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NOVEMBER 2009 The MoonWalk 04

Once again its Water that Matters

Rockets are the significant means of carrying payloads from the earth surface to the outer space. The accelerating rate of advancement in
the field of space technology encourages development of highly fuel efficient rockets. The progress made reveals, a new mixture of nano-
aluminium powder and frozen water, with large potential to make rocket launching more environmentally friendly, and even allow spacecraft to
refuel at distant locations such as the moon or Mars.
The aluminium-ice propellant known as ALICE gets its kick from a chemical reaction between water and aluminium. Researchers hope
that the hydrogen products of that reaction might go beyond launching rockets, and also feed hydrogen fuel cells for long duration space missions.
Advent of Nano-aluminium
Aluminium already represents a small but critical part of many rocket fuels, including the propellants for the space shuttle's solid booster
rockets and NASA's next generation Ares rockets. The metal's high ignition temperature of more than 6,920 degrees Fahrenheit forces exhausts gases out
at high velocity to propel rockets upward. ALICE squeezes even more out of the aluminium by using nano-scale particles with diameters of 80
nanometers, or 500 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Such tiny particles combust more rapidly than larger particles to give an additional kick,
and may allow easier control over a rocket's thrust.
Accession of Ice
The aluminium burning at extreme temperatures represents just one part of the ALICE equation. The other includes the oxygen and hydrogen
locked within water molecules that help feed the aluminium combustion. That reaction produces products in the form of hydrogen gas and aluminium
oxide, which may prove greener than existing rockets. Current space shuttle flights release about 230 tons of hydrochloric acid in the exhaust left behind
by their solid rocket boosters. Creating the proper mix of ALICE propellant proved tricky, but the researchers ended up with slurry that some describe as
being like toothpaste.
The freezing helped keep the propellant intact during the first test launch, as well as prevent any premature aluminium-ice reactions caused by accidental
sparks, or slow oxidation from occurring. The new ALICE mixtures that can boost performance beyond that of existing rockets. The most immediate idea
involves mixing nano-aluminium with larger aluminium particles that could allow more efficient use of the aluminium, and cut back on the amount of
wasted aluminium oxide in the initial aluminium. Scientists are also looking at creating gelled propellant that behaves like liquid fuel. New mixtures
could produce more hydrogen, and take a step closer to helping run hydrogen fuel cells.
The research teams at Purdue and Penn State University used ALICE to successfully launch a rocket to 1,300 feet during an August flight test. Such
technology may not see action for some years to come, but the recent confirmation of water
sources on the moon and Mars may hint at a future where ALICE and similar rocket
propellants become highly practical.
“Water, water, everywhere”
The famous verses from the poem “the Rime of Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor
Coleridge seems to cover not only the Earth's surface but also its neighbours. The age long
dogma that moon surface is dry has broken. The information given from rock samples brought back
from Apollo mission convinced scientists of bone dry moon surface since its surface is in a vacuum and
experiences extreme temperature swings at the equator(from -150 °C to 100 °C ), except for possible
pockets of water ice in permanently shadowed craters at the moon's south pole.

B ut, an astonishing story unwrapped when the scientists of ISRO confirmed the presence of water on the
moon all over the surface, giving away one of the most outstanding achievement in the field of planetary
sciences. The three different spacecrafts i.e. India's Chandrayaan 1 satellite equipped with Moon
Mineralogy Mapper, NASA's Cassini spacecraft, NASA's Deep impact probe questioned the 40 years long belief of dry
Moon surface. They indicate the presence of large amounts of either water or OH molecule in the soils of the Moon. From the
spectral mapping instruments, water has been found at high latitudes at both poles and also in sunlit areas. It is seen that the amount
of water detected changed over the month-long lunar day. There was more local at morning, and less at noon a week later. This seems
to imply strongly that the Sun has some role to play. Although the exact explanation for formation of water is still unknown, scientists
believe the creation of water occurs by the interaction of solar wind with surface minerals. The solar wind protons reduce metal oxides
in the soil, creating free metal and water. Sunlight tends to break this water up,
but mixing it later in the night could form water molecules. So, most water is
seen in the morning and afternoon. The M3 suggested that this water might act
as a source for the water believed to be trapped in the dark polar cold traps.
More astounding of this discovery is its pervasiveness. The spectral analysis shows
the presence of water from poles down to 60 degree latitude. This area subtends over
10 million square kilometres, or about one-third the surface area of the entire Moon.
As always, the new results raise many more questions than they answer. Do the newly
discovered deposits result from surface alteration by water derived from the polar ice,
or do they serve as a source for such deposits? How does water form, move, get
destroyed or get cold-trapped on the Moon? What are rates of water deposition and
removal? What and where are the ice deposits and how pure might they be? Right now
we can only hope for our queries to be solved soon.

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