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I would like to express my special
thanks of gratitude to my teacher, Mrs
Kshamta Agrawal, who gave me the
opportunity to work on this project on
the topic “Space Chemistry”. During my
research on this project, I came to know
many new things I am really thankful
Secondly I heartily thank to my college
administration that provided us 24
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edit our content infinite number of
1. Stars and their properties
Temperature and spectrum
Mass and movement
Brightness, luminosity and radius
The life of a star
The death of a star
2.Chemical composition of space
Interstellar dust and its importance
3. How space suits work
What a space suit does
Project Apollo space suit
Modern space suit: EMU
4. Chemistry of rocket propellants
5. Can we harness energy from outer space?
Space based solar power
Stars and Their Properties
absolute magnitude - apparent magnitude of the star if it was located 10 parsecs from Earth
apparent magnitude - a star's brightness as observed from Earth
luminosity - total amount of energy emitted from a star per second
parsec - distance measurement (3.3 light-years, 19.8 trillion miles, 33 trillion kilometers)
light year - distance measurement (6 trillion miles, 10 trillion kilometers)
spectrum - light of various wavelengths emitted by a star
solar mass - mass of the sun; 1.99 x 1030
kg (330,000 Earth masses)
solar radius - radius of the sun; 418,000 miles (696,000 km)
Stars are massive, glowing balls of hot gases, mostly hydrogen and helium. Some stars are relatively close (the
closest 30 stars are within 40 parsecs) and others are far, far away. Astronomers can measure the distance by using
a method called parallax, in which the change in a star's position in the sky is measured at different times during the
year. Some stars are alone in the sky, others have companions (binary stars) and some are part of
large clusters containing thousands to millions of stars. Not all stars are the same. Stars come in all sizes,
brightnesses, temperatures and colors. Let's take a closer look at the features of stars.
Stars have many features that can be measured by studying the light that they emit:
spectrum or wavelengths of light emitted
movement (toward or away from us, rate of spin)
Temperature and Spectrum
Some stars are extremely hot, while others are cool. You can tell by the color of light that the stars give off. If
you look at the coals in a charcoal grill, you know that the red glowing coals are cooler than the white hot
ones. The same is true for stars. A blue or white star is hotter than a yellow star, which is hotter than a red
star. So, if you look at the strongest color or wavelength of light emitted by the star, then you can calculate
its temperature(temperature in degrees Kelvin = 3 x 10
/ wavelength in nanometers). A star's spectrum
can also tell you the chemical elements that are in that star because different elements (for example,
hydrogen, helium, carbon, calcium) absorb light at different wavelengths.
Mass and Movement
In 1924, the astronomer A. S. Eddington showed that the luminosity and mass of a star were related. The larger a
star (i.e., more massive) is, the more luminous it is (luminosity = mass3
Stars around us are moving with respect to our solar system. Some are moving away from us and some are moving
toward us. The movement of stars affects the wavelengths of light that we receive from them, much like the high
pitched sound from a fire truck siren gets lower as the truck moves past you. This phenomenon is called theDoppler
effect. By measuring the star's spectrum and comparing it to the spectrum of a standard lamp, then the amount of the
Doppler shift can be measured. The amount of the Doppler shift tells us how fast the star is moving relative to us. In
addition, the direction of the Doppler shift can tell us the direction of the star's movement. If the spectrum of a star is
shifted to the blue end, then the star is moving toward us; if the spectrum is shifted to the red end, then the star is
moving away from us. Likewise if a star is spinning on its axis, the Doppler shift of its spectrum can be used to
measure its rate of rotation.
Brightness, Luminosity and Radius
Two factors determine the brightness of a star:
luminosity - how much energy it puts out in a given time
distance - how far it is from us
A searchlight puts out more light than a penlight. That is, the searchlight is more luminous. If that searchlight is 5
miles away from you, however, it will not be as bright because light intensity decreases with distance squared. A
searchlight 5 miles from you may look as bright as a penlight 6 inches away from you.The same is true for stars.
Astronomers (professional or amateur) can measure a star's brightness (the amount of light it puts out) by using
aphotometer or charge-coupled device (CCD) on the end of a telescope. If they know the star's brightness and the
distance to the star, they can calculate the star's luminosity [luminosity = brightness x 12.57 x (distance)
This is the relationship between luminosity (L), radius (R) and temperature (T):
L = (7.125 x 10
Units: L - watts, R - meters, T - degrees Kelvin
Luminosity is also related to a star's size. The larger a star is, the more energy it puts out and the more luminous it is.
