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New Rocket Engine Successfully Tested

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the flatulence-you-can-get-behind dept.

Space 162

inetsee writes "XCOR Aerospace announced that their new methane-oxygen rocket engine has been tested successfully. This is reported to be the first successful test of an engine using the combination of methane and oxygen as fuel. The fuel has higher specific impulse than kerosene and oxygen, but until now has been thought to have too much 'technology risk'."

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risk? (1)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649380)

but until now has been thought to have too much 'technology risk

Whats the risk the smell?

Re:risk? (4, Informative)

terrymr (316118) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649424)

Do I have to be the first to point out that methane doesn't have a smell. This is the natural gas that gets piped into peoples homes - the smell is added so you can detect leaks.

Re:risk? (3, Funny)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649512)

Guess he meant the smell of 'Natural' Methane.

If the astronauts run out of rocket fuel and get stranded they can always eat beans.

Re:risk? (4, Informative)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650264)

Actually, the gas that makes flatulence stink is hydrogen sulfide. There's not enough to hurt you in the average fart, but it's still pretty poisonous, and it can build up to dangerous levels in the manure pits from animal farms. Methane itself, CH4, is odorless.

Re:risk? (1)

darkfish32 (909153) | more than 7 years ago | (#17651096)

Don't forget about methyl mercaptan (methanethiol). You get the best smell from those two together.

Re:risk? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17649854)

the smell is added so you can detect leaks.

Same reason god made farts smell - for the benefit of others.

Re:risk? (5, Funny)

l1gunman (463233) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650762)

Nope. It's so that the hearing impaired can enjoy them, too.

Re:risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17649856)

Methaine is a horrible green house gas! 1000x worse then CO2! Do we realy need to contrinute more to global warming?

Re:risk? (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650178)

that is if it is released into the air.. after combustion it is no worse than a bic lighter... (i know they use butain sp?)

Re:risk? (1)

fair_n_hite_451 (712393) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650282)

Of course it's risky, it's freakin' rocket science per Chris'sakes! It's not like it's only brain surgery or anything simple like that.

Having said that, my first thought was "avoiding it because it's risky?" That damned wheel invention was pretty risky too - kept falling over or rolling away ... until someone invented the axle.

I want to contribute to rocket science! (1, Funny)

Big Nothing (229456) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649386)

I actually have a crapload of methane to donate, whom do I contact?

Re:I want to contribute to rocket science! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17649488)

>>whom do I contact

Taco Bell Aerospace and Restaurants? :)

Re:I want to contribute to rocket science! (2, Funny)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649568)

I actually have a crapload of methane to donate, whom do I contact?

Bumper sticker: Save Gas - Fart In A Jar

Re:I want to contribute to rocket science! (0, Offtopic)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649616)

"Mayo Clinic Research Center? Yes, name's Eric, got a great deal for you on some top-notch stem cells. And who am I speaking to? ... Great, Mike, now let me tell you, this is some of the good stuff, can get you some great research, can I put you down for an order? ... Aw, you're bustin' my balls, Mike, I got ten people on the other line who will pay more. ... Well, the offer won't last Mike, so you better act fast. You don't want Johns Hopkins to get a hold of these, do you?"

Metric or Imperial? (3, Funny)

emarkp (67813) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650340)

Now, is "crapload" the metric unit?

Re:I want to contribute to rocket science! (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650866)

Just a crapload? I'm sorry we're only taking donations with a minimum of 10,000 craploads. The paperwork required just doesn't allow us to accept individual donations such as yours. We recommend that you form a non-profit coalition to collect the necessary craploads and then pursue a group donation. Thank you for your interest and best of luck...

I'm running low on fuel... (0, Redundant)

Trails (629752) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649446)

Does anyone know where the closest Taco Bell is?

Why hasn't it been worked on? (0, Troll)

Jartan (219704) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649466)

Is there more to NASA's side of the story or is this a further sign of their incompetence?

The article paints a picture where anyone would be an idiot to skip research into this type of engine and then says NASA was doing so because of "risk". I doubt that's the whole side of the story but if even a smidgin of it's true that's yet another major flaw exhibited by NASA. Why are we trying to save the shuttle again?

Re:Why hasn't it been worked on? (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649532)

Is there more to NASA's side of the story or is this a further sign of their incompetence? The article paints a picture where anyone would be an idiot to skip research into this type of engine and then says NASA was doing so because of "risk". I doubt that's the whole side of the story but if even a smidgin of it's true that's yet another major flaw exhibited by NASA. Why are we trying to save the shuttle again?

