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Methane May Allow Rockets To Go Beyond The Fringes Of Space

The XCOR 5M15 engine.
by Staff Writers
Washington (ANI) (SPX) May 10, 2007
Engineers at XCOR Aerospace say that methane gas can be better used as a fuel to power rockets in the future. Its abundance on several planets of the solar system, including Mars, holds promise of making interplanetary flights free from dependence on earthly fuels if spaceships have to travel to other planets in a timely fashion.

"It's not as nice as kerosene. But it's available on Mars and other parts of the solar system," said Aleta Jackson, a XCOR Aerospace scientist.

The XCOR team tested the viability of using the gas as a rocket fuel on a prototype supersonic methane rocket engine.

The experiment revealed that the 5M15 engine, by combining liquid oxygen with liquid methane, burned at supersonic speeds and generated 7,500 pounds of thrust. Researchers said apart from the fact that methane is available in large quantity on Saturn's moon Titan, Jupiter and several other planets, it is also safer for humans, compared to hydrocarbons, which are quite toxic.

Another advantage is the higher temperatures at which methane is a liquid. Hydrogen used to launch space shuttles needs to be kept at -423.4 degrees Fahrenheit (-253 C), whereas methane is liquid at a -259.6 F (-162 C). Researchers said the good news is that the tests of the prototype engine in California's Mojave Desert has demonstrated that a methane rocket engine is not an impracticality. The next step will be now to improve on the engine so that it can cool itself and operate longer without overheating, reports Discovery News.

Only after that, Alliant Techsystems, which is overseeing XCOR Aerospace's work for NASA, will design a lighter-weight version of the gas rocket that would be more practical for space flight. (ANI)

Source: ANI - Copyright 2007

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Researchers Create New Class Of Compounds
Baltimore MD (SPX) Jan 22, 2007
Researchers have synthesized a new class of aluminum-hydrogen compounds with a unique chemistry that could lead to the development of more powerful solid rocket fuel and may also, in time, be useful for hydrogen-powered vehicles or other energy applications. An article about this research, led by scientists at the Johns Hopkins and Virginia Commonwealth universities, is published in the Jan. 19 issue of the journal Science.

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