Eco-rocket blasts off

by Stephen Hurrell. Published Mon 24 Aug 2009 09:38, Last updated: 2009-08-24
The ALICE flight reached 1,300 feet. Credit: Dr. Steven F. Son, Purdue University

Environmentally friendly fuel could save the planet, but now scientists have created an eco rocket fuel that could allow us to leave the planet entirely.

Researchers at NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) have successfully launched a nine-foot rocket fuelled by an environmentally friendly propellant.

The rocket, which reached a height of 1,300 feet and a top speed of 250mph above Purdue University in Indiana, was fuelled by a propellant made from aluminium powder and water ice, called ALICE.

The breakthrough in rocket propellants could replace current liquid and solid fuel and has the potential to power flights both on Earth and in space.

"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 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 the box and look at new ways for NASA to meet our exploration goals."

Dr Steven F Son, a research team member from Purdue, added: "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.

"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."

It is believed the toothpaste-like substance may have a higher performance than other rocket propellants.

Dr Brendan Godfrey, director of AFOSR, said: "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.”

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