Maybe NASA subscribes to the theory "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", as in what they have works and has worked for some time. Changing formula may require complete change in vehicle design. Not something to take lightly.

Armadillo too is considering methane (4, Interesting)

YA_Python_dev (885173) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649686)

Armadillo Aerospace [armadilloaerospace.com] is considering exactly the same fuel [armadilloaerospace.com] . Some of the advantages are relatively high ISP (lower that LH2, but with a much smaller volume) and the fuel and the oxidizer (LOX) have more or less the same volume which can be a very good thing, depending on your vehicle configuration.

Re:Why hasn't it been worked on? (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649602)

Is there more to NASA's side of the story or is this a further sign of their incompetence?

See my post [slashdot.org] for an explanation.

FWIW, I think it's a good thing that companies like XCOR are exploring other engine options. NASA only targets developments that are useful to NASA, potentially leaving behind massive swaths of rocketry that could prove useful in the future. By having more third parties working on rocket technology, we're increasing the experience in the industry, lowering costs through economics, and hopefully expanding our technology base to pave the way for consumer space flights. What's not to like?

Why hasn't it been worked on?-Handcuffs. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17649800)

"What's not to like?"

Patents.

Interpretation of 'risk' (4, Informative)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649794)

'risk' isn't quite what people are making it out to be. Risk is the fact that a methane engine hasn't been built and operated before. By building and operating a methane engine, and improving its design (making it regeneratively cooled, using cryogenic methane as a fuel, passing x-thousand lights without incident, etc) reduces its relative risk.

NASA uses a scale called Technology Readiness Levels (TRL [nasa.gov] ) which you can read about if you like. Operating this device and documenting it can help raise the TRL of methane engines.

Additionally, it is a 'risk reduction' effort because it could be a replacement for the engine of the CEV which right now is (I think) kerosene+LOX. If that falls through for some reason (what, I don't know...) there is a second option on the table. Again, reducing risk.

And yes, according to Zubrin, we can manufacture methane on Mars where the CEV will be headed in 15-20 years, so an adaptation of this might be a retrofit to the CEV someday. (but please, be critical thinkers when you read Zubrin...)

That is all.

Re:Why hasn't it been worked on? (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649824)

NASA only has so much money to spread around to different projects -- and much of where it goes is mandated by congress. Consequently, there's only so much engine research that they can finance.

Methane engines are interesting, but they're no panacea. Methane lines on the spectrum between kerosene (dense, comparatively high temperature, moderate ISP) and hydrogen (sparse, extremely low temperature, high ISP). Specifically:

Hydrogen@20K: 70kg/m^3 (fuel**), 358kg/m^3 (bulk**), 455.9 (ISP sec@100:1/20MPa)
Methane@112K: 423kg/m^3 (fuel), 801kg/m^3 (bulk), 368.3 (ISP sec@100:1/20MPa)
Kerosene-based (RP-1)@298K: 820kg/m^3 (fuel), 1026kg/m^3(bulk), 354.6 (ISP sec@100:1/20MPa)

Note that it's a rather small ISP gain over kerosene -- not close to the performance of hydrogen -- yet its density is halfway between kerosene and hydrogen. While a small gain in ISP can be a big boost in performance, that's a pretty big density hit.

A fuel that I find interesting is propane. While at its boiling point, it's not that interesting:

Propane@231K: 582kg/m^3 (fuel), 905kg/m^3 (bulk), 361.9 (ISP sec@100:1/20MPa)

But cool it to 100K, and you get:

Propane@100K: 782kg/m^3 (fuel), 1014kg/m^3 (bulk), 361.9 (ISP sec@100:1/20MPa)

Not only are these attractive numbers, but since the propane is similar in temperature to the LOX, they can share a common bulkhead. Of course, it can't go too much below that, or its viscosity will rise too much (at 100K, it's similar to kerosene).

To make methane significantly more dense, you have to go pretty darn cold (well below your LOX temps), and it's probably not worth hydrogen complexity for a fuel with an ISP like methane.

** - Fuel density is the density of the fuel alone. Bulk density is the density of the fuel plus stochiametric amounts of liquid O2.

Re:Why hasn't it been worked on? (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649968)

Oh, forgot to mention: this assumes that the tanks aren't pressurized beyond the vapor pressure from the fuel (i.e., we're dealing with turbopump-driven rockets). Increasing pressure means a simpler turbopump (or even no turbopump) and denser fuel, but it gives you heavier tanks. Now, the pressure can help support the weight of the rocket better, but you only need so much structural support. In fact, I like SpaceX's notion for rocket design: when unpressurized, the rocket has just enough strength to be transported and brought into launch configuration, but not to withstand the forces of launch. Pressurization gives it the strength to launch.

