Home / Science / Steam-powered spacecraft prototype can theoretically explore celestial objects "forever"

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

Credit: NASA

With the collaboration of a private space company with the University of Central Florida, it is now possible to move steam from asteroid to asteroid.

UCF planetary scientist Phil Metzger worked with Honeybee Robotics of Pasadena, California. There he developed the prototype World Is Not Enough, which extracts water from asteroids or other planetary bodies to generate steam and move itself to the next mining destination. [1

9659005] UCF delivered the simulated asteroid material and Butcher did the computer modeling and simulation before Honeybee created the prototype and tried out the idea in his facility. The team also collaborated with the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Daytona Beach, Florida, to develop first prototype steamjet rockets.

"It's great," Metzger says about the demonstration. "WINE has successfully mined the soil, made rocket fuel, and drilled with a Simulan steam jet.We could possibly use this technology to jump onto the Moon, Ceres, Europa, Titan, Pluto, the Mercury poles, asteroids – everywhere there is Water and a sufficiently low gravity. "

WINE, the size of a microwave oven, pumps water from the surface, then turns it into steam to fly to a new location and repeat itself. Therefore, it is a rocket that never runs out of fuel and can theoretically "forever research".

The process works in different scenarios, depending on the gravity of each object, says Butcher. The spacecraft uses deployable solar panels to generate enough energy to extract and generate steam, or it could use small radiosotope decay units to extend the potential reach of these planetary funnels to Pluto and other places far from the sun.

Butcher spent three years developing the technology necessary to turn the idea into reality. He developed new equations and a new method for computer modeling of the steam engine to find the novel approach and to check whether it would actually work beyond a computer screen.

By using steam instead of fuel, the prototype of the World Is Not Enough (WINE) light vehicle can theoretically "forever" research, as long as there is enough water and gravity. Photo credit: University of Central Florida

The development of this type of spacecraft could have a profound impact on future exploration. Currently, interplanetary missions stop exploring once the probe is out of fuel.

"Each time we lose our huge investments in time and money we invested to build the probe and send it to its destination," says Metzger. "WINE has been designed to never run out of fuel, so exploration is cheaper, and we can do the reconnaissance in less time because we do not have to wait years, as each time a new spacecraft flies off the ground." [19659012] The project is a result of the NASA Small Business Technology Transfer Program. The program aims to encourage universities to work with small businesses to bring new scientific advances to marketable commercial products.

"The project was a collaboration between NASA, the academy and the industry, and it was a tremendous success," says Kris Zacny, vice president of Honeybee Robotics. "The WINE-type spaceships have the potential to change the way we explore the universe."

The team is now looking for partners to develop small spacecraft.

Metzger is a member of planetary research at the UCF Space Research Institute in Florida. Prior to joining UCF, he worked at NASA's Kennedy Space Center from 1985 to 2014. He received his Master's degree (2000) and PhD (2005) in physics from the UCF. Metzger's work covers some of the most exciting and forward-looking areas of space exploration and technology. He has been involved in the development of a number of technologies that enhance our understanding of solar system exploration. Technologies include: methods for extracting water from lunar soil; 3-D printing process for asteroid and Mars clay structures and lunar mechanics for astronaut-worn gloves.

Honeybee Robotics, a subsidiary of Ensign Bickford Industries, is focused on developing drilling tools and systems to find life as well as space mining for resources. Honeybee has previously used 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 at Mars (SAM) instrument Mars Science Laboratory ( MSL). The 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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Provided by:
University of Central Florida

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