Researchers Developing Cleaner Safer Rocket Fuel That Still Packs a Punch

Rocket fuel is the cornerstone of space travel, yet it needs to be drastically improved.

Researchers Developing Cleaner Safer Rocket Fuel That Still Packs a Punch
NASA's Juno spacecraft firing its Leros-1b main engine. NASA

The term “rocket fuel” has become synonymous high energy drinks, potent coffee, and the occasional energy inducing late night beverage and for good reason too. The tools that power the rockets that will take us to the stars and beyond will probably use rocket fuel at some point during their deployment.   

SEE ALSO: HOW A JET ENGINE WORKS? 

Jet fuel or hypergolic fuels propel and keep in orbit our satellites and space stations, fuels that are extremely energetic. Yet, these fuels are not only highly unstable they can be dangerous when not handled precisely.  

Researchers may have found a way to create cleaner and safer hypergolic fuels that are still, if not more effective than the rocket fuel we use today.

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Creating a New Rocket Fuel

Currently, as mentioned above, rocket fuels are highly toxic and are dangerously unstable chemical compounds made up of a combination of nitrogen and hydrogen atoms. So, yes if you plan on building a jet engine anytime soon, be very careful.

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In fact, the fuels used in places like the space station or satellites are so energetic that they will immediately ignite in the presence of an oxidizer. People who work with hydrazine-based fuels usually need to get suited up “as though they were preparing for space travel themselves”.

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However, these new fuels hold a lot of promise and could ease a lot of the fears that occur when dealing with such unstable materials. Tomislav Friščić professor in the Chemistry Department at McGill, and co-senior author on the paper along with former McGill researcher Robin D. Rogers describes it in his study.

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What's the Difference Between Jet Fuel and Gasoline ?

"This is a new, cleaner approach to making highly combustible fuels, that are not only significantly safer than those currently in use, but they also respond or combust very quickly, which is an essential quality in rocket fuel."

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"Although we are still in the early stages of working with these materials in the lab, these results open up the possibility of developing a class of new, clean and highly tunable hypergolic fuels for the aerospace industry.”

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Who knows, maybe you will see these new rocket materials in a DIY video in the coming decade.

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