Speaking of pumps -- what do others think of the flometrics [flometrics.com] design? I have to say, I like it.

Re:Why hasn't it been worked on? (3, Informative)

mikeee (137160) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650120)

One of the nice things about methane (like LOX, and unlike kerosene or for practical purposes hydrogen) is that it's potentially self-pressurizing; keep the tank at the right temperature, and you can maybe dispense with the pumps entirely. Depending on your cost-sensitivity and the performance you're trying to hit, this might or might not be a big win...

Re:Why hasn't it been worked on? (3, Interesting)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650220)

Someone I know refers to it a "cow-milker" :-P

I think it is interesting, huge weight savings over a pressure fed with none of the high-speed parts of a turbopump. Flowmetrics wasn't the first to come up with the idea although they were the first to put it on a rocket and have patented several ideas relating to it. I'd like to see it running in a bigger concept than the SDSU rocket [sdsu.edu] though. (Steve and Carl, faculty advisors for the projects work at Flowmetrics)

(They were pumping martinis at the Joint Propulsion Conference 2 years ago... very nice... and yummy)

Isp vs. Thrust (2, Informative)

White Yeti (927387) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650676)

Great info! I just want to add, because people tend to forget, that Isp and Thrust are related but separate quantities. Heavy hydrocarbons and polymers are good first-stage propellants because they give high thrust (F=ma). They use the big thrust to get up off the pad, then drop those stages for the higher-Isp propellants.

Huh? (1)

wittmania (957575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17651010)

Does anybody have any idea what this guy's talking about?

Methane? (5, Funny)

Dasupalouie (1038538) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649484)

So this is why UFO's come to earth and probe our cattle... I guess in the next decade or so you won't see countries being invaded for oil, but farmland being taken over for fuel and a glass of milk.

Re:Methane? (1)

Sandbags (964742) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649606)

Guess the price of Methane will be going up now... We've got 2 factors agast us getting reliable, cheap methan fuel cells: NASA is going to use truly massive amounts of it, and Bison are starting to replace cows as a reliable meat source (fyi, bison make as little as 10% of the methane that cows do, a more greenhouse friendly meat source, and it also tastes better too).

Re:Methane? (1)

Anonymous Cowpat (788193) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649820)

'Cows' make milk. At the end of their useful milk-producing life they're WAY over the 30-month limit for sending them to slaughter. The animals used to make beef are almost exclusively bulls because you only need one, (or possibly two for genetic diversity) on your farm (as they're only use is getting the cows pregnant) and you send the rest of them off to become burgers (again, before they're 30 months old) so they don't get to produce much methane anyway.

Re:Methane? (3, Informative)

ultramk (470198) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650050)

Bison are starting to replace cows as a reliable meat source

I'm sure they are, for small-scale organic ranchers catering to prestige restaurants. For the other 99.98% of the market, cattle are still king. Compare the numbers: roughly 1.3 billion head of cattle worldwide (100m in the US), compared to only 350,000 bison remaining in the world, with 250,00 being raised for meat.

That means that bison have about .019% of the global market. I wouldn't worry about methane production.: for every bison being raised for meat, there are 5,200 cattle.

Methane?-Poking Pokey. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17650350)

"So this is why UFO's come to earth and probe our cattle..."

Lucky cattle.

Little bit disingenuous (5, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649490)

The fuel has higher specific impulse than kerosene and oxygen, but until now has been thought to have too much 'technology risk'

There hasn't been much use, because rocket design has been on a different track than XCOR. Kerosine engines are primarily used for their high thrust to weight ratios, which help get a rocket off the ground. Once the rocket is in flight, the first stage is usually dropped in favor of a more powerful engine, such as Liquid Hydrogen/Oxygen engines. LHOx has the highest specific impulse of any fuel deployed to date; even more efficient than the methane-oxygen engines they're proposing.

The problem is that XCOR is working on a different track than NASA and the large rocket manufacturers. They're focusing on winged takeoff and landing, where high thrust to weight ratios aren't as important, and can be sacrificed for greater efficiency. (For comparison, the kerosine F-1 engines on the Saturn V produced 1.5 million lbf compared to the 7,500 lbf targetted by this engine.) So the methane-oxy engine development has less to do with politics, and more to do with the practical matters of meeting the targetted design goals.

No (4, Interesting)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649628)

So the methane-oxy engine development has less to do with politics, and more to do with the practical matters of meeting the targetted design goals.

