Spacecraft might one day refuel on the moon or Mars using plain old ice. A small rocket flew earlier this month on an environmentally-friendly propellant consisting of aluminum powder and water ice.
The "ALICE" fuel mixture being developed by Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University could someday replace liquid or solid rocket propellants, and possibly enable higher performance as well. The implications for space exploration could also mean accessible fuel reserves at future lunar or Martian outposts, which naturally attract the interest of NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
"ALICE can be improved, with the addition of oxidizers, and become a potential solid rocket propellant on Earth," said Steven Son, a Purdue researcher. "Theoretically, ALICE can be manufactured in distant places like the moon or Mars, instead of being transported to distant locations at high cost."
The nine-foot rocket reached a height of 1,300 feet, based on the propellant's high burn rate and maximum thrust of 650 pounds during the latest flight test. ALICE reportedly has a toothpaste-like consistency, and is cooled to -30° C (-22° F) 24 hours before flight.
The key to ALICE's efficacy comes from the nanoscale aluminum powder, whose fine texture provides more surface area for reacting with the water. But researchers also noted that the nano-aluminum remains somewhat expensive.
Such propellant may not in fact prove more environmentally friendly than the liquid hydrogen-oxygen rockets used by the space shuttle, which leave an exhaust of water vapor, as The Register points out. But ALICE could prove a promising alternative to solid propellants.
If I had enough of that Aluminium powder a good stretch of the ocean and a freeze ray to get it to -30° C then we could have quite the fire works display. Hmmmmm...
On a serious note. It does have great useability, but we need to reduce the cost of the powder while at the same time upping the thrust. Could be useful for hopping between the Earth and Moon. Mabey even asteroid to asteroid in a mining opperation.
Whats the Specific impulse of this stuff?
thor, with Al powder all you need is an electric spark and you'll have quiet the fireworks. It is nasty exploding stuff that tends go detonate simply from static electricity in the air. Typically, it's added to rocket motors to drastically increase their Isp. There's also nothing "environmentally friendly" about it.
"environmentally friendly" is really only a marketing tool, so forget it.
though im no expert, but I must say the idea looks good
(using it for fireworks would look even better :P )
adding to atela, al particles are also added to increase combustion stability in solids, they can be tuned have the same characteristic response time in order to soak up wave energy at the frequency of the combustion wave speed/chamber length. there are a lot of reasons to pursue this kind of fuel.