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NASA Wants Green Rocket Fuel

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the save-the-earth-before-you-leave-it dept.

NASA 185

coondoggie writes "NASA is looking for technology that could offer green rocket fuel alternatives to the highly toxic fuel hydrazine used to fire up most rockets today. According to NASA: 'Hydrazine is an efficient and ubiquitous propellant that can be stored for long periods of time, but is also highly corrosive and toxic.' It is used extensively on commercial and defense department satellites as well as for NASA science and exploration missions."

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God help us (2, Insightful)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993105)

NASA is wasting time and money on this crap?

Re:God help us (2)

SomePgmr (2021234) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993119)

I think they use hydrazine (nasty stuff I guess) in APU/EPSU's on aircraft too. I'd think a less awful alternative would be a good thing to have for more than just NASA.

Re:God help us (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993647)

They already have a "green" fuel. They used it in the Main stage of the Saturn V rocket.

Kerosene + LOx = OMFG that is a LOT of Thrust!

Re:God help us (5, Informative)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994061)

Hydrazine isn't used for heavy lifting rockets. It's for monopropellant thrusters. Satellite positioning, lifting and attitude control. The shuttle manouvering thrusters (Until recent retirement). That sort of thing. Very important in moving satellites around once they are up there.

Re:God help us (4, Interesting)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994513)

Doesn't it happen to be the propellant for the Dragon's thrusters -- used for launch escape, orbital maneuvering, attitude control, and perhaps even controlled descent. I don't see that last one panning out all that well: you probably don't want to step out from a Dragon capsule right after it touched down on Earth and breathe the fumes. There's always a bit of unburned stuff around, and it doesn't take much to make you sick AFAIK. Space Shuttle is a much bigger vehicle so it can support you hanging around until it's safe to egress -- just listen to NASA TV recordings from Shuttle landings and hear how long they stay after landing, doing checklists... On a Dragon there would be not much to do, and I don't know how much oxygen is left in the Spacecraft segment after landing -- i.e. how long can you stay put before popping the hatch; especially in emergency situations -- say somehow they blow a tank a-la Apollo 13 and need to get back ASAP, it'd be a sad thing to land safely just to get killed by hydrazine vapors... I'm sure they are considering all that, but it'd be interesting to read some documents giving a bit more detail to the procedures...

Re:God help us (5, Informative)

Migraineman (632203) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994607)

Even more important - a hydrazine thruster is super-high-reliability. In space, pulling to the curb and calling AAA isn't an option (yet.) A liquid bi-propellant thruster is substantially more complicated than a hydrazine monopropellant one, and is more likely to have problems.

"Green" is the modern equivalent of "Safety First," which is a load of crap except for the safety alarmists (i.e. safety equipment vendors.) Mike Rowe is spot on with "Safety Third." [mikeroweworks.com] I'd put Green at fourth. Every task has an attendant risk and cost. Environmental impact is a cost.

I'm all for developing less-toxic solutions, but a hydrazine monopropellant thruster is damned effective. It also shifts the system risk to the ground handling crews, where we can deal with it (as opposed to shifting it to on-orbit failures.)

Re:God help us (1)

RalphTheWonderLlama (927434) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994633)

Uh you forgot hydrogen + oxygen which is perfectly green (when burned at least). Higher specific impulse but bigger volume and more difficult to handle.

Re:God help us (5, Informative)

SuperTechnoNerd (964528) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994685)

"Kerosene + LOx = OMFG that is a LOT of Thrust!"
Yes but you can't store LOX for long periods, It want's to boil off. Hydrazine will stay stable for a long time, and another important aspect of hydrazine is it's hypergolic properties. This makes the engines very very reliable and simple to build. Just mix hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide in a combustion chamber and it auto ignites. Or you can use a catalyst to break down the hydrazine, like in the shuttle APU. I know of no "green" propellents that can do this.

Re:God help us (1)

drerwk (695572) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993839)

Not on any commercial aircraft I'm aware of, and I'd be surprised if it was used on any aircraft at all.

Re:God help us (1)

findoutmoretoday (1475299) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994303)

I'd be surprised if it was used on any aircraft at all.