You can see this on the charcoal grill, too. Three glowing red charcoal briquettes put out more energy than one
glowing red charcoal briquette at the same temperature. Likewise, if two stars are the same temperature but different
sizes, then the large star will be more luminous than the small one. See the sidebar for a formula to that shows how a
star's luminosity is related to its size (radius) and its temperature
The Life of a Star
As we mentioned before, stars are large balls of gases. New stars form from large, cold (10 degrees Kelvin) clouds of
dust and gas (mostly hydrogen) that lie between existing stars in a galaxy.
1. Usually, some type of gravity disturbance happens to the cloud such as the passage of a nearby star or the shock
wave from an exploding supernova.
2. The disturbance causes clumps to form inside the cloud.
3. The clumps collapse inward drawing gas inward by gravity.
4. The collapsing clump compresses and heats up.
5. The collapsing clump begins to rotate and flatten out into a disc.
6. The disc continues to rotate faster, draw more gas and dust inward, and heat up.
7. After about a million years or so, a small, hot (1500 degrees Kelvin), dense core forms in the disc's centercalled
8. As gas and dust continue to fall inward in the disc, they give up energy to the protostar, which heats up more
9. When the temperature of the protostar reaches about 7 million degrees Kelvin, hydrogen begins to fuse to make
helium and release energy.
10. Material continues to fall into the young star for millions of years because the collapse due to gravity is greater than
the outward pressure exerted by nuclear fusion. Therefore, the protostar's internal temperature increases.
11. If sufficient mass (0.1 solar mass or greater) collapses into the protostar and the temperature gets hot enough for
sustained fusion, then the protostar has a massive release of gas in the form of a jet called a bipolar flow. If the
mass is not sufficient, the star will not form, but instead become a brown dwarf.
12. The bipolar flow clears away gas and dust from the young star. Some of this gas and dust may later collect to form
The young star is now stable in that the outward pressure from hydrogen fusion balances the inward pull of gravity.
The star enters the main sequence; where it lies on the main sequence depends upon its mass.
Now that the star is stable, it has the same parts as our Sun:
core - where the nuclear fusion reactions occur
radiative zone - where photons carry energy away from the core
convective zone - where convection currents carry energy toward the surface
However, the interior may vary with respect to the location of the layers. Stars like the Sun and those less massive
than the Sun have the layers in the order described above. Stars that are several times more massive than the Sun
have convective layers deep in their cores and radiative outer layers. In contrast, stars that are intermediate between
the Sun and the most massive stars may only have a radiative layer.
Life on the Main Sequence
Stars on the main sequence burn by fusing hydrogen into helium. Large stars tend to have higher core temperatures
than smaller stars. Therefore, large stars burn the hydrogen fuel in the core quickly, whereas, small stars burn it more
slowly. The length of time that they spend on the main sequence depends upon how quickly the hydrogen gets used
up. Therefore, massive stars have shorter lifetimes (the Sun will burn for approximately 10 billion years). What
happens once the hydrogen in the core is gone depends upon the mass of the star.
LIFE CYCLE OF STARS
The Death of a Star
Several billion years after its life starts, a star will die. How the star dies, however, depends on what type of star it is.
Stars Like the Sun
When the core runs out of hydrogen fuel, it will contract under the weight of gravity. However, some hydrogen fusion
will occur in the upper layers. As the core contracts, it heats up. This heats the upper layers, causing them to expand.
As the outer layers expand, the radius of the star will increase and it will become a red giant. The radius of the red
giant sun will be just beyond the Earth's orbit. At some point after this, the core will become hot enough to cause the
helium to fuse into carbon. When the helium fuel runs out, the core will expand and cool. The upper layers will
expand and eject material that will collect around the dying star to form a planetary nebula. Finally, the core will cool
into a white dwarf and then eventually into a black dwarf. This entire process will take a few billion years.
Stars More Massive Than the Sun
When the core runs out of hydrogen, these stars fuse helium into carbon just like the Sun. However, after the helium
is gone, their mass is enough to fuse carbon into heavier elements such as oxygen, neon, silicon, magnesium, sulfur
and iron. Once the core has turned to iron, it can burn no longer. The star collapses by its own gravity and the iron
core heats up. The core becomes so tightly packed that protons and electrons merge to form neutrons. In less than a
second, the iron core, which is about the size of the Earth, shrinks to a neutron core with a radius of about 6 miles (10
kilometers). The outer layers of the star fall inward on the neutron core, thereby crushing it further. The core heats to
billions of degrees and explodes (supernova), thereby releasing large amounts of energy and material into space.
