Researchers cooking up new gelled rocket fuels

Gelled Fuel Research Photo
Engineers and food scientists are teaming up to develop a new type of gelled fuel the consistency of orange marmalade designed to improve the safety, performance and range of rockets for space and military applications.

"This is a very multidisciplinary project," said Stephen Heister, the Purdue University professor of aeronautics and astronautics who is leading one of two teams on the project, which is funded by the U.S. Army Research Office.

Gels are inherently safer than liquids because they don't leak, and they also would allow the military to better control rockets than is possible with solid fuels now used. Motors running on gelled fuels could be throttled up and down and controlled more precisely than conventional rockets that use solid propellants, Heister said.

"You can turn the engine on and off, you can coast, go fast or slow," he said. "You have much greater control, which means more range for missiles. The gelled propellants also tend to have a little more energy than the solid propellants."

Gelled fuels also could be used in thrusters to position satellites and on NASA space missions.

The team includes researchers from mechanical engineering, aeronautics and astronautics, food science, and agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue, as well as researchers from Iowa State University and University of Massachusetts.

Photo caption - Timothée Pourpoint, a research assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, is in charge of designing and operating a new Purdue lab to test gelled rocket fuels that have the consistency of orange marmalade. The fuels are designed to improve the safety, performance and range of rockets for space and military applications, and the research will involve a team of engineers and food scientists. Standing in the new lab are, from left, Tim Phillips and Mark James, both graduate students in aeronautics and astronautics, Pourpoint and Travis Kubal, a graduate student in mechanical engineering. (Purdue News Service photo/Andrew Hancock)

Related Link: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009a/090121HeisterGelled.html