As far as I remember F16 as it is an electric plane with a single engine.

Re:God help us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994593)

Hydrazine is used to the fuel the emergency power unit in case that single fails.

Re:God help us (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993145)

Going green already killed Columbia crew because the foam problems started when they moved away from a chlorofluorocarbon foaming agent. The EPA was willing to grant NASA an exception.

CFCs got hard to obtain (5, Informative)

realxmp (518717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993239)

I don't know if you've ever tried to obtain Halon lately but you'll find even if your system is still grandfathered it's nigh on impossible to get hold of, they've pretty much stopped making it. It's the same with the CFC's used by the shuttle's foam, being allowed to make it didn't mean the raw components are easy to come by. If they'd wanted to continue using CFCs they'd have to had to pay for a supply line to be available and maintained, whether they needed a lot or a little. The problem wasn't that they went green, the problem was that the alternative they chose wasn't the right one and they didn't want to invest the time and money working around that properly.

Re:CFCs got hard to obtain (3, Informative)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993439)

You make the mistake of using facts against an emotional narrative. It rarely works. The 'Damn gaia-worshiping liberals endangered the astronauts lives to save a few trees' narrative is a powerful one, and thanks to the exceptionally divisive left-vs-right nature of US politics it is one that a lot of people really want to believe in.

Re:CFCs got hard to obtain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994095)

It's like trying to talk sense to Space Nutters, I agree. The "we gotta get off this mudball with imaginary technology and non-existent physics because I read it in poorly written daydreams by awful authors when I was 13" narrative is a powerful one.

Re:CFCs got hard to obtain (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993655)

I don't know if you've ever tried to obtain Halon lately

I'm not sure, but I suspect that NASA would be able to get hold of things like that more easily than I could.

Re:CFCs got hard to obtain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993815)

The fact is pretty simple. NASA could have bought all the chlorofluorocarbon from Mexico, Russia or China if they wanted to up until quite recently maybe even today. Where were inhalant manufactures getting the r12 from anyway???? What NASA should have done was make a large order of chlorofluorocarbon solvents before the ban on manufacturing and carefully plain there move away from chlorofluorocarbons. Instead NASA basically substituted other solvents for the chlorofluorocarbon and didn't do enough research on the effects of the change out.

I fear that NASA will make the same sort of mistake. The Administration has said we need to be more "green" people. But the GPS satellite is already full of hydrazine.

Remember, lead is still used in Av gas because no wants to risk a few planes falling out of the sky.

Re:God help us (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993759)

wrong. this has already come up today in another thread. they were using an old rig, from before the ban.

they were just unlucky.

Re:God help us (5, Informative)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994017)

Before you spout off about the ET insulation foam having been reformulated without CFCs, try reading the CAIB report (volume 1, Page 51), which specifically states that the portion of the foam that broke loose was the OLD CFC-based formulation.

http://caib.nasa.gov/news/report/pdf/vol1/full/caib_report_volume1.pdf [nasa.gov]

The story about the reformulated foam causing the Columbia accident is largely the doing of Rush Limbaugh, who seized on a lie from one of his typically ill-informed listeners, and kept repeating it until it became accepted as fact by everyone on the right.

http://mediamatters.org/research/200508090007 [mediamatters.org]

Re:God help us (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994531)

I don't think that's true. They have had foam issues from day one; foam is pretty brittle when cold and it really needed some sort of a metal matrix to make it stable (think of lath used for stucco).

I take it you're not a technician handling it? (4, Insightful)

fantomas (94850) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993177)

I guess if I was one of the technical crew who had to work with this stuff and be exposed to its toxicity, I'd be welcoming my boss researching a way of making my life safer. I'm sure the technicians love working for NASA but given the choice between working with highly toxic fuels that might burn them/ give them cancer/ other nice side effect, or something less damaging, I am sure they'd be all in favour of an option that won't harm them and won't potentially leak into local water tables, get drawn up into local water supply / agriculture and end up in their kids.