The shock wave from the supernova can initiate star formation in other interstellar clouds. The remains of the core
can form a neutron star or a black hole depending upon the mass of the original star.
Chemical Composition of Space
Outer space consists of a huge vacuum. Through gravitational pull, planets and other astronomical
bodies, like the Earth, suck out most of the gas and particles in outer space. The most dominant gases
still found in the vacuum of outer space are hydrogen and helium. There are other elements present,
but they tend to be labeled together into one term known as "interstellar dust."
The Interstellar Medium
Outer space -- also known as the "interstellar medium" -- contains hydrogen, helium and
interstellar dust in very small amounts. According to the University of New Hampshire
Experimental Plasma Group, the average density of these particles in the interstellar medium is
only "about one atom per cubic centimeter" as opposed to the air on Earth, which has "a density
of approximately 30,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules per cubic centimeter."
Hydrogen can be found anywhere in the universe, including the vast reaches of outer space.
Hydrogen makes up about 75 percent of all atoms in outer space and holds one of the top spots
nearby as it is the third most abundant on Earth. Hydrogen's chemical composition is also the
simplest of all elements; most of the time, a hydrogen atom contains only one proton and one
electron. This simplicity makes it tasteless, odorless and colorless.
Helium makes up 24 percent of the gas present in outer space, making it the second most
abundant element in outer space. This inert gas cannot exist in compound form; its simplistic
structure of helium makes it the second simplest element as well, consisting only of two
neutrons, two electrons and two protons. It is also tasteless, odorless and colorless. Helium has
the lowest boiling point among all elements at minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hydrogen and helium make up the majority of gas found in outer space, but there are other
trace elements present in outer space known as interstellar dust. This "dust" composition
consists of several other elements and makes up less than 1 percent of all elements found in
outer space. Interstellar dust differs from the dust on Earth; it is composed of very small
irregular particles containing carbon, ice, iron compounds and silicates.
Interstellar Dust and Its Importance
Most of this interstellar gas and dust originates from the death of stars which either exploded
(supernova) or blew off their outer layers, returning their material to interstellar space. From
this material, new stars are formed. Often, the gas and dust between the stars can be detected
only in the infrared. Dust grains absorb visible and ultraviolet light which causes them to heat up
and radiate in the infrared. Also, by using infrared detectors, astronomers can penetrate the
often invisible interstellar gas and dust clouds and gain much information about their
composition and structure. It is for the most part a type of small dust particles which are a
few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. A smaller fraction of all dust in space consists of larger
refractory minerals that condensed as matter left the stars. It is called "stardust".
Interstellar dust is an important constituent of the Galaxy. It obscures all but the relatively
nearby regions in visual and ultraviolet wavelengths, and reradiates the absorbed energy in the
far-infrared part of the spectrum, thereby providing a major part (~ 30%) of the total luminosity
of the Galaxy. The FIR radiation from dust removes the gravitational energy of collapsing clouds,
allowing star formation to occur. Dust is crucial for interstellar chemistry by reducing the
ultraviolet (UV) radiation which causes molecular dissociations and providing the site of the
formation of the most abundant interstellar molecule, H2. Probably grain surfaces are
responsible for other chemistry as well. Dust controls the temperature of the interstellar
medium (ISM) by accounting for most of the elements which provide cooling, but also providing
heating through electrons ejected photoelectrically from grains.
The past decade has seen an increase in interest in interstellar dust because of the discovery of
spectroscopic features in both emission and absorption, along with laboratory studies of
candidate materials. There have been good observations of the extinction law of dust in many
directions. Probably the most important feature to emerge from these studies is that
``interstellar dust'' refers to a variety of materials of widely varying properties.
Many studies of interstellar dust have involved lines of sight through the diffuse, low-density
ISM, including some clouds of densities of up to several hundred H atoms per cubic centimeter.
This material is reffered to herein as diffuse dust. In the literature, most references to
``interstellar dust'' apply to diffuse dust. Dust in the outer parts of molecular clouds which can
be studied by optical and UV observations is called outer-cloud dust. Finally, there have been
many studies of sources embedded so deeply within molecular clouds that only the near-
infrared or perhaps optical part of the spectrum can be studied. This type of dust is referred to
as inner-cloud dust. There is, of course, a continuous gradation of properties from diffuse dust to
inner-cloud dust, but these three designations will allow us to emphasize the rather different
properties of interstellar dust in the various regions.This review is confined to diffuse dust and
outer-cloud dust; for excellent reviews of inner-cloud dust.
