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Steam-powered space probe could work forever


Posted on Tuesday, 22 January, 2019 | Comment icon 9 comments

Could a space probe really run off steam ? Image Credit: University of Central Florida
Scientists have developed a prototype for a steam-powered spacecraft that can refuel itself with water.
One of the biggest problems that face deep space missions is the fact that, once the fuel runs out, the mission is effectively over, limiting the potential of otherwise fully operational space probes.

Now though, scientists at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have put together the world's first steam-powered spacecraft that could, in theory at least, explore space almost indefinitely.

Unlike conventional probes which rely on chemical fuels for propulsion, this one is designed to use steam, meaning that all it needs to refuel itself is water that it can mine from asteroids and comets.

Known as WINE (World Is Not Enough), the prototype probe is about the size of a microwave and is equipped with the tools needed to extract water from bodies in space.

Its creators have envisaged a way for it to 'hop' across the surface of an asteroid, mining water as it goes, before lifting off by releasing a powerful jet of steam.

The power needed to heat the water would come from either solar panels or a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), depending on how far away from the Sun it is going.

Whether the prototype will be developed in to an actual space mission however remains to be seen.



Source: Extreme Tech | Comments (9)

Tags: Steam, Water

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by South Alabam on 22 January, 2019, 18:02
Novel idea, it just doesn't seem practical after so long of a time however. Technology would bypass the obvious slow nature of this craft.
Comment icon #2 Posted by OverSword on 22 January, 2019, 18:27
Already posted   Probably my fault for putting it in the Science and Technology section.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Gecks on 22 January, 2019, 19:49
Fantastic way to think outside the box! But yes, who knows if it will be a practical reality.
Comment icon #4 Posted by DieChecker on 22 January, 2019, 19:58
It often seems like this type of probe is always short on room for equipment, and if it has to carry mining equipment, it will be able to do even less science. It would probably be an OK method for a "Workhorse" type probe that travels around and just take pictures, but one that is looking at material composition and chemicals in ice, and such, isn't going to work well, IMHO, with a probe that has to carry a bunch of mining/processing equipment with it.
Comment icon #5 Posted by moonman on 22 January, 2019, 20:12
I never thought I would see an actual steampunk spacecraft.
Comment icon #6 Posted by OverSword on 22 January, 2019, 20:17
And here is the required extra vehicular suit
Comment icon #7 Posted by DieChecker on 22 January, 2019, 21:01
Are the mutton chops required, or just suggested?
Comment icon #8 Posted by MyOtherAccount on 23 January, 2019, 0:39
I suggested that there be thought about the expenses of not making mission equipment available for reuse.  (See quote below)  Little did I know--apparently little did the others members know--people were planning on making improvements in that area of space missions. The only responses I got, that might be of interest to members are below.  I guess those were responses, anyway...    
Comment icon #9 Posted by Jon the frog on 23 January, 2019, 1:51
It make me think of doc Brown... with is steam time machine.  


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