Honeybee Robotics and University of Central Florida (UCF) have developed a prototype spacecraft that does away with fuel and runs on steam instead.
The World Is Not Enough (WINE) spacecraft has been designed to extract water from asteroids or other planetary bodies and generate steam, which in turn propels itself to its next mining target.
UCF provided the simulated asteroid material and Metzger did the computer modeling and simulation necessary before Honeybee created the prototype and tried out the idea at its facility in December.
The team also partnered with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, to develop initial prototypes of steam-based rocket thrusters.
“WINE successfully mined the soil, made rocket propellant, and launched itself on a jet of steam extracted from the simulant. 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,” intoned UCF planetary research scientist Phil Metzger.
The microwave oven-sized prototype mines water from the surface then makes it into steam to fly to a new location and repeat. Therefore, it is a rocket that never runs out of fuel and can theoretically explore forever.
According to Metzger, the spacecraft uses deployable solar panels to get enough energy for mining and making steam.
It could also make use of small radiosotopic decay units to extend the potential reach of these planetary hoppers to Pluto and other locations far from the sun.
“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”
Image and content: University of Central Florida