Cosmic dust was once solely an annoyance to astronomers, as it obscures objects they wish to
observe. When infrared astronomy began, those previously annoying dust particles were
observed to be significant and vital components of astrophysical processes. Their analysis can
reveal information about phenomena like the formation of our Solar System.For example,
cosmic dust can drive the mass loss when a star is nearing the end of its life, play a part in the
early stages of star formation, and form planets. In our Solar System, dust plays a major role in
the zodiacal light, Saturn's B Ring spokes, the outer diffuse planetary rings at Jupiter,
Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and comets.
The study of dust is a many-faceted research topic that brings together different scientific
fields: physics (solid-state, electromagnetic theory, surface physics, statistical physics,thermal
physics), fractal mathematics, chemistry (chemical reactions on grain surfaces), meteoritics, as
well as every branch of astronomy and astrophysics. These disparate research areas can be
linked by the following theme: the cosmic dust particles evolve cyclically; chemically, physically
and dynamically. The evolution of dust traces out paths in which the universe recycles material,
in processes analogous to the daily recycling steps with which many people are familiar:
production, storage, processing, collection, consumption, and discarding. Observations and
measurements of cosmic dust in different regions provide an important insight into the
universe's recycling processes; in the clouds of the diffuse interstellar medium, in molecular
clouds, in the circumstellar dust of young stellar objects, and in planetary systems such as
our Solar System, where astronomers consider dust as in its most recycled state. The
astronomers accumulate observational ‘snapshots’ of dust at different stages of its life and, over
time, form a more complete movie of the universe's complicated recycling steps.
The detection of cosmic dust points to another facet of cosmic dust research: dust acting
as photons. Once cosmic dust is detected, the scientific problem to be solved is an inverse
problem to determine what processes brought that encoded photon-like object (dust) to the
detector. Parameters such as the particle's initial motion, material properties,
intervening plasma and magnetic field determined the dust particle's arrival at the dust
detector. Slightly changing any of these parameters can give significantly different dust
dynamical behavior. Therefore one can learn about where that object came from, and what is
(in) the intervening medium.
MODEL OF AN INTERSTELAR DUST PARTICLE
How Space Suits Work
What a Space Suit Does
By creating an Earth-like environment within the suit itself, space suits allow humans to walk around in
space in relative safety. Space suits provide:
The space suit provides air pressure to keep the fluids in your body in a liquid state -- in other words, to
prevent your bodily fluids from boiling. Like a tire, a space suit is essentially an inflated balloon that is
restricted by some rubberized fabric, in this case, Neoprene-coated fibers. The restriction placed on the
"balloon" portion of the suit supplies air pressure on the astronaut inside, like blowing up a balloon inside
a cardboard tube.
Most space suits operate at pressures below normal atmospheric pressure (14.7 lb/in2
, or 1 atm); the
space shuttle cabin also operates at normal atmospheric pressure. The space suit used by shuttle
astronauts operates at 4.3 lb/in2
, or 0.29 atm. Therefore, the cabin pressure of either the shuttle itself or
an airlock must be reduced before an astronaut gets suited up for a spacewalk. A spacewalking astronaut
runs the risk of getting the bends because of the changes in pressure between the space suit and the
Space suits cannot use normal air -- 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen and 1 percent other gases --
because the low pressure would cause dangerously low oxygen concentrations in the lungs and blood,
much like climbing Mt. Everest does. So, most space suits provide a pure oxygen atmosphere for
breathing. Space suits get the oxygen either from a spacecraft via an umbilical cord or from a backpack
life support system that the astronaut wears.
Both the shuttle and the International Space Station have normal air mixtures that mimic our atmosphere.
Therefore, to go into a pure oxygen space suit, a spacewalking astronaut must "pre-breathe" pure oxygen
for some period of time before suiting up. This pre-breathing of pure oxygen eliminates the nitrogen from
the astronaut's blood and tissues, thereby minimizing the risk of the bends.
The astronaut breathes out carbon dioxide. In the confined space of the suit, carbon dioxide
concentrations would build up to deadly levels. Therefore, excess carbon dioxide must be removed from
the space suit's atmosphere. Space suits use lithium hydroxide canisters to remove carbon dioxide.
These canisters are located either in the space suit's life support backpack or in the spacecraft, in which
case they are accessed through an umbilical cord.