No, it has more to do with the subcontract they have with ATK to do research for NASA LINK [xcor.com] . This pays the bills while they play with their winged rocket-plane.

For comparison, the kerosine F-1 engines on the Saturn V produced 1.5 million lbf compared to the 7,500 lbf targetted by this engine.

They were also pumping a lot more fuel and oxidizer per second (much larger m_dot). This is a small engine mounted to the back of a trailer. You could (almost) wrap your hands around it. The F-1's chamber is quite a bit bigger.

Re:No (2, Funny)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649890)

This is a small engine mounted to the back of a trailer.

Are they contemplating the Final Solution for trailer trash or something?

First they came for the trailer trash and I didn't say anything because I wasn't trailer trash.
Then they came for the phone sanitizers . . .

On the other hand it's a free ride into space. Maybe I'll get a mullet and rip the sleeves off my t-shirts or something. Take that Ansari.

KFG

Re:No (3, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649948)

No, it has more to do with the subcontract they have with ATK to do research for NASA LINK.

Good catch. But it's still not being developed for a traditional launch system. According to their website, this engine would be used for the lunar -> LEO transfer stage on the CEV. Which again makes the thrust to weight ratio less important, and again non-comparable to kerosine engines. (From what I understand the Apollo Service Module used a hydrazine engine for the transearth injection.)

They were also pumping a lot more fuel and oxidizer per second (much larger m_dot). This is a small engine mounted to the back of a trailer. You could (almost) wrap your hands around it. The F-1's chamber is quite a bit bigger.

Agreed. However, I don't have the actual Thrust to Weight ratios for the XCOR engine, so all I can do is point out the differences in their thrust. If you have the actual ratios, feels free to chip in.

Re:No (2, Interesting)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650400)

But it's still not being developed for a traditional launch system.

CEV/Constellation is becoming our "traditional" launch system.

If you have the actual ratios, feels free to chip in.

Hehe... no I don't. XCOR is keeping the numbers close to their chest. As they should... the numbers belong to NASA under contract. But you can back out a rough guesstimate since they gave you the thrust.

Re:No (2, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650740)

CEV/Constellation is becoming our "traditional" launch system.

No, they're the new hotness! *sizzle* :P

Sorry, when I refer to "traditional launch system", I mean a vertical take off rocket. The CEV program covers a huge number of vehicles and engines. What I'm referring to is that the methane engine is not planned for use as the first stage of a vertical takeoff; which is the area where kerosine is most commonly used.

Hehe... no I don't. XCOR is keeping the numbers close to their chest. As they should... the numbers belong to NASA under contract. But you can back out a rough guesstimate since they gave you the thrust.

Ugh. I'm horrible at making these sorts of guesstimates. Well, Astronautix lists the F-1 as having 94.07:1 Thrust to Weight [astronautix.com] . (1,740,134 lbf/~18,500lbs) Looking at the engine, it looks like solid stainless steel and either copper or brass. So... how does 100 to 150 lbs sound as a range? Which would give it a thrust to weight ratio of somewhere between 75:1 to 50:1.

How does that sound to you? Reasonable? (It sounds to me like I should be putting up hundreds of "warning: guesstimates ahead" signs. :D)

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17650878)

It's spelled "kerosene", and I believe even the Commodore 64 could spell-check that for you.

Re:Little bit disingenuous (2, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649692)

. . .meeting the targetted design goals.

Holy Christ, are we still allowed to do that? Why didn't I get the memo?

Now all we have to do is do something about the design goals and we're set.

KFG

Re:Little bit disingenuous (3, Insightful)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649844)

For comparison, the kerosine F-1 engines on the Saturn V produced 1.5 million lbf compared to the 7,500 lbf targetted by this engine

That's misleading. "This engine" is strictly a prototype so they can develop a much larger version. Comparing a production engine with an early, heavy in development prototype simply does not make sense. From the article, "The 7,500 lbf engine is the first of its kind...", and, "Currently, the engine is a workhorse prototype...". I don't see what their target thurst is, but one can assume it's much larger than 7,500lbf.

Re:Little bit disingenuous (3, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650148)

I don't see what their target thurst is, but one can assume it's much larger than 7,500lbf.

7,5000 lbf is the target for this engine. It builds upon the 50 lbf XR-3M9 [xcor.com] and 10,000 lbf 5M12. As pointed out by another poster [xcor.com] , XCOR claims "the new Orion Crew Vehicle main engine design will be an interpolation between these recent designs."