My experience is the people most likely to moan about health and safety are those whose greatest risk of an industrial injury is stabbing themselves with the office stapler. Folk working in genuinely high risk environments seem quite grateful their bosses have to abide by regulations.

Re:I take it you're not a technician handling it? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993227)

I had an uncle who was an honest to god rocket scientist. Stuff he made is sitting on the moon.

In the 60's he was working for Thiokol (the company that went on to blow up the space shuttle Challenger) and was exposed to "something" during rocket motor testing. An area had not been vented, he was told it was, he entered the area. He did not really remember anything between going through the hatch and waking up in the hospital. Decades later he developed an odd cancer in his spine. My family always wonders if there was a connection between the chemical exposure and the cancer.

Re:I take it you're not a technician handling it? (1)

zoloto (586738) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993441)

Decades? I hardly see any connection with that kind of time between his exposure and the development of that.

Re:I take it you're not a technician handling it? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993669)

And that is why you are McDonalds cashier and not a doctor or geneticist.

Remember, "you want fries with that" Master that phrase and you will get your promotion.

Re:I take it you're not a technician handling it? (1)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993929)

And that is why you are doctor or geneticist and not a personal injury lawyer.

Fixed that for you.

Hydrogen peroxide (5, Informative)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993627)

Correct. I can't mod you up further but I'll support you with an example. An early oxidiser (hydrazine is a reducer, yes I know) was hydrogen peroxide. The British space effort (do not laugh, there was one) relied on H2O2. When fuelling or doing maintenance, the drill was to have a second guy standing by with a fast running hose. When rather than if the stuff fell on someone, his job was instantly to flood with water before fire broke out/skin burns. When we wonder how a previous generation (the generation of engineers before mine, in fact) got to the Moon, we need to remember that after two World Wars risk acceptance was much higher and life was cheaper. The people who rant about this (and modded down my last comment on this subject) have probably never had to put their lives on the line in support of the day job, and can't understand why nowadays somebody perhaps wouldn't want to risk an unpleasant death for an underpaid job.

When I was at school, one of the exam questions in S level chemistry was to estimate the maximum temperature reached if a stream of hydrazine hydrate was mixed with a stream of concentrated hydrogen peroxide. Of course, after the exam we had to try it... two carefully aimed pipettes over the centre of the biggest Belfast sink in the lab, three quarters full of cold water. I'm not disclosing how we released the liquids safely. If you can work it out, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know here. There was a white glow at the centre. I guess nowadays with the fear of terrorists no school exam would dare ask the question, whereas in those days I suspect the exam setter thought "Well, if they've done the work for S level, they deserve a little entertainment."

Re:Hydrogen peroxide (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994069)

Some schools no longer permit chemistry students to handle copper sulphate, because it is classed as a potential carcinogen.

Re:Hydrogen peroxide (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994353)

Some schools no longer permit chemistry students to handle copper sulphate, because it is classed as a potential carcinogen.

Add boic acid instead to the big flame in back, and it turns green.

Re:I take it you're not a technician handling it? (4, Informative)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993791)

We can handle it safely but it comes at a cost. Here are some examples.

We need to wear these things. http://www.wolfhazmat.de/astrosuit/nasa_01.htm [wolfhazmat.de].
Every time you run an operation where it might spill you need to clear the work area of all nonessential personnel.
You need scrubbers to vent the vapors through when processing.
You need detectors/absorbers on every port.
You need yearly training for the whole workforce to know what to do when there is a leak (there is a VERY distinctive ammonia smell)

So the main thing isn't that it's unsafe. We know how to work with it properly. The problem is the costs involved with doing it. If an alternative can be found it would make it much safer and quicker to process rockets and spacecraft. Imagine if you had to have a 500 ft clear area around an airplane while fueling it. It would make everything about flying more expensive.

Re:I take it you're not a technician handling it? (4, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994211)

Folk working in genuinely high risk environments seem quite grateful their bosses have to abide by regulations.

You know things have gotten bad when a small bit of truth, expressed clearly amidst an environment of emotion, blind partisanship and ignorance can almost bring tears to my eyes. I hear so much about how "Regulations are bad, m'kay?" even from people who should know better, that a calm persuasive case for why we need regulation actually chokes me up.