To cope with the extremes of temperature, most space suits are heavily insulated with layers of fabric
(Neoprene, Gore-Tex, Dacron) and covered with reflective outer layers (Mylar or white fabric) to
reflectsunlight. The astronaut produces heat from his/her body, especially when doing strenuous
activities. If this heat is not removed, the sweat produced by the astronaut will fog up the helmet and
cause the astronaut to become severely dehydrated; astronaut Eugene Cernan lost several pounds
during his spacewalk on Gemini 9. To remove this excess heat, space suits have used either fans/heat
exchangers to blow cool air, as in the Mercury and Gemini programs, or water-cooled garments, which
have been used from the Apollo program to the present.
To protect the astronauts from collisions with micrometeroids, space suits have multiple layers of durable
fabrics such as Dacron or Kevlar. These layers also prevent the suit from tearing on exposed surfaces of
the spacecraft or a planet or moon.
Space suits offer only limited protection from radiation. Some protection is offered by the reflective
coatings of Mylar that are built into the suits, but a space suit would not offer much protection from a solar
flare. So, spacewalks are planned during periods of low solar activity.
Space suits have helmets that are made of clear plastic or durable polycarbonate. Most helmets have
coverings to reflect sunlight, and tinted visors to reduce glare, much like sunglasses. Also, prior to a
spacewalk, the inside faceplates of the helmet are sprayed with an anti-fog compound. Finally, modern
space suit helmet coverings have mounted lights so that the astronauts can see into the shadows.
Mobility Within the Space suit
Moving within an inflated space suit is tough. Imagine trying to move your fingers in a rubber glove blown
up with air; it doesn't give very much. To help this problem, space suits are equipped with special joints or
tapers in the fabric to help the astronauts bend their hands, arms, legs, knees and ankles.
Space suits are equipped with radio transmitters/receivers so that spacewalking astronauts can talk with
ground controllers and/or other astronauts. The astronauts wear headsets with microphones and
earphones. The transmitters/receivers are located in the chestpacks/backpacks worn by the astronauts.
Mobility in the Spacecraft
In weightlessness, it is difficult to move around. If you push on something, you fly off in the opposite
direction (Newton's third law of motion -- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). Gemini
spacewalking astronauts reported great problems with just maintaining their positions; when they tried to
turn a wrench, they spun in the opposite direction. Therefore, spacecraft are equipped with footholds and
hand restraints to help astronauts work in microgravity. In addition, before the mission, astronauts
practice spacewalking in big water tanks on Earth. The buoyancy of an inflated space suit in water
NASA has also developed some gas-powered rocket maneuvering devices to allow astronauts to move
freely in space without being tethered to the spacecraft. One such device, which was called the Manned
Maneuvering Unit (MMU), was basically a gas-thruster powered chair with a joystick control. NASA has
also developed a nitrogen-gas propelled unit that fits on the backpack, called the Simplified Aid for
Extravehicular Activity Rescue (SAFER). The SAFER can help an astronaut return to the shuttle or
station in the event that he/she gets separated from the spacecraft. The SAFER holds 3.1 lb (1.4 kg) of
nitrogen propellant and can change an astronaut's velocity by a maximum of about 9 feet/second (3
Project Apollo Space Suit
Because Apollo astronauts had to walk on the moon as well as fly in space, a single space suit was
developed that had add-ons for moonwalking. The basic Apollo space suit, which was worn during liftoff,
was the backup suit needed in case cabin pressure failed.
The Apollo suit consisted of the following:
A water-cooled nylon undergarment
A multi-layered pressure suit: inside layer - lightweight nylon with fabric vents; middle layer - neoprene-
coated nylon to hold pressure; outer layer - nylon to restrain the pressurized layers beneath
Five layers of aluminized Mylar interwoven with four layers of Dacron for heat protection
Two layers of Kapton for additional heat protection
A layer of Teflon-coated cloth (nonflammable) for protection from scrapes
A layer of white Teflon cloth (nonflammable)
The suit had boots, gloves, a communications cap and a clear plastic helmet. During liftoff, the suit's
oxygen and cooling water were supplied by the ship.
For walking on the moon, the space suit was supplemented with a pair of protective overboots, gloves
with rubber fingertips, a set of filters/visors worn over the helmet for protection from sunlight, and a
portable life support backpack that contained oxygen, carbon-dioxide removal equipment and cooling
water. The space suit and backpack weighed 180 lb (82 kg) on Earth, but only 30 lb (14 kg) on the moon.
The basic Apollo space suit was also used for spacewalking during the Skylab missions.