Additionally, XCOR is advertising their engine developments as a possible base for methane-breathing Jet engines that would work in Mars atmosphere. (A very interesting development, indeed!)

BTW, if you have the projected thrust to weight ratios, please share them. I hate having to use the thrust values, because it can be (as you said) misleading. Unfortunately, I don't have the values for the XCOR engine. What I can say is that LHOx > methane > kerosine in terms of specific impulse/efficiency. In terms of thrust to weight, the formula is exactly reversed where kerosine > methane > LHOx. There are very few cases where both the thrust to weight and specific impulse are high. (Orion Project and MPD thrusters [wikipedia.org] are the two I'm aware of.) Otherwise, they tend to be inversely proportional.

Re:Little bit disingenuous (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650376)

What I read said that the target for THIS engine was 7500 but this was a prototype. They then plan to take the results from this engine to create a newer, more powerful version. I took that to mean, this engine is 7500 while their target engine will have more and that this engine is nothing but a prototype and technology proofing milestone.

You sound like you're more in tune with following these developments so I many very well be out in left field here.

Re:Little bit disingenuous (1)

nasor (690345) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650522)

Perhaps more to the point, liquid methane's specific impulse is only very slighty better than kerosine, but kerosine has a much higher density (allowing you to store more of it in a smaller volume) and doesn't have the hassle of being a cryogenic liquid.

Re:Little bit disingenuous (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17651038)

"first stage is usually dropped in favor of a more powerful engine, such as Liquid Hydrogen/Oxygen engines. "
upper stage engines are usually less powerful than first stage engines.
An LH/LOX engine will have a higher specific impulse than an RP-1/LOX motor but a lower density impulse.
That is what methane/LOX more is trying to address. It makes a better first stage than LH and a better upper stage than RP-1.
It could be a good compromise for a SSTO system.

Re:Little bit disingenuous (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17651408)

upper stage engines are usually less powerful than first stage engines.

That was a mistake. It was supposed to say, "more efficient".

It could be a good compromise for a SSTO system.

Agreed. The logistics of actually developing an SSTO would be difficult, but as I said in another post, more companies working on space technology can only be a good thing. :)

But.... (0)

shirizaki (994008) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649498)

Does it run Linux?

Re:But.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17650052)

Does it run Linux?

No, Linux runs IT. Did we steal this technology from the USSR?

Mars exploration (4, Interesting)

hypermanng (155858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649500)

By far the most critical aspect of this for me is its practicality for use in Mars exploration or, more to the point, colonization. While it's obviously too soon to colonize anything at a reasonable price (and real colonization will only occur when we can get some prospect of a return commensurate to the colossal investment) but the sooner the requisite technologies enter wide use, the sooner their price starts to drop, the more hospitable the cost/benefit balance sheet begins to look. Little things like this could make ten years worth of difference.

Old idea waiting on execution (2, Informative)

hypermanng (155858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650182)

Here's a link [astronautix.com] to an old plan for Mars operations leveraging the ease of obtaining methane and oxygen on Mars.

Love the scare quotes.... (2, Insightful)

PHAEDRU5 (213667) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649506)

...as in the completely undefined "technology risk".

(I mean, as in, let me go combine hydrogen with carbon and oxygen, and see what happens......)

Not as bad as some other rocket fuels... (1)

Doctor Memory (6336) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650910)

Like, oh, say ClF5 (chlorine pentafluoride). It's a nice oxidizer: dense, liquid at room temperature (given a bit of pressure), and highly energetic. Of course, there's the issue of it being hypergolic with human flesh (and nearly everything else -- asbestos burns in ClF5), but really, it's got a lot of things going for it. Use it with a little hydrazine (N2H4) for full effect. Of course, hydrazine has its own problems (it becomes explosive under pressure, and is carcinogenic if you live through handling it ;), but that doesn't seem to affect its popularity.

Fun facts to know and tell here [braeunig.us] .

Methane rocket (5, Funny)

bdowd (159289) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649558)

...and the cow jumped (?) over the moon...

Wonderful! (4, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649576)

Methane gas is utterly renewable. You can make it from shit [colostate.edu] , literally, and without any special equipment [motherearthnews.com] . The only special thing you need is a way to compress it [repp.org] to store it... say 200 psi tops? The only thing I can't find is a small compressor suitable for this purpose on a household scale. You can actually just run your waste into the bottom of a pond along with a steady flow of water, tent it, and capture methane - you bubble it through water to purify it. The compressing is the only issue left...

Side note: While searching for goodies I found this url [sodalitasart.com] which attempted to root my computer. No idea how successful it was, I'm off to go run defender and spybot.