Regulations are not a "necessary evil". They are simply "necessary".

Re:God help us (2)

88Seconds (242800) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993199)

Some people are trying to lead us to believe that NASA is a waste of time and money too. $DEITY help us if we start believing them. Your comment would lead me to belive that you already have.

Re:God help us (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994269)

Yes, these people are what we call "correct". Your fantasies notwithstanding, the waste is tremendous for little of value.


Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993299)

NASA Wants Green Rocket Fuel

I hope they don't mean Soylent Green rocket fuel. Sometimes these environmentalists go too far.

Re:God help us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993431)

Sounds like a sound R&D investment to me.

The problem with toxic chemicals is that they're not cheap to own. The costs of safe storage are non-trivial. You see a similar effect in SS1, where they're using non-cyrogenic fuels. Those cyrogenic fuels are just too expensive to handle. So, NASA's research here may lead to a further reduction in handling costs, including the commercial spaceflight sector. Great, precisely the leading role that NASA should have.

Re:God help us (5, Insightful)

stevelinton (4044) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993443)

Hydrazine is described as corrosive and toxic, both of which will make it expensive to handle, require special pipes and tanks and so on. As far as I know, it's not
an environmental consideration -- it surely decays to nitrogen and water pretty fast.

I suspect this is about cost saving in the handling.

Re:God help us (5, Informative)

subreality (157447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993523)

It's not really about being "Green". Hydrazine is very toxic and extremely unstable. It's terribly dangerous to work with even when things are going right, and when a launch goes wrong you may end up dropping a hydrazine-filled satellite in an urban area. That's not good, so you have to considerably overengineer the tanks (adding weight, reducing payload) so they'll survive reentry and not poison people.

So why do we use this devil of a propellant?

Normal rocket juice is two parts - fuel (eg H2, kerosene) and oxidizer (eg O2, N20). You flow both into your combustion chamber, strike a spark, and away you go. That's great for long sessions of high-power lift. The problem is it's terrible for fine maneuvering. Maintaining the proper mixture gets harder with small flows, your spark plugs wear out with repeated firings, and generally the whole bipropellant setup is big, heavy, and complicated, and you want your satellite to be compact, light, and as simple as possible for reliability.

So that's where hydrazine comes in. It's the same property that makes it dangerously unstable that makes it an ideal fuel when you need very low impulse and very high reliability. You just open a small valve on the line from the pressurized tank tank to the engine - that's your only moving part. The hydrazine flows into the combustion chamber where there's a catalyst. It instantly and very exothermically decomposes into ammonia, nitrogen and hydrogen gas. The very high temperature rise makes the exhaust velocity really high, which is great for efficiency.

Et voila, you have a rocket engine where the only moving part is the flow control valve. Since you want to do complex maneuvers, you can sprinkle a bunch of these little, simple, lightweight engines all over your craft instead of having a couple big complex (fuel mixing) ones with vectoring (gimbals and actuators are just more things to fail, plus now you need flexible fuel lines), and you can do your maneuvers in tiny bursts that are too short to even get a bipropellant engine to light off.

Similarly, the very low parts count makes hydrazine turbine engines very useful where maximum reliability is required - for instance APUs for hydraulic power used for the space shuttle, and on military aircraft for emergency backups.

Finding a safe replacement would allow much safer handling, lighter safety systems, and allow monopropellant engines to be used in places that they're impractical now.

Re:God help us (2, Informative)

nojayuk (567177) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993737)

Ummm, hydrazine is not a monopropellant, it is "burned" with an oxidiser such as nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) or an acid like Red Fuming Nitric Acid (RFNA) which, as you can guess from the name has the same sort of ground handling properties as hydrazine (i.e. if it leaks it can dissolve the operators working the fuelling system).

The Space Shuttle's Orbital Manoeuvering System (OMS) engines burned monomethyl hydrazine (MMH) and N2O4. This meant that when the Shuttle returned to Earth it had to be effectively treated as toxic waste before handlers could safely remove the surplus fuel in the OMS tanks. If you ever watch videos of a Shuttle landing and its aftermath you'll see folks in full-coverage bunnysuits at the back of the Shuttle making sure no propellants are leaking and preparing to decant the reserve fuel and oxidiser from the tanks before the Shuttle is moved off the runway.

