Editorial Feature

Utilizing Nanotechnology in Aerospace and Rocket Fuels

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A number of aerospace companies have ongoing programs for the utilization of nano-sized particles of hafnium or aluminum for rocket propulsion applications. The enhanced combustion and ignition speed of such particles are vital factors for this industry.

Rocket Propulsion for Launch Platforms

The emergence of telecommunications and other satellites has led to significant growth in the use of rocket propulsion for launch platforms. When compared with solid propellants, liquid propellants, mainly kerosene, are used in non-military systems like space engines as they use liquid oxygen in first-stage boosters.

As these solid fuels cannot be stored, they are not viable for military applications. Therefore, there is a great interest in boosting the specific impulse of liquid propellants.

Adding Aluminum to Rocket Repulsion Fuel

Although the addition of aluminum would realize that objective, it has not been used thus far because when aluminum is added to kerosene, it does not burn well. Aluminized liquid hydrocarbon propellant fuels would boost propulsion energy, especially in volume-limited systems through the use of nano-sized aluminum.

Other Rocket Fuel Additives

Rocket-fuel additives with 3 nm-wide iron-oxide particles can serve as a catalyst to turn solid propellants into gases that are combusted when missiles or rockets are launched, making it more reactive than traditional iron-oxide catalysts. This allows quicker conversion of the propellants and better speed or range for the missiles.

Future Applications of Nanotechnological Fuel Products

Nanogellants for gelled propellants are an example of future application of nanotechnology in fuel. These gellants have a nanoscale structure as well as a very high surface area per gram. Gelled fuel minimizes leakage and improves safety. Nanogellant for gelled cryogens has a surface area of about 1000 m2/g, resulting in the gelling of cryogenic fuels with 25%–50% less mass compared to traditional gellant material.

Nanoparticulate of aluminum is another application that can be used for jet fuels. These smaller particles enable lower specific fuel consumption and highly efficient combustion. It is believed that both nano fuels will be used for the future generation of aerospace vehicles.

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