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AFRL Funding Propels Advances In Eco-Friendly Rocket Fuel

AFRL-funded researchers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and academia (Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University) used this 9 ft rocket to test an environmentally friendly new energetic propellant named ALICE (for its aluminum and ice constituents).
by Maria Callier
Arlington VA (SPX) Feb 10, 2010
A collaborative effort between Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA and academia resulted in the successful launch of a small rocket using a safe, environmentally friendly propellant.

The substance, comprising aluminum powder and ice, thus known as ALICE, is suitable both for short flights in earth's atmosphere and for long-distance space missions, an advantageous utility in terms of NASA's exploration goals.

Leveraging AFRL funding, aerospace engineers from NASA and graduate researchers from Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University conducted the investigations of nanoscale aluminum and water formulas that ultimately precipitated development of the new propellant--a substance with the consistency of toothpaste. Once manufactured, the pastelike material fits easily into molds, where it cools to a temperature of -30C 24 hours before flight.

During testing, the 9 ft, ALICE-fueled rocket soared to a height of 1,300 ft over Purdue University's Scholer Farms, IN. The energetic propellant, which exhibits a high burn rate, achieved a maximum thrust of 650 lbs during tests.

These results are exciting news to the research community; they indicate that ALICE could potentially replace--as well as outperform--certain liquid or solid (i.e., conventional) propellants, especially if improved via the addition of oxidizers.

Further, ALICE could theoretically be manufactured in distant places, such as the moon or even Mars, instead of being transported to such remote locations at high cost.

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