A major benefit of fuel/oxidiser combos like MMH/N2O4 is that they are very stable and stay liquid at very low temps, something that long-duration space flights require. The Cassini mission probe carried over three tonnes of MMH/N2O4 and it spent seven years in flight before its final 90-minute engine burn to successfully put the probe into orbit around Saturn.

Re:God help us (4, Informative)

subreality (157447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993835)

Wikipedia says:

Hydrazine is also used as a low-power monopropellant for the maneuvering thrusters of spacecraft, and the Space Shuttle's auxiliary power units (APUs). In addition, monopropellant hydrazine-fueled rocket engines are often used in terminal descent of spacecraft. A collection of such engines was used in both Viking program landers as well as the Phoenix lander launched in August 2007.

In all hydrazine monopropellant engines, the hydrazine is passed by a catalyst such as iridium metal supported by high-surface-area alumina (aluminium oxide) or carbon nanofibers,[25] or more recently molybdenum nitride on alumina,[26] which causes it to decompose into ammonia, nitrogen gas, and hydrogen gas according to the following reactions:

Countercitation needed. :)

Re:God help us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994339)

Ummm, the Internet is a handy and instant way to access information.

I'm glad I wasn't the guy who discovered hydrazine (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993779)

"Hmm , this liquid smells like ammonia , I wonder what its properties..."


Re:God help us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994021)

Yeah, but you can usually get away with much lower thrust maneuvering. You never need "low impulse" but sometimes you're willing to sacrifice it for higher thrust. Otherwise we'd busing xenon (or other inert, or teflon) "fueled" electric propulsion or even flashlight rockets and solar sails.

Buzzwords (1, Troll)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993611)

Green is a buzzword. It has traction. It shows "they care".

When your totally out of ideas you start a buzzword blitz. In other words, find the guys who came up with this at NASA and show them the door. They obviously have nothing better to do.

Re:God help us (0)

flyneye (84093) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994055)

Crap! By golly you're on to something.
My co workers agree, my experimentation with Chile, cabbage, Thai food and pickled eggs as a methane based rocket fuel has the power and side effect of producing green skin tones on anyone still on the "launchpad" for about an hour after "liftoff".

Do you fear my bunghole? Are you threatening me?


Re:God help us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994229)

It's nasty stuff that was an issue on every shuttle landing; no one could be near the vehicle till they knew nothing was leaking. Might have read that it was an issue in flight during spacewalks, couldn't ever let a spacewalker get exposed to the stuff. It's dangerous and probably expensive to handle of course, which is why the Air Force yanked out of service the few ICBMs using it. There was an inability to launch that ICBM (Titan II) from Canaveral around 1995 for Clementine; Vandenberg was used instead. This fuel may have been a culprit So this isn't merely political correctness.

Ignition! (5, Interesting)

imbaczek (690596) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993127)

Everybody should read one book about rocket propellants: Ignition! [sciencemadness.org] by John D. Clark. Apart from it being a good (and hilarious at times) read, it'll also show you why this project will most likely end up being a waste of money.

Re:Ignition! (1)

kermidge (2221646) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993537)

Thank you for mentioning Ignition! and providing the link. Never heard of it, likely never would have thought to go looking for anything like it. I just finished the introduction and intend to continue until I finish or have to crash.

Way back I'd read about Goddard, von Braun, et al, including some of their papers, and some stuff coming out of a few of the labs; an uncle, who started his career as a chemist in what later became the USAF and whose first assignment was working under Alvarez at Los Alamos, was able to steer me to a few good places. But this is beautiful stuff and a cracking good read.

