January 27, 2009

Researchers create new gelled rocket fuels

U.S. scientists say they are developing an improved type of gelled rocket fuel that is the consistency of orange marmalade.

Purdue University Professor Stephen Heister, who is leading one of two teams on the project, said gels are inherently safer than liquids because they don't leak, and they also would allow the military to control rockets better 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.

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.

The five-year, $6.4 million project is funded by a U.S. Army Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative. Another team is led by Pennsylvania State University.