Re:Wonderful! (2, Funny)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649990)

Methane gas is utterly renewable. You can make it from shit

Petroleum is utterly renewable. You can make it from plants.

KFG

Re:Wonderful! (4, Funny)

ultramk (470198) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650098)

You know, in the context of this post, your username is truly disgusting.

M-

Re:Wonderful! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650388)

You know, in the context of this post, your username is truly disgusting.

The number of people who have apparently never talked to an alcoholic baby boomer is truly amazing. Lucky bastards. Basically all of them have said at some point in their lives "just one little drinkypoo".

Re:Wonderful! (1)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650684)

Basically all of them have said at some point in their lives "just one little drinkypoo".

Mom? Is that you?

Protestor sign of the future (3, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650328)

No Blood for Poop!

Re:Wonderful! (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650594)

And just what in bog's name do you want a rocket engine on a farm for?

Re:Wonderful! (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650716)

You're not limited to rocket engines.

There are several farms here in Vermont taking care of all of their electrical needs, plus selling some back to the utilities, all on Cow Power. Though now that you mention it, turbines are generally used at large-scale powerplants, for their efficiency. I wonder at what scaling point that becomes true. Perhaps the farm still doesn't need a rocket engine, but it would be better off with a methane-powered jet engine instead of its current I.C. engine.

Re:Wonderful! (1)

crabpeople (720852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650632)

"Methane gas is utterly renewable. You can make it from shit "

Yes we have all seen the 80s documentary beyond thunderdome.

Re:Wonderful! (2, Informative)

ChrisA90278 (905188) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650636)

Compressed natural gas is a common fuel used to power stoves on sailboats and fleet vehicles. You can buy it at the fuel docks at many marinas. Typically you exchange a tank, empty tank for full tank and pay about $20. The tanks look like steel SCUBA tanks and are filled to between 2400 to 3000 PSI. (about 200 BAR if you like metric) It really does need to be compress to 200 Bar or so to make it a usful otherwise the tanks are huge compared to the energy they contain. At 1 bar a small car might use 1 cubic foot per mile

The same fuel at about the same pressure is used to power cars trucks and busses in some fleets but is not common at all for privatly owned vehicles.

The problem of course is that it takes long time and a very expensive pump to compress the gas to 3000 PSI. Even if the fill station maintains a large staogage tank at 3000 PSI small SCUBA sized takes still take a while to fill because if you add the ga to fast it heats up and then cools to a lower presure. So you need to take at least about 5 minutes to fill a small tank.

OK why the long story ... just to show the fuel is not exotic. It's common with a large existing infrastructure.

Hence the tank exchange method

I suspect the rocket uses liquid methane at cryogenic tempertures.

Are the images real? (1, Interesting)

D4rk Fx (862399) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649632)

Is it just me, or do those images look like CG?

Re:Are the images real? (1)

CaffeineAddict2001 (518485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650224)

I would say so, except it looks so crappy. Reality badly needs an upgrade.

Really, this is sweet. (3, Insightful)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649684)

The fuel has higher specific impulse than kerosene and oxygen, but until now has been thought to have too much 'technology risk'.
Really, this is sweet. Not necessarily the rocket technology itself, but the fact that the X-Prize has accomplished what it was meant to do: Foster distributed research in space technology.

Having one organization, with one budget (NASA) works fine when you've got a big enough budget. However, politics and manpower constraints limit the number of avenues you can explore. Like with computers, having a monolithic space technology architecture can lead to a single point of failure.

What if a component is outlawed, or becomes extraordinarily expensive to produce? You end up with mountains of unusable applied technology.

This test demonstrates that the practical science behind space flight is getting diversified, and that can only be a good thing for ensuring the future of space flight.

Um. Hate to bust your bubble (4, Informative)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649852)

NASA is paying for the research through a contract with ATK. XCOR is a subcontractor.

See, XCOR can't make money flying their rocket-planes around so they have to have government contracts to foot the bills. It was like this before the X-prize and will remain to be.

Now the X-prize itself and the X-cup? Yes, cool. But credit where credit is due. This is NASA research, not X-Prize stuff.

Re:Um. Hate to bust your bubble (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650756)

Oops... Then it can't possibly be any good at all.

After all, NASA -> BAD! Anything but NASA -> good!

What's sad is, there really seem to be people who think like this. I wonder how many people would change their minds about the project, based just on your post.

Cattle powered (4, Funny)

dr_db (202135) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649718)

Will this be rated in cowpower?

I can see it now - "Where do you stupid bovines think you're going? The mooooooooooon?"

