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Steam powered spacecraft prototype can theoretically explore celestial objects "forever"

Credit: NASA

The use of steam to drive spacecraft from asteroids to asteroids is now possible thanks to a collaboration between a private space company and the University of Central Florida.

UCF's Planetary Scientist Phil Metzger worked with Honeybee Robotics in Pasadena, California, which developed the world is not enough spacecraft prototype that extracts water from asteroids or other planetary bodies to generate steam and propel itself to its next mining target. [1

9659005] UCF provided the simulated asteroid material and Metzger made the computer modeling and simulation necessary before the honey book created the prototype and attempted the idea of ​​its plant on December 31. The team also collaborated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, to develop initial prototypes of steam-based rocket threats.

"It's amazing," Metzger says about the demonstration. "Wine successfully reduced the earth, made rocket propellants and launched itself on a steam jet extracted from the simulator. We could possibly use this technology to jump on the moon, Ceres, Europe, Titan, Pluto, Mercury poles, asteroids – of which there is water and Low enough gravity. "

WINE, which is the size of a microwave oven, reduces the water from the surface and makes it into steam to fly to a new location and repeat. Therefore, it is a rocket that never runs out of fuel and can theoretically explore "forever".

The process works in a variety of scenarios depending on the weight of each object, Metzger says. The spacecraft uses deployable solar panels to get enough energy for mining and steam, or it could use small radiosotopic decomposition units to extend the potential reach of these planetary stairs to Pluto and other places far from the sun.

Metzger spent three years developing technology that is necessary to make the idea a reality. He developed new equations and a new method for making computer modeling of steam propulsion to arrive at the new method and to verify that it would actually work beyond a computer screen.

The development of this type of spacecraft can have a profound impact on future exploration. Currently, interplanetary missions stop exploring when the spacecraft goes out of fuel.

"Every time we lose our huge investment in time and money we spent the construction and sent the spacecraft to its goal, Metzger says." WINE is designed to never run out of fuel, so investigation is cheaper. It also allows us to explore in less time, as we do not have to wait for years because a new spacecraft travels from the earth every time. "

The project is a result of the NASA Small Business Technology Transfer program, designed to encourage universities to collaborate with small businesses, boost new scientific advances in marketable commercial products.

" The project has been a collaborative effort between NASA, the academia and industry, and it has been a huge success, "said Kris Zacny, vice president of Honeybee Robotics." The WINE-like spacecraft has the potential to change how we explore the universe. "

The team is now looking for partners to continue developing small spacecraft

Metzger is associated with planetary science research at the UCF Space Research Institute, before joining the UCF he worked at NASA's Kennedy Space Center from 1985 to 2014. He received both his Master (2000) and Doctorate (2005) in physics from the UCF. Metzger's work covers some of the most exciting and exciting areas of space research and technology. Agit in developing a range of technologies that promote our understanding of how to explore the solar system. The technique includes: methods for extracting water from the moonland; 3-D printing methods for constructions made of asteroid and martian clay and soil mechanical testers for use by gloved astronauts.

Honeybee Robotics, a subsidiary of Ensign Bickford Industries, focuses on developing drill tools and systems to find life as well as space-breaking resources. Honeybee has previously implemented and operated Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) on Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), Icy Soil Acquisition Device (ISAD) on Mars Phoenix and Sample Manipulation System (SMS) for the sample analysis on the Mars (SAM) instrument at Mars Science Laboratory ( MSL). MSL also has Honeybee's Dust Removal Tool. Current flight and R&D projects include systems for Mars, Moon, Europe, Phobos, Titan and others.

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Professor hopes the key to deep exploration is the moon

Provided by:
University of Central Florida

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