Rocket fuel, alternatively known as rocket propellant, is an explosive charge that gives the rocket the initial propel it needs at lift-off. Propellants can be either solid, liquid, gas or gel; of these four, liquid propellants have the most advantages, and it is thus that water arose as a possible alternative to the otherwise non-renewable resources used. Water is that one rare substance that is both easy to find – even in outer space – and is plentiful in amount. It is also an energy carrier, not a fuel in itself.
But how is this possible? Researchers led by NASA’s former chief technologist are hoping to launch a satellite carrying water as the source of its fuel. A team from the Cornell University wish to launch the first ever water-propelled satellite (the CubeSat) into space. They have explained that the water itself will not be the fuel; instead, solar panels’ electricity will split the H2O into oxygen and hydrogen, and these two components, being the backbone to any rocket fuel, will burn on ignition and give out the energy taken in initially.
Solar panels are the obvious choice because they are dependable and due to the lack of moving parts, they can function well in areas with no gravity. The splitting process is done via electrolysis – this is literally the decomposition of H2O into O2 and H due to an electric current being passed through the water.
This new method could have a significant impact on the way we power most of our aircraft – or possibly even spacecraft – in the future. While fuel resources are being depleted globally, we need to look towards new and more importantly, efficient sources.
Unlike wind and solar energy, which do not fulfil our energy needs in a useful manner, water can be split through electrolysis, then be easily transported and stored as hydrogen fuel. Whenever it is needed, it can simply be released and recombined with oxygen present in the air. This could mean that solar panels and hydrogen fuel could be affecting all of us on a massive scale, and probably very soon as well.