Rocket fuel from aluminum and ice

Fun & Games Rockets Science

Really cool video, with great experimental footage, chronicling the development of the so-called ALICE (ALuminum and water ICE) solid rocket propellant by a team from Purdue and Penn State. The key to the process is that the metallic aluminum is present as a nano-scale powder, and its oxidation by water thus occurs over a huge surface area and therefore proceeds very quickly, releasing amazing amounts of energy. The video starts with the acoustic mixing of the nano-aluminum with water to make a gray paste which is frozen, in a mold, to make a tubular rocket motor. It then proceeds through various test-bench firings and culminates (at 4:00) in the launch of an actual rocket using the mixture.

8 thoughts on “Rocket fuel from aluminum and ice

  1. Michael Stoops says:

    That is awesome! Yay nanotech! I’d like to know what is the forecast for the advantages of this fuel over others. Does it provide more thrust per gram of material, enabling smaller rockets to reach orbit?

  2. Kevin N. Haw says:

    My first thought was that this would be an ideal methodology for outer system exploration. If you had a manufacturing facility in orbit or on the moon already building other stuff, you’d be set. Just cannibalize aluminum parts or structure from booster rockets used to lift stuff out of earth’s gravity well. Grind it up into nanoparticles and then freeze it with water mined off the moon or from comets.

    Again, it wouldn’t be worth doing this in a dedicated manner (i.e. seeking a comet just for the water) but as a sideline of an existing manufacturing facility it could be a real boon.

  3. Brian says:

    Yeahhh PennState!!! wooooooo!!!!

  4. Joe says:

    Nice video, interesting project.

    FYI, the actual aluminum/ice rocket launch is around 5:00 into the video, not at 4:00, which is a standard solid-fueled commercial rocket launch.

    ~Joe

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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