New Steam-Powered Spacecraft Could Explore Space 'Forever'

Monday, 14 January 2019 - 2:06PM
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Monday, 14 January 2019 - 2:06PM
New Steam-Powered Spacecraft Could Explore Space 'Forever'
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Adapted from Pixabay images
When Buzz Lightyear said "To infinity...and beyond!", we doubt anyone took the idea seriously. Even Voyager 1 and 2, which are still flying after forty years, will eventually run out of fuel and go dormant. However, the same might not be true for a new, microwave-sized probe that can use steam power to "hop" from asteroids to low-gravity bodies like Pluto...and beyond.

The little spacecraft, called WINE (short for "World Is Not Enough), is equipped with a drill that can collect water from places it visits. From there, it can convert that water into steam to propel itself in the place of more traditional rocket fuel. According to Phil Metzger of the University of Central Florida, one of the creators of WINE: "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." Metzger says WINE's steam-powered propulsion method could enable it to explore space "forever."

WINE has already been successfully tested on a simulated asteroid surface in California. Metzger gushed about the tests, saying: "It's awesome. WINE successfully mined the soil, made rocket propellant, and launched itself on a jet of steam extracted from the simulant." NASA has already contributed funding to the development of the project through its Small Business Technology Transfer initiative.

The concept of a multi-use probe that can hop from different celestial bodies could be a game changer when it comes to exploring our solar system, especially asteroids. According to Metzger, WINE offers a platform that's much more efficient than single-purpose spacecraft, such as OSIRIS-REx: "Each time we lose our tremendous investment in time and money that we spent building and sending the spacecraft to its target. 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."

With asteroid mining looming on the horizon, WINE might be the perfect tool to scout out space rocks.

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