Risk? (1)

Mark of THE CITY (97325) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649734)

Any combination of fuel and liquid oxygen carries great risk. What makes cryogenic methane more hazardous than, say, cryogenic hydrogen, or noncryogenic kerosene?

Re:Risk? (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650100)

For one, it allows for sensational fear causing headlines! now with more !!!!!

Re:Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17650360)

The problem is not so much risk, but storage issues (although there are risk issues as well). Cryo LH2 boils off rather quickly, which means on-vehicle storage is limited, unless you have a recovery/recompression system in place (too heavy/expensive right now). Methane enables longer stays of inactivity in space, which is crucial for any in-space engine.

Re:Risk? (5, Interesting)

Kamots (321174) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650516)

Different kind of risk.

The risk being talked about here is program risk... ie... the risk that using unproven technology will result in cost and schedule impacts to the project due to unforeseen problems. Not the risk of things going boom (although that can impact cost and schedule too... XD) Using proven, well-understood technologies reduces risk.

Think of it this way... if you're given a task to develop a program for $C dollars inside of Y months, are you going to use a well-established programming language or are you going to go with some new half-developed (but really nifty) one where you're playing debug the compiler as you work on your project?

Re:Risk? (1)

Amazing Quantum Man (458715) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650948)

Mod this guy up.

The term "risk" has many meanings, risk to life, schedule risk, technical risk, etc...

The example given is perfect. Think of the engine as a the compiler in his example.

LOX/Kerosine and LOX/Hydrogen engines are essentially debugged. They're a known factor, just like the example's "well-established programming language".

Methane engines are still under development and the bugs haven't been worked out ("new half-developed (but really nifty one where you're playing debug the compiler").

Just a wild thought.. (2, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#17649848)

If we develop methane engine technology, could it possibly be used to return a space mission from planets with an abundance of frozen methane?

Re:Just a wild thought.. (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650836)

NASA and the rest are looking heavily at In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) for other fuels, so if a future mission uses these engines, they will certainly look at taking the methane, and it will probably be easier than a lot of other messages.

However, looking at missions to the outer planets, chemical propellants won't cut it. Electric Propulsion, like ion thrusters or Hall thrusters have much higher specific impulse (basically fuel efficiency), with much lower thrust, but are ideal for long term missions like an outer planets exploration mission.

It would be great for a lander however, because if we land something on the surface and want to get it back up, a methane chemical rocket sounds like it might be a good idea in such an environment.

Is that a rocket in your pocket (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17649958)

Is that a rocket in your pocket or are you just happy to smell me?

One of the major positives is that (1)

UPZ (947916) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650072)

now you can refuel the methane on some of the solar planets and their satellites - which have oceans and lakes of methane. Agreed that today we still havent found a solution to obtaining oxygen outside earth, and the technology is still not there to make such long missions possible, but its a good advance nevertheless. Applause for the rocket scientists.

Re:One of the major positives is that (1)

Paulrothrock (685079) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650436)

Most of those places that have methane also have water in the form of ice. Heat it up a bit and you can not only use it to drink, but also electrolyze it for fuel. The advantage of methane over hydrogen in this case is that it doesn't require energy-intensive storage methods.

Additional cost savings? (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650082)

Could you mix LOX and liquid methane in the correct proportion in the same fuel/oxidizer tank and eliminate 1/2 of the pumps/plumbing, etc?

Re:Additional cost savings? (2, Informative)

ClayJar (126217) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650418)

At atmospheric pressure, methane freezes at a temperature about half a kelvin above that at which oxygen boils (about 90.7 kelvins and 90.2 kelvins, respectively, if I've looked things up correctly).

Obviously, I know nothing about the operational pressure ranges, but one can easily infer that mixed-phase flows would likely result if you tried to use both from a single tank. I wouldn't want to see what that would do to a rocket engine turbopump. (Well, actually, since high-speed cameras are fairly cheap these days... um...)

Rocket science is already rocket science. :) It's hard enough to design systems with two tanks. Designing a methane/LOX system with one? Perhaps it's counterintuitive to many, but at the *very* least, it would be *significantly* more difficult, but I suspect it would not even be possible.

Re:Additional cost savings? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17650444)

Only if you want to eliminate the rest of your vehicle too. You just described a bomb.

Re:Additional cost savings? (1)

FireFury03 (653718) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650446)

Could you mix LOX and liquid methane in the correct proportion in the same fuel/oxidizer tank and eliminate 1/2 of the pumps/plumbing, etc?

