Air Force, NASA fire off environmentally-friendly rocket

Aluminum powder and water ice make for pasty rocket fuel

Fueled by ALICE
NASA and Air Force said today they had successfully launched a 9ft rocket 1,300 feet into the sky powered by aluminum powder and water ice.

Aluminum powder and water ice, or ALICE, has the potential to replace some liquid or solid propellants and is being developed by Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University to possibly replace liquid or solid rocket propellants. 

Aside from the environmental impact ALICE could be manufactured in distant places like the moon or Mars, instead of being transported to distant locations at high cost, researchers said

Researchers said in a paper that aluminum-water combustion has been studied since the  1960s as a viable propellant for propulsion since the mixture's reaction liberates a large amount of energy during combustion as well as green exhaust products. Currently, propellants used for Earth to orbit and orbit-to-orbit missions are expensive. Thus, there is quite a need for new-generation propellants which can be used in the booster stage as well as possess characteristics which make them storable in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). ALICE reportedly has a toothpaste-like consistency, and is cooled to -30° C (-22° F) 24 hours before flight, researchers said. 

The military in particular is looking greener fuel. Last year the Air force flew a B-1B aircraft at supersonic speed using an alternate fuel in a flight over the White Sands Missile Range in Texas and New Mexico.   The fuel, a 50/50 blend of synthetic and petroleum gas, is being tested as part of an ongoing Air Force program to use a fuel produced in the US, the Air Force said.   

While not rocket-related, NASA recently opened up the competition for its Green Flight Challenge which offers up to $1.5 million for an aircraft that can average at least 100 mph on a 200-mile flight while achieving greater than 200 passenger miles per gallon. 

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