight on Earth and used in long distance space missions," said NASA Chief Engineer Mike Ryschkewitsch at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "These sorts of university-led experimental projects encourage a new generation of aerospace engineers to think outside of the box and look at new ways for NASA to meet our exploration goals."

"By funding this collaborative research with NASA, Purdue University and the Pennsylvania State University, AFOSR continues to promote basic research breakthroughs for the future of the Air Force," said Dr Brendan Godfrey, director of AFOSR.

NASA has, for some time, investigated the use of alternative fuels to replace the rocket fuel it currently uses to launch vehicles like the space shuttles.

Via Eurekalert

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4 Comments

What's environmentally friendly about it?

felix
24th August, 2009 @ 12:57 am PDT

If this fuel is releasing the energy from aluminium in the form of hydrogen then the fuel may produce no emmisions when it burns but it will have been very carbon intensive to produce as aluminium has to be refined in a refinary. It's like saying a battery is CO2 free and getting the power for it from coal.

Hamish Robertson
24th August, 2009 @ 07:54 pm PDT

The US military establishment is absolutely beyond the pale and must have a warped sense of humour and reality! There is NO SUCH THING AS AN ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY WEAPON, perhaps with the exception of a grass-woven mosquito swat or the like. AFOSR should reassess its values!

neiloart
25th August, 2009 @ 03:56 am PDT

Come on responders! This is about improved non-volatile eco-friendly FUEL! It's not about how much carbon is produced during it's production, coal, the US "military establishment", weapons, grass swats, or the AFOSR! This FUEL is eco-friendly because if exposed to earth elements, it turns back into nano-sized aluminum powder and the ice evaporates! Add to that the fact that it might be possible to produce this FUEL in space, thereby negating the need to load extra conventional FUEL, which is volatile and both expensive to produce and expensive to haul (from earth). Did I mention this article is about the FUEL?

Will, the tink
11th December, 2009 @ 02:30 pm PST
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