Florida researchers have developed a revolutionary spacecraft that could mine its own fuel and explore faraway alien worlds indefinitely.
As noted by NASA, the Steam powered spacecraft could revolutionize space exploration.
Dubbed ‘The World Is Not Enough’, the NASA funded prototype spacecraft can extract water from asteroids or other planetary bodies in order to generate steam. It then uses it to fuel a rocket thruster and propel itself through the vastness of space.
The spacecraft has been envisioned as a cosmic hopper spacecraft, going from one cosmic body to another, extracts own fuel and traveling the universe.
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,” explained Phil Metzger, a planetary research scientist at the University of Central Florida.
Researchers worked in collaboration with Honeybee Robotics of Pasadena, California, and developed ‘the World Is Not Enough’ spacecraft.
During tests, the spacecraft managed to lift off inside a vacuum chamber at the Honeybee research facility.
“It’s awesome,” said Metzger, adding that “WINE successfully mined the soil, made rocket propellant, and launched itself on a jet of steam extracted from the simulant.”
The WINE spacecraft makes use of deployable solar panels that give it enough ‘juice’ to ming and make steam. But scientists say they can also equip the spacecraft with small radioscopic decay units which could possibly extend the potential reach of similar spacecraft, allowing it to travel to Pluto and beyond.
Current technology dictates that spacecraft that run out of fuel stop their interplanetary exploration mission.
However, things could change with WINE.
“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,” explained Metzger.
“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,” Metzger added.
Further development is expected as the research team is seeking out new partners that could help build the spacecraft.
“WINE-like spacecraft have the potential to change how we explore the universe,” said Kris Zacny, vice president of Honeybee Robotics.