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AFOSR and NASA test launch rocket with environment-friendly aluminium-ice propellant


This is a photograph of the ALICE flightvehicle assembled on the launch rail. Photo by Steven F. Son/Purdue University

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and NASA recently announced the launch of the first test rocket to use an environmentally-friendly propellant dubbed “ALICE”.

ALICE is comprised of aluminium powder and ice water and has the potential to replace some liquid or solid propellants. Theoretically, when it is optimized, it could have a higher performance than conventional propellants.

Using ALICE as a fuel, a nine-foot rocket soared to the height of 13,000 feet over Purdue University’s Scholer farms in Indiana. ALICE has the consistency of toothpaste when made. It can be fit into molds and then cooled to -30 Celsius 24 hours before flight. The propellant has a high burn rate. It achieved a maximum thrust of 650 pounds during this test.

“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’s 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"Ryschkewitsch said.

The next step would be improving the ALICE propellant with the addition of oxidizers. It is theorized that this could make ALICE a potential solid rocket propellant on Earth. Away from Earth, ALICE can be manufactured on locations such as the moon or Mars instead of being transported at a large cost.

The study was a collaborative research of AFOSR and NASA along with Purdue and the Pennsylvania State University.


-   Katrice R. Jalbuena



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