During the early flights of the space shuttle, astronauts wore a brown flight suit. Like earlier missions, this
flight suit was meant to protect the astronauts if the cabin pressure failed. Its design was similar to the
earlier flight suits of Apollo.
As shuttle flights became more routine, the astronauts stopped wearing pressurized suits during liftoff.
Instead, they wore light-blue coveralls with black boots and a white, plastic, impact-resistant,
communications helmet. This practice was continued until the Challenger disaster.
After a review of the Challenger disaster, NASA started requiring all astronauts to wear pressurized suits
during liftoff and re-entry. These orange flight suits are pressurized and equipped with a communications
cap, helmet, boots, gloves, parachute, and inflatable life preserver. Again, these space suits are designed
only for emergency use -- in case the cabin pressure fails or the astronauts have to eject from the
spacecraft at high altitude during liftoff or re-entry.
Modern Space Suit: EMU
While early space suits were made entirely of soft fabrics, today'sExtravehicular Mobility Unit(EMU)
has a combination of soft and hard components to provide support, mobility and comfort. The suit itself
has 13 layers of material, including an inner cooling garment (two layers), pressure garment (two layers),
thermal micrometeoroid garment (eight layers) and outer cover (one layer).
Project Apollo space suit
Propellant is the chemical mixture burned to produce thrust in rockets and consists of a fuel and an
oxidizer. A fuel is a substance that burns when combined with oxygen producing gas for propulsion.
An oxidizer is an agent that releases oxygen for combination with a fuel. The ratio of oxidizer to fuel is
called the mixture ratio. Propellants are classified according to their state - liquid, solid, or hybrid.
In a liquid propellant rocket, the fuel and oxidizer are stored in separate tanks, and are fed through a
system of pipes, valves, and turbopumps to a combustion chamber where they are combined and
burned to produce thrust. Liquid propellant engines are more complex than their solid propellant
counterparts, however, they offer several advantages. By controlling the flow of propellant to the
combustion chamber, the engine can be throttled, stopped, or restarted.
Liquid propellants used in rocketry can be classified into three types: petroleum, cryogens, and
Petroleum fuels are those refined from crude oil and are a mixture of complex hydrocarbons, i.e.
organic compounds containing only carbon and hydrogen. The petroleum used as rocket fuel is a type of
highly refined kerosene, called RP-1 in the United States. Petroleum fuels are usually used in
combination with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer. Kerosene delivers a specific impulse considerably less
than cryogenic fuels, but it is generally better than hypergolic propellants.
Cryogenic propellants are liquefied gases stored at very low temperatures, most frequently liquid
hydrogen (LH2) as the fuel and liquid oxygen (LO2 or LOX) as the oxidizer. Hydrogen remains liquid at
temperatures of -253 o
C (-423 o
F) and oxygen remains in a liquid state at temperatures of -183 o
Because of the low temperatures of cryogenic propellants, they are difficult to store over long periods of
time. For this reason, they are less desirable for use in military rockets that must be kept launch ready
for months at a time. Furthermore, liquid hydrogen has a very low density (0.071 g/ml) and, therefore,
requires a storage volume many times greater than other fuels. Despite these drawbacks, the high
efficiency of liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen makes these problems worth coping with when reaction time
and storability are not too critical. Liquid hydrogen delivers a specific impulse about 30%-40% higher
than most other rocket fuels.
Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen are used as the propellant in the high efficiency main engines of the
Space Shuttle. LOX/LH2 also powered the upper stages of the Saturn V and Saturn 1B rockets, as well as
the Centaur upper stage, the United States' first LOX/LH2 rocket (1962).
Another cryogenic fuel with desirable properties for space propulsion systems is liquid methane (-
C). When burned with liquid oxygen, methane is higher performing than state-of-the-art storable
propellants but without the volume increase common with LOX/LH2 systems, which results in an overall
lower vehicle mass as compared to common hypergolic propellants. LOX/methane is also clean burning
and non-toxic. Future missions to Mars will likely use methane fuel because it can be manufactured
partly from Martian in-situ resources. LOX/methane has no flight history and very limited ground-test
Liquid fluorine (-188 o
C) burning engines have also been developed and fired successfully. Fluorine is not
only extremely toxic; it is a super-oxidizer that reacts, usually violently, with almost everything except
nitrogen, the lighter noble gases, and substances that have already been fluorinated. Despite these
drawbacks, fluorine produces very impressive engine performance. It can also be mixed with liquid
oxygen to improve the performance of LOX-burning engines; the resulting mixture is called FLOX.
