NASA’s steam powered spacecraft mines its own fuel and could explore faraway worlds ‘forever’

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NASA reveals steam powered spacecraft that mines its own fuel and could explore faraway worlds ‘forever’

  • NASA funded prototype craft extracts water from planetary bodies 
  • Uses this to generate steam allowing to drive its rocket thrusters
  • Experts say it could repeat this process indefinitely 

Mark Prigg For Dailymail.com

A steam powered spacecraft that could roam the sky ‘forever’ is being developed by Florida researchers.

Called ‘the World Is Not Enough’, the NASA funded prototype craft extracts water from asteroids or other planetary bodies to generate steam.

It then uses this to drive a rocket thruster and propel itself.

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Called 'the World Is Not Enough', the NASA funded prototype craft extracts water from asteroids or other planetary bodies to generate steam. The spacecraft lifted off for about a meter inside a vacuum chamber at Honeybee's Pasadena facility in its most recent test

Called ‘the World Is Not Enough’, the NASA funded prototype craft extracts water from asteroids or other planetary bodies to generate steam. The spacecraft lifted off for about a meter inside a vacuum chamber at Honeybee’s Pasadena facility in its most recent test

HOW IT WORKS 

The spacecraft uses deployable solar panels to get enough energy for mining and making steam, or it could use small radiosotopic decay units to extend the potential reach of these planetary hoppers to Pluto and other locations far from the sun. 

Once it lands, it extracts water from asteroids or other planetary bodies to generate steam.

It then uses this to drive a rocket thruster and propel itself.

 

Researchers say it could be used to ‘hop’ across asteroids and planets. 

 ‘We could potentially use this technology to hop on the Moon, Ceres, Europa, Titan, Pluto, the poles of Mercury, asteroids — anywhere there is water and sufficiently low gravity,’ said University of Central Florida planetary research scientist Phil Metzger. 

The scientist worked with Honeybee Robotics of Pasadena, California, which developed the World Is Not Enough spacecraft prototype. 

The spacecraft lifted off for about a meter inside a vacuum chamber at Honeybee’s Pasadena facility. 

‘It’s awesome,’ Metzger says of the demonstration. 

‘WINE successfully mined the soil, made rocket propellant, and launched itself on a jet of steam extracted from the simulant.    

The process works in a variety of scenarios depending on the gravity of each object, Metzger says. 

The spacecraft uses deployable solar panels to get enough energy for mining and making steam, or it could use small radiosotopic decay units to extend the potential reach of these planetary hoppers to Pluto and other locations far from the sun. 

A Honeybee Robotics mockup of what a final craft could look like

A Honeybee Robotics mockup of what a final craft could look like

A Honeybee Robotics mockup of what a final craft could look like

Currently, interplanetary missions stop exploring once the spacecraft runs out of propellant.

‘Each time we lose our tremendous investment in time and money that we spent building and sending the spacecraft to its target,’ Metzger says.

‘WINE was designed to never run out of propellant so exploration will be less expensive. 

‘It also allows us to explore in a shorter amount of time, since we don’t have to wait for years as a new spacecraft travels from Earth each time.’ 

 The project is a result of the NASA Small Business Technology Transfer programme, which encourages universities to partner with tech companies. 

‘The WINE-like spacecrafts have the potential to change how we explore the universe.’says Kris Zacny, vice president of Honeybee Robotics.

The team is now seeking partners to continue developing small spacecraft. 

 

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