Is it me or does that sound _really_ dangerous? :)

I know, let's put a stupidly large, explosive mix of fuel/oxidiser in a tank under very high pressure and hope nothing ignites it. :)

Re:Additional cost savings? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17651176)

1. I don't think this would work. I am pretty sure the methane would freeze.
2. If you could it could be hard to keep them in uniform mixture.
3. Yes I would call it a bomb.

In theory I am pretty sure that you could mix NOX and Propane under pressure but that would also be a really bad idea.

Re:Additional cost savings? (5, Funny)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650470)

Could you mix LOX and liquid methane in the correct proportion in the same fuel/oxidizer tank and eliminate 1/2 of the pumps/plumbing, etc?

Sure you could do that... if your goal was to simulate the blast effects of a small nuclear explosion.

Yawn! (2, Interesting)

Lord Apathy (584315) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650114)

Another chemical engine. Been there, done that. Where are all those cool nuclear and ion engines I've been reading/hearing about for the last 30 years? You know the ones that promised us that mars was a couple weeks away and Jupiter was just a couple of months?

We tried out that ion engine a few years ago. If I remember it worked perfectly. Why haven't we put that in to service. The last probe we launch, pluto express, still used the tried and true brute force approach. It will take it about 20 years to get there. Where if we had strapped a nuclear powered plasma rocked they have been testing for the last 20 years I could already be bitch'n about how dull pluto is.

Come on guy's you've had the plasma rocket in a bottle for 10 years. Lets take it up, strap it to something, and see what the bitch can do.

Yes, I know nuclear plasma and ion can't get us off the ground so we'll still need chemical for that, for now. And I know you have to crawl before you can walk, but we've been crawling for 60 years now. Hell, we are still using the same basic technology that the nazi's where lobbing into London.

Let's get off the can and do something new for once.

Re:Yawn! (3, Informative)

ookabooka (731013) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650442)

Ion engines are very efficient, problem is they don't generate much thrust and therefore don't really help with "getting there faster". Deep space one [wikipedia.org] pioneered ion propulsion technology. Can't do nuclear propulsion like Project Orion [wikipedia.org] due to international treaties and what not. Basically anything other than chemical propulsion is experimental and no one is willing to foot the bill to make the technology mature.

Re:Yawn! (1)

oni (41625) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650650)

Can't do nuclear propulsion like Project Orion due to international treaties and what not.

The treaty should be changed if it hampers the progress of our species. No, we shouldn't be setting off nukes in low earth orbit, but we should be using them (or at least open to the possibility of usng them) farther out.

Another good idea is the nuclear thermal rocket [wikipedia.org] . Basically, you use a nuclear reactor to super-heat the propellant, which then expands (quite rapidly) pushing the craft forward. The exhaust gas isn't radio active, any more than the water used to cool a nuclear power plant is radio active.

NTR's have even higher ISPs than this methane rocket. They really do kick ass. And as a bonus, since you're not burning the propellant, you don't need an oxidizer.

But this wont happen either because of that very vocal minority of people who are opposed to any and all progress and want us all to live in caves. These are the same people who were against Cassini because it used RTGs. Why are people like that allowed to have any say in our society?

Moon Direct (1)

dbhankins (688931) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650258)

Great! Now we can apply the Trans-Linear Vector Principle! And the fuel is so... fitting.

With Apologies... (1)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650452)

With apologies to Graeme Edge and the Moody Blues:

Black thing, billowing, bursting forth with the power of 10 Billion butterfly farts, man with his flaming fire...

So basically... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17650484)

It's like lighting a fart, but on a massive scale.

I, for one, welcome our Fart Drive space rockets.

Banding? (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650488)

Anyone know why the various images shows a kind of banding, almost as if the thrust had vertebrae? I'd expect to see one, but it's an interesting pattern that repeats all the way down.
 

Shock diamonds. (2, Informative)

ClayJar (126217) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650556)

That appeared to me to be a nice illustration of "shock diamonds [wikipedia.org] ".

You can get some really interesting designs out of high-speed flows, especially when you throw in some bright combustion. :)

obligatory Muppet Show quote... (1)

constantnormal (512494) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650526)

PIGS IN SPAaace ...

Done already by South Korea (3, Informative)

amightywind (691887) | more than 7 years ago | (#17650586)

I am partial to US technology in most matters but South Korea successfully tested [hobbyspace.com] a 20,000lb thrust methane engine last year. I believe that Japanese have something similar.

Just remember... (1)

DakkonFury (1035392) | more than 7 years ago | (#17651190)

...in space, no one can hear you... fart...
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