Because of fluorine's high toxicity, it has been largely abandoned by most space-faring nations.
Some fluorine containing compounds, such as chlorine pentafluoride, have also been considered for use
as an 'oxidizer' in deep-space applications.
Hypergolic propellants are fuels and oxidizers that ignite spontaneously on contact with each other and
require no ignition source. The easy start and restart capability of hypergols make them ideal for
spacecraft maneuvering systems. Also, since hypergols remain liquid at normal temperatures, they do
not pose the storage problems of cryogenic propellants. Hypergols are highly toxic and must be handled
with extreme care.
Hypergolic fuels commonly include hydrazine, monomethyl hydrazine (MMH) and unsymmetrical
dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH). Hydrazine gives the best performance as a rocket fuel, but it has a high
freezing point and is too unstable for use as a coolant. MMH is more stable and gives the best
performance when freezing point is an issue, such as spacecraft propulsion applications. UDMH has the
lowest freezing point and has enough thermal stability to be used in large regeneratively cooled engines.
Consequently, UDMH is often used in launch vehicle applications even though it is the least efficient of
the hydrazine derivatives. Also commonly used are blended fuels, such as Aerozine 50 (or "50-50"),
which is a mixture of 50% UDMH and 50% hydrazine. Aerozine 50 is almost as stable as UDMH and
provides better performance.
The oxidizer is usually nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) or nitric acid.
Hydrazine is also frequently used as a monopropellant in catalytic decomposition engines. In these
engines, a liquid fuel decomposes into hot gas in the presence of a catalyst. The decomposition of
hydrazine produces temperatures up to about 1,100 o
C (2,000 o
F) and a specific impulse of about 230 or
240 seconds. Hydrazine decomposes to either hydrogen and nitrogen, or ammonia and nitrogen.
Solid propellant motors are the simplest of all rocket designs. They consist of a casing, usually steel,
filled with a mixture of solid compounds (fuel and oxidizer) that burn at a rapid rate, expelling hot gases
from a nozzle to produce thrust. When ignited, a solid propellant burns from the center out towards the
sides of the casing. The shape of the center channel determines the rate and pattern of the burn, thus
providing a means to control thrust. Unlike liquid propellant engines, solid propellant motors cannot be
shut down. Once ignited, they will burn until all the propellant is exhausted.
There are two families of solids propellants: homogeneous and composite. Both types are dense, stable
at ordinary temperatures, and easily storable.
Hybrid propellant engines represent an intermediate group between solid and liquid propellant engines.
One of the substances is solid, usually the fuel, while the other, usually the oxidizer, is liquid. The liquid
is injected into the solid, whose fuel reservoir also serves as the combustion chamber. The main
advantage of such engines is that they have high performance, similar to that of solid propellants, but
the combustion can be moderated, stopped, or even restarted. It is difficult to make use of this concept
for vary large thrusts, and thus, hybrid propellant engines are rarely built.
Can we harness energy from outer space?
People have been searching for clean alternative energy sources for decades to no avail. As soon as one
source seems to pass the test, someone uncovers its fatal flaw. Nuclear, wind, solar and hydropower
have all been dragged through the mud to some degree. Traditional nuclear fission is too risky, winds
aren't consistent, thesun doesn't always penetrate theclouds and hydropower dams disrupt natural
It seems like any workable solution is light-years away -- literally. Some researchers think the answer to
our energy needs rests in the stars. From wind turbines on Mars to helium-3 fusion, people are
increasingly looking to extraterrestrial sources for theEarth's energy needs.
One of the sources they're looking at is helium-3 to use in nuclear fusion reactions. As opposed
tonuclear fission, which splits anatom's nucleus in half, nuclearfusion combines nuclei to produce
energy. While nuclear fusion has already been tested with the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium,
those reactions give off the majority of their energy as radioactive neutrons, raising both safety and
production concerns. Helium-3, on the other hand, is perfectly safe. It doesn't give off any pollution or
radioactive waste and poses no danger to surrounding areas.
An isotope of the element helium, helium-3 has two protons but only one neutron. When it's heated to
very high temperatures and combined with deuterium, the reaction releases incredible amounts of
energy. Just 2.2 pounds (one kilogram) of helium-3 combined with 1.5 pounds (0.67 kilograms) of
deuterium produces 19 megawatt-years of energy. Roughly 25 tons of the stuff could power the United
States for an entire year.
