Researchers have found a new way to convert methane to rocket fuel on Mars, adding crucial flexibility to future astronaut missions to the red planet, according to a recent blog post on the University of California’s official website, Irvine (UCI).
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Scientists are creating a new way to convert methane to rocket fuel on Mars
Elon Musk and other SpaceX engineers theorized this method as they looked for ways to combine ice water on Mars with carbon dioxide to obtain enough carbon and hydrogen for methane production.
Once astronauts reach Mars, they could use this method to transform local matter on the red planet, such as carbon dioxide and ice, into rocket fuel, ready and ready to launch humans on a journey back to Earth. Earth.
Although it is only a “proof of concept” from writing, the new method has been successful in laboratory testing. “[L]It takes a lot of engineering and research work before this can be fully implemented, “said University of California physicist Huolin Xin Irvine,” But the results are very promising. “
Reduce the process from two steps to one
To design the new method, the team resorted to an existing two-step method proven to convert water into breathable oxygen on the International Space Station (ISS) and worked to reduce it to one step. A single-atom zinc catalyst caused it to be achieved.
“Zinc is fundamentally a major catalyst,” Xin said in the statement. “It has time, selectivity and portability, a big advantage for space travel.”
By reducing the process from two steps to one, the researchers created a more portable and compact method – dispossessed for transportation and use on the red planet, Xin said.
The new process must square with future propulsion technology
In the new methodology, atomically dispersed zinc is a catalyst for the same reaction, forging methane from carbon dioxide. This reaction using a specialized catalyst “converts CO2 efficiently into methane,” Xin added.
Current vehicles do not typically use methane-based rocket fuel, which means that this new process must be compatible with the propulsion technologies of the future.
SpaceX, Blue Origin already working on methane-based rocket fuel
However, the advantages of methane-based fuel over liquid hydrogen – Boeing and Lockheed fuel – are diverse. For example, liquid hydrogen fuel leaves carbon residue in rocket engines that must be cleaned before later use, and on Mars it will not always be easy to get out of the proverbial front door to clear the mess .
Some companies, however, are already approving the new method and are committing to methane-based rocket fuel. SpaceX’s Raptor engines in Starship, Firefly Alpha and Blue Origin’s BE-4 have set their sights on methane-based rocket fuel, to name a few.