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The Ultimate Water-Powered Rocket! Answered

NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) have launched a water-powered rocket 1300 feet into the atmosphere!

The rocket was actually propelled by a frozen mixture of "nanoscale aluminium" (isn't that "dust"?) and water, pumped in at the consistency of toothpaste and then frozen in place. The propellant is known as ALICE (aluminium and ice - convenient, eh?)

Earlier this month, the collaborative team, Drs. Steven F. Son and Tim Pourpoint of Purdue, Rich Yetter and Grant Risha of Penn State, Vigor Yang of Georgia Tech, Harold Bell and Frank Bauer of NASA, and Mitat Birkan and Thomas Russell of AFOSR watched as the rocket soared high into the sky, to 1300 feet near Purdue University.

ALICE is generating excitement among the researchers because it has the potential to replace some liquid or solid propellants. It is a promising propellant energetically. Theoretically, when it is optimized, it could have a higher performance than a conventional propellant.

In addition, because of the abundance and easy handling of the raw materials, ALICE could potentially become the propellant of choice for missions leaving other planets, since it could be (relatively) easy to manufacture from local raw materials and far easier to store than cryogenic fuels.

Story from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base via Rocket Dungeon.
Video found by Jeff-O


Do you reckon i would be aloud to use this technology and make one of my own?

By the way, I'm not a stupid kid!
I have a lab...

I don't see why not - it will be difficult to produce the dust, and to stop it reacting with the water as you freeze it, but you can give it a go.

Just remember to document everything, take plenty of photos of the Make and videos of the tests and launches.

I thought it was just aluminium powder.
Ahh well... I have a ball mill I can make it finer if i need to.

Would you think I would need to alert the local fire dept. about this? (incase they find it a bit suspicous)

Probably - aluminium dust is highly flammable, potentially explosive.

That could be BAD!

I was going to pack kitty-litter tightly on the end as a cap and might need to hand drill a hole in the end.

How would i get the parachute to deploy if it doesn't have an ejection charge?...or if i didn't put one in it?

Ahh well, Thanks for your help.
I have begun production today!
I have the Rocket Shaft, Fins, and Rocket Motor Housing complete.
I still have the Nose Cone, and the Propelant Mixture to go.


Also if I used a drill to drill out the centre of the engine, would it ignite?
Could I use Estes rocket igniters?
(I'm not making it that large... about 24" long)

I think you're going to have to follow the links in the article above to find people who know more about this stuff than me.

Thats amazing, im surprised its not classified!

Interesting stuff, although strictly speaking there's more than just water propelling it.
I found this so far - do you have any more reading?


you're right...the aluminum is part of the mass transfer equation.

No, and it would cost $25 to read the rest of that PDF.

Yes, unless your employer has a subscription... L

Hey, MacGuyver could make this out of a broken Etch-A-Sketch and a bottle of Dasani. Sweet.

Is that Green'''''?

Compared to traditional solid-fuel rockets, it is very green.

I think the remains are aluminium oxide (the form in which aluminium is found in nature) and water (the aluminium splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen, reacts with the oxygen and then the remaining hydrogen reacts with oxygen from the air (if it is not in vacuum).

(Or aluminium hydroxide and water, when the aluminium reacts with the water, releasing hydrogen, which again reacts with any present oxygen).

I'm not sure which it is, as thenano-scale-ness of the aluminium, plus the energetic situation, do odd things to the chemistry.

Alright by why does it make fire?

rapid oxidation = fire


fire = rapid oxidation

It is an energetic reaction - there is lots of energy released.

Wow, after the ALICE rocket started moving, it seemed way faster then the conventional motor.


8 years ago

Here's a video explaining the technology a bit better: LINK

Thanks - I embedded it.

Wow this so beats the water bottle rocket we are going to build.