It may be called the Red Planet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use green technology to get there. Engineers at the University of Hertfordshire are developing a miniature dual fuel rocket, as a test model for technology that could one day result in a full-scale carbon negative rocket capable of a return flight to Mars. Their model’s motor will be powered by a mixture of carbon dioxide and aluminum, turning the CO2 into carbon in the process - this is the opposite of what is done by traditional rockets.
The U of H’s Eur Ing Ray Wilkinson is leading the project, assisted by MSc student Sathyakumar Sharma from the University of Salford.
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They chose to use aluminum powder in their motor, because it requires very little energy to ignite, and CO2, because it is available in the Martian atmosphere. “The idea is that a Mars rocket could save a lot of cost and mass by not taking with it the propellants it needs for its return flight,” said Wilkinson. “One method of doing this is to use an easily available Martian resource, carbon dioxide, as a propellant, and burn it with aluminum or magnesium powder.”
The system has already been tested in a lab setting at Indiana's Purdue University, but Wilkinson hopes to demonstrate the motor in an actual low-altitude flight later this year. He has previously developed a rocket powered by toffee, but all the data indicates that Mars has a remarkably candy-free atmosphere.