From the introduction (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993975)

Quote by Isaac Asimov. Sorry about the extract-from-pdf bad formatting

Now it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outs t a n dingly ma d. I d o n 't m e an ga rden-va r i e ty crazy or a merely r aving lunatic. I me an a r e c o r d - s h a t t e r i ng e x p o n e nt of f a r -out insanity. T h e re a r e, after all, some chemicals t h at explode sha t t e r ingly, some t h at flame r avenous ly, some t h at c o r r o de hellishly, some t h at poi son sneakily, a nd some that stink stenchily. As far as I know, t h o u g h, only liquid rocket fuels have all these delightful p r o p e r t i es combined into o ne delectable whole

Re:From the introduction (3, Informative)

stjobe (78285) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994105)

Tidied up the quote a bit, since it's delectable:

Now it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outstandingly mad. I don't mean garden-variety crazy or a merely raving lunatic. I mean a record-shattering exponent of far-out insanity.

There are, after all, some chemicals that explode shatteringly, some that flame ravenously, some that corrode hellishly, some that poison sneakily, and some that stink stenchily. As far as I know, though, only liquid rocket fuels have all these delightful properties combined into one delectable whole.

Also, I'd like to also state my thanks to imbaczek for posting the link, 40 pages in and it's a page-turner :)

Sure its toxic and corrosive (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993129)

But when it burns it doesn't create any green house gasses. since it contains nothing but nitrogen and hydrogen. Its also naturally occurring, so it can't be that bad can it?

It's the money (4, Insightful)

realxmp (518717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993269)

Going Green is probably just an excuse here, it's the money. Because it's toxic and corrosive it's hard to handle and thus expensive to handle. First you have the expensive equipment and protective gear, and then we have the paperwork... Think about it this way, every time you use the stuff you're generating reams and reams of risk assessments and paperwork. That paperwork is essentially a writeonly document which has to be produced everytime they come up with a slightly different way to do things.

Re:It's the money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993897)

I call that a win-win.

Ron Paul, is that you? (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994057)

Think about it this way, every time you use the stuff you're generating reams and reams of risk assessments and paperwork.


Do you generate reams of paper every time you fill your car? No. Did you have to sign anything before doing it? No. Has a surprising amount of R&D gone into the design of car fueling systems to make them safe even for soccer moms? Yes.

Despite your libertarian fantasy, it doesn't work like that in reality. You do the risk assessment. You eliminate avoidable risk. Then you work out safe procedures. Then you train people on them. If something does wrong despite that, repeat till done. It is of the same order as basic hardening of your code to prevent SQL injection and buffer overrun, stuff you expect to do because it makes sense. The simple fact that right-wing fruit cakes pretend that somehow having to avoid killing your workers is an infringement of your liberty, doesn't make it so.

In my career I've worked with, among others, high power engines tested to destruction, simulated lightning test of electronic systems, and chemical plant. The only injury I have ever suffered was a broken finger when an emergency stop system failed while we were testing it, which was my fault for not checking that the big red lever was off on the power supply. I would prefer that other Slashdot readers who choose to pursue a career in engineering have the same safety record, or better. Degrading our safety systems to Chinese levels to make a billionaire slightly richer is not a preferred option.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2)

angiasaa (758006) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993151)

Green fuel.. I mean seriously, who came up with that term anyway? I had a good laugh when i saw the headline. I laughed till the tears would not come anymore.

The laugh is over now and I'm irritated with the way people use "green" insteadt of "environmentally friendly" for in the end, that is really what you want to say!

The environment is anything but green! From space, even the planet looks blue! The Earth itself looks brown, but that's all beside the point. The point is if you mean something, say it! Don't say what you don't mean and expect people to believe you're really serious about being understood.

Re:Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994377)

Chalk "green" up with "gay" and "hacker" then? Sorry pal, but words can have multiple meanings, which can vary over time. The definition of "green" is now being expanded with the meaning "environmentally friendly", and the more you rant over it, the more it will become ingrained.

Politicians (3, Funny)

kawabago (551139) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993203)

Put a politician in the engine and set him to Campaign and he will spew a continuous stream of rhetoric that will slowly accelerate the ship to near light speed.

Re:Politicians (5, Funny)

Dr. Tom (23206) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993699)

Politician storage is complex, expensive, and requires high levels of administratium, the heaviest element known. After long periods of storage politicians also decay into bureaucratium, which has a negative half-life and so becomes more massive over time.

