Researchers have found a new way to turn methane into rocket fuel on Mars – adding crucial flexibility to future astronaut missions to the Red Planet, according to a recent blog post on the official website of the University of California, Irvine (UCI).
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Scientists create new way to turn methane into rocket fuel on Mars
Elon Musk and other SpaceX engineers theorized such a method as they looked for ways to combine water from Mars ice with carbon dioxide to get enough carbon and hydrogen to produce methane.
Once astronauts reach Mars, they could use this method to turn local matter on the Red Planet, such as carbon dioxide and ice, into rocket fuel – ready and ready to launch humans on a return trip to Earth. .
Although it is only a “proof of concept” at the time of writing, the new method has succeeded in laboratory tests. “[L]”Engineering and research are needed before it can be fully implemented,” physicist Huolin Xin, Irvine, said in a statement. But the results are very promising. “
Reduce the process in two steps to one
To design the new method, the team used an existing two-step method that turns water into breathable oxygen on the International Space Station (ISS) – and worked to reduce it to one step. A single-atom zinc catalyst made this happen.
“Zinc is fundamentally a great catalyst,” Xin said in a statement. “It has time, selectivity and portability – a big plus for space travel.”
In reducing the process in two steps to one, the researchers created a more portable and compact method – stripped for transport and use on the Red Planet, Xin said.
A new process must match future propulsion technology
In the new methodology, atomically dispersed zinc plays a catalyst for the same reaction, forging methane from carbon dioxide. This reaction through a specialized catalyst “efficiently converts CO2 into methane,” Xin added.
Modern vehicles do not usually use methane-based rocket fuel, which means that this new process must be compatible with the propulsion technologies of the future.
SpaceX, Blue Origin is already working on methane rocket fuel
However, the advantages of methane-based fuel over liquid hydrogen – Boeing and Lockheed’s preferred fuel – are many in number. For example, liquid hydrogen fuel leaves a residue of carbon on rocket engines that must be cleaned before subsequent use, and on Mars it will not always be easy to get out of the proverbial front door to remove dirt.
However, some companies are already supporting the new method – and are committed to using methane-based missile fuel. SpaceX’s Raptor engines from Starship, Firefly Alpha and BE-4 from Blue Origin have all set their sights on methane-based rocket fuel, to name a few.