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Researchers Investigate Gelled Rocket Fuels

Feb. 10, 2009
New fuels could improve aeronautics safety and performance.

Two teams of researchers are working to develop a new type of gelled fuel designed to improve the safety and performance of rockets for military and space applications.

Why gelled? Gels are safer than liquid, and motors running on gels can be controlled more precisely than conventional rockets using solid fuels, according to Stephen Heister, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue University. "You can turn the engine on and off. You can coast; go fast or slow," explains Heister, who is leading one of the teams. "You have much greater control, which means more range for missiles. The gelled propellants also tend to have a little more energy than the solid propellants."

Timothee Pourpoint, third from left, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, is in charge of designing and operating a new Purdue University lab to test gelled rocket fuels that have the consistency of orange marmalade. With him are, from left, graduate students Tim Phillips, Mark James and Travis Kubal.An experiment to videotape and study the gelatinous fuel's behavior is under construction. The researchers first will work with water-based gels before conducting experiments with the actual gelled fuels. Findings will be used to design systems with improved combustion.

The project is funded by the U.S. Army Research Office.

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