Green but not politically correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993285)

I hear freshly clubbed baby seals make excellent rocket fuel.

What's wrong with the LOX and kerosene? (1)

FilatovEV (1520307) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993287)

Or LOX and liquid hydrogen.

Re:What's wrong with the LOX and kerosene? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993317)

Cryogenic propellants can't be stored for long periods of time as they will boil off.

Re:What's wrong with the LOX and kerosene? (2)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993365)

LOX and LOH are not hypergolic. Hydrazine and various nitrogen compounds are.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergolic_propellant [wikipedia.org]

Handy not having to bring matches into orbit.

Re:What's wrong with the LOX and kerosene? (1)

FilatovEV (1520307) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993371)

Agreed. But why to care about being "green" once you are out of the Earth atmosphere?

Re:What's wrong with the LOX and kerosene? (1)

mlush (620447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994443)

Agreed. But why to care about being "green" once you are out of the Earth atmosphere?

There assembled in the Earth's atmosphere and every so often a satellite falls out of the sky.

what new NASA's vehicles for? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993307)

if the last U.S Shuttle was dismantled recently by the Obama's goverment then what's the next?

To improve the rocket fuel to be more green-friendly without space vehicle!

JCPM: i'm knowing now that they are going into the absurdity of their secretes, and the kryptonites are green-friendly, not?.

Re:what new NASA's vehicles for? (1)

stjobe (78285) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993457)

if the last U.S Shuttle was dismantled recently by the Obama's goverment then what's the next?

How about this one [youtube.com]?

Additionally, not everything launched is a manned vehicle. Those satellites have to get up there somehow too.

Green Rocket Fuel is as easy as green beer! (2, Funny)

Hordeking (1237940) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993401)

If NASA wants their rocket fuel to be green, all they have to do is add a whole lot of green food dye to the tanks before filling them!

Re:Green Rocket Fuel is as easy as green beer! (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993885)

I was going to suggest replacing their oxidizer with a barium based compound. It's how the amateurs do it.

Re:Green Rocket Fuel is as easy as green beer! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994073)

Why not just use 100/130 avgas [eaa.org], call it done, then get to projects that matter?

Air Max 2009 - Comfort & Cushion Combined (-1, Offtopic)

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We don't launch enough rockets for this to matter. (0)

Karmashock (2415832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993491)

This reminds me of them REMOVING asbestos from the space shuttle. They replaced it with something else less effective... and who knows... maybe the challenger wouldn't have blown up if they had just left the shuttle as designed rather then making it more environmentally friendly.

In any case, if we start launching a LOT of rockets then I'll worry about this but given the piddly number of rockets we launch every year this is a non-issue when compared to the much bigger problem of it still costing waaay too much to launch things into orbit. And this environmental complaint is only going to make those costs go up instead of DOWN which is the only direction that is acceptable.

Re:We don't launch enough rockets for this to matt (4, Informative)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994093)

Challenger blew up because one of the O-ring seals failed in a SRB due to an unexpected susceptability to prolonged low-temperature conditions. Nothing to do with asbestos.

Re:We don't launch enough rockets for this to matt (0)

Karmashock (2415832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994231)

Whatever... the shuttles had lots of heat issues with panels popping off that might not have been such a big deal with the original design specs.

My point was that it was foolish to put a tiny environmental concern over a major engineering problem that is so rare in our skies as to be irrelevant.

I'm all for environmental solutions if they don't create huge economic, logistical, or engineering problems in the process.

What makes me crazy is when we trade small environmental problems for absolutely impossible engineering or bank breaking economic problems.

It's like being given the choice of getting shot in the foot with a gun or shot in the face.

And some people keep putting the gun barrel in our collective mouths and pulling the trigger. I'm not discounting the environmental concerns at all. I'm merely saying that the solutions are typically much worse.