The only problem is we don't have 25 tons of helium-3 just lying around. But conveniently,
the moon does. In fact, scientists estimate our lunar rock contains more than 1 million tons of the
element. The energy stored in that much helium is 10 times the amount of energy you'd find in all the
fossil fuels on Earth. If you put a cash value on it, helium-3 would be worth $4 billion a ton in terms of its
energy equivalent in oil.
The only issues that remain are the practicalities of extracting the helium and fine-tuning the fusion
process. Current fusion reactors have yet to achieve the sustained high temperatures needed to produce
electricity, and helium-3 extracted from the lunar surface would require lots of refining since it exists in
such low concentrations in the soil.
Space-based solar power
One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Solar Power
Despite the fact that solar power is at our fingertips, there are benefits to outsourcing it beyond the
stratosphere. Aside from the more obvious reason of avoiding the large land-use footprint presented by
collections of solar panels, there's the fact that the sunactually does shine brighter on the other side of the
fence. In this case, eight times brighter.
Without the obstacles like rain,clouds and nighttime, solar arrays based in space would receive more
concentrated solar rays than they would on Earth. The panels also wouldn't be subject to the seasonal
fluctuations that are unavoidable on Earth.
Space-based solar power (SBSP) is the concept of collecting solar power in space (using an
"SPS", that is, a "solar-power satellite" or a "satellite power system") for use on Earth. It has been
in research since the early 1970s.
SBSP would differ from current solar collection methods in that the means used to collect energy would
reside on an orbiting satellite instead of on Earth's surface. Some projected benefits of such a system are
a higher collection rate and a longer collection period due to the lack of a diffusing atmosphere and
nighttime in space.
Part of the solar energy is lost on its way through the atmosphere by the effects of reflection and
absorption. Space-based solar power systems convert sunlight to microwaves outside the atmosphere,
avoiding these losses, and the downtime (and cosine losses, for fixed flat-plate collectors) due to
the Earth's rotation.
Space based solar power, or SBSP, would basically work the same way that regular solar power works.
The only difference is that the solar panels would either be attached to orbiting satellites or stationed on
the moon (in which case it would be called lunar solar power, or LSP). The electricity created would be
converted intomicrowaves and beamed down to Earth. Rectifying antennas, or rectennas, on the
ground would collect the microwaves and convert them back into electricity.
If the concept seems like a stretch, consider that communications satellites already do something very
similar when they transmit your cell phone conversations. Some people have even suggested that the
solar panels could piggyback on communications satellites. In fact, one of the reasons space-based solar
power has gotten so much attention is that all of the necessary equipment and technology is already
developed and understood. The transmission of microwaves is old hat, and solar cells, or photovoltaics,
are almost three times more efficient than they used to be.
Some initial proposals in the 1970s envisioned gigantic 3-by-6-mile (5-by-10-kilometer) solar panel arrays
transmitting microwaves to rectifying antennas of a similar size. These geostationary satellites, 22,300
miles (36,000 kilometers) high would stay in the same place in relation to the Earth at all times. While just
one of these satellites would produce enormous amounts of energy -- twice the energy output of the
Hoover Dam -- launching such a big project proved to be economically impossible.
Recent proposals to have smaller satellites circle the Earth continuously would be more manageable and
still produce considerable energy output. A satellite less than 1,000 feet (300 meters) across orbiting 300
miles (540 kilometers) above Earth could potentially power 1,000 homes.
Even the Pentagon is on board, having released a study detailing applications in powering military
operations. Japan, Russia, Europe and the island nation of Palau are also looking into it.
The major obstacle right now, as with any new technology, is cost. Launching, setting up and maintaining
a solar farm on the moon would require vast amounts of manpower and money. As it is now, launching an
object into space costs 1,000 times more than transporting that objects across the country on a plane --
even though they use the same amount of energy.Besides the cost of implementing such a system,
SBSP also introduces several new hurdles, primarily the problem of transmitting energy from orbit to
Earth's surface for use. Since wires extending from Earth's surface to an orbiting satellite are neither
practical nor feasible with current technology, SBSP designs generally include the use of some manner
of wireless power transmission. The collecting satellite would convert solar energy into electrical energy
on board, powering a microwave transmitter or laser emitter, and focus its beam toward a collector
(rectenna) on Earth's surface. Radiation and micrometeoroid damage could also become concerns for
If NASA and other space agencies like ISRO succeed in finding a new generation of reusable launch
vehicles, though, costs could go down. Not to mention the fact that a solar satellite could pay back the
energy used to send it into orbit in less than five days.