Re:We don't launch enough rockets for this to matt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994299)

Challenger blew up due to O-ring failure. The O-rings were there because of the reusability mandate from NASA and/or inability to transport a non-O-ring design from the vendor (awarded the contract in a Republican state during the Nixon years). More importantly, both Challenger and Columbia were destroyed with their crews because people on the ground allowed it to happen. They knew there was a problem on each flight, they kept the astronauts in the dark, and they assumed that things would work out because things always had worked out in the past. Can't understand why a couple people weren't prosecuted for manslaughter over Columbia. "Hey guys, the videotape shows some foam hit the wing at Mach 1 or so. Do you think maybe we should see if the wing got damaged?" "Nah, let's stick with the mission plan. Tell the astronauts there isn't a problem."

St Patrick's Day is only about a month away (1)

RoboJ1M (992925) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993505)

St Patrick's Day is only about a month away

So they better hurry up if they want it done by then...

Forgive my ignorance, but... (1, Redundant)

Zaatxe (939368) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993727)

what color is it today? Of course I don't know, it's rocket science, for pete's sake!

Weneed an effective rocket fuel (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993771)


It gives the best power to weight of any fuel

Re:Weneed an effective rocket fuel (2)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993809)


It gives the best power to weight of any fuel

Antimatter is the most fantastically expensive rocket fuel ever conceived of short of pure leprechaun farts. It takes a stupid amount of energy to make even a few atoms of the stuff. The mind boggles at the amount of power (and hence cost) involved in making kilograms of it (let alone tonnes). It would also be desperately dangerous to handle.

Why are humans still using Rockets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993917)

It's a known dangerous and flawed technology. Lifter technology scaled up is the solution.

You can easily make a safe and dependable plane suitable for space or air travel from it.

And yes they do work in a vacuum http://jnaudin.free.fr/lifters/main.htm

The problem with the mythbuster's show test, for those who are familiar with the episode the invention was featured on, is that an asymmetrical capacitor, like any capacitor, needs 2 main things to function, a dielectric, and two electrodes.

The lifter on the show had both, with air functioning as the dielectric. However when the device was placed in a chamber where the air was pumped out (this was done to "prove" lifters don't work in a vacuum) the dielectic (air) was missing so the device couldn't work.

What they didn't test however was a solid dielectric being used (such as styrofoam or another solid dielectric). If they had, they would have found that the device works just as well in a vacuum, as the above link proves.

What was done on a show though was equivalent to taking the engine out of a car and saying this "proves" a car can't work without an Internal Combustion engine, when electric cars work everyday.

Re:Why are humans still using Rockets? (1)

stjobe (78285) | more than 2 years ago | (#38994191)

Yes, lifters are fine. As a science fair project for school kids.
For propulsion on a plane/space vehicle? Not so much.
They produce about a gram of lift per watt. So far, payloads as massive as 60 grams have been lifted. Next stop, the moon?
Also, the voltages needed for them to function are extremely high, 20-50 kV for the science-fair models. That kind of apparatus weighs orders of magnitude more than the lift generated.
And, to add insult to injury, they produce ozone when in use.

Not a very green (or realistic) alternative to rockets.

Re:Why are humans still using Rockets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38994663)

All fair concerns.

As I recall though the first rockets were little more than fireworks used for entertainment purposes.

And the 1st recorded device in history that used "steam power", the aeolipile [wikipedia.org] was little more than a curiosity at the time. But the science it was based on would be put to use thousands of years later in steam engines to spark the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century.

As for scaling up the device, one need only look here [jnaudin.free.fr] to see its tremendous potential.

And given the knowledge that capacitors with solid dielectrics work in a vacuum we can see that with higher K dielectrics, more advanced materials, and an on board power source such as a hybrid engine, such technology could be put to use to create a vehicle suitable for air, land, sea, or space travel.

Who cares what color the fuel is? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993931)

My first thought on seeing the headline was, why is NASA spending money to have green fuel, who cares what color it is?

Re:Who cares what color the fuel is? (1)

SpaceLAZ0R (1267010) | more than 2 years ago | (#38993953)

"Green rocket fuel, red rocket fuel, it all ends up the same color in the end..." ~Paraphrasing Homer Simpson

The Johnny Walker Solution (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38993983)

Just buy the inventory of local liquor shops.

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