Discovery of new molecule can lead to more efficient rocket fuel

Dec 23, 2010
Trinitramid -- that's the name of the new molecule that may be a component in future rocket fuel. Credit: KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology Sweden

Trinitramid – that's the name of the new molecule that may be a component in future rocket fuel. This fuel could be 20-30 percent more efficient in comparison with the best rocket fuels we have today. The discovery was made at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden.

"A rule of thumb is that for every ten-percent increase in efficiency for , the payload of the rocket can double. What's more, the molecule consists only of nitrogen and oxygen, which would make the rocket fuel environmentally friendly. This is more than can be said of today's solid rocket fuels, which entail the emission of the equivalent of 550 tons of concentrated hydrochloric acid for each launch of the space shuttle," says Tore Brinck, professor of physical chemistry at KTH.

Working with a research team at KTH, he discovered a new molecule in the nitrogen oxide group, which is not something that happens every day. It was while the scientists were studying the breakdown of another compound, using quantum chemistry computations, that they understood that the new molecule could be stable.

"As mentioned, what is specific to this molecule is that it contains only nitrogen and oxygen. Only eight such compounds were previously known, and most of them were discovered back in the 18th century. This is also clearly the largest of the oxides. Its molecular formula is N(NO2)3, and the molecule is similar to a propeller in shape," says Tore Brinck.

The research team, consisting of Martin Rahm and Sergey Dvinshikh as well as Professor Istvan Furó , besides Tore Brinck, has now shown how the molecule can be produced and analyzed. The scientists have also managed to produce enough of the compound in a test tube for it to be detectable.

"It remains to be seen how stable the molecule is in a solid form," says Tore Brinck.

It was during work to find an alternative to today's solid rocket fuel that the researchers found the new molecule. The findings are now being published in the respected journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Explore further: Researcher optimally isolates propylene for commercial use

More information: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10… e.201007047/abstract

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danlgarmstrong
5 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2010
So that 30% increase in efficiency means 8 times more payload for the same size rocket? Thats some BIG news! Hope they can make it work!
sstritt
3.7 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2010
So that 30% increase in efficiency means 8 times more payload for the same size rocket? Thats some BIG news! Hope they can make it work!

Hard to imagine 8 times the payload. Wonder what that would mean in terms of cost/lb to orbit.
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (14) Dec 22, 2010
I'm seriously impressed: Payload considerations aside, finding a new, *fairly stable* N/O compound is extraordinary !!
Husky
5 / 5 (8) Dec 22, 2010
my rule of thumb is that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is, but ok, suppose we work the numbers of the upcoming improved ariane 5 rocket:
weight at launch : 710 - 718 ton
payload LEO : 27 ton
payload GTO : 12 ton

just imagine having 8 times that payload, 216 tons!
thats instant no assembly, batteries included spacestation, spacefactory, nuclear powerplant, NEO miner-faccillity or a behemoth of a spacetelescope in one go that could look into the very infant stages of our universe, even if the payloads could be just doubled or the launch costs slashed by just 30-40 percent many new missions and bussinessmodels (space tourism for the masses) would become in reach, lets hope this molecule could be stabillised outside the lab tube!
Husky
5 / 5 (4) Dec 22, 2010
The Hubble telescope had a mass of approx. 11 tons, the James Web, will be about 6.5 tons but, being laster, improved generation will look further than hubble, now have a 50 or 100 ton james web....
that_guy
3.3 / 5 (6) Dec 22, 2010
This has far reaching consequences to many orbital projects, probes, and manned missions to mars/asteroids, etc.

I knew the swedes were good for something. Finally after so many years, they've done something other than take up space in europe.
alq131
4 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2010
This article isn't very informative. What does this new molecule react with? O2, Hydrazine, Perchlorates, etc???
Why is it more efficient? The title of the article is misleading since the article doesn't say how this improves rocket fuel.

Article should be called "New stable Nitrogen Oxide Molecule found"
Quantum_Conundrum
2 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2010
This is insane.

this would allow us to put maneuvarable directed energy weapons in space. Bye Bye North Korean missile crisis. Hell, bye bye anyone's entire navy too. they couldn't so much as pass gas without our permission...

This would allow Lunar and Martian missions for pathetic tiny fraction of the cost.

This would allow deep space probes that carry every manner of instrument imaginable, and have the fuel when they get to the target to actually stop and enter orbit. Recall, the poor New Horizons mission only gets a "fly-by"...

We could launch something 8 times the mass of hubble for the same launch cost, or...launch an entire array of hubble-sized telescopes to the far side of the moon or lagrangian points...
eachus
4.3 / 5 (9) Dec 22, 2010
Sloppy writing here, very sloppy. First this is NOT a liquid rocket fuel. It is a solid oxidizer that could replace ammonium perchlorate in solid rockets like the space shuttle boosters. Would this make a SSTO solid rocket possible? Probably. Efficient? No. Best case is like the shuttle SRB assisted takeoff with main engines burning hydrogen and oxygen. Well, you can get a few percent boost by adding ozone to the LOx, but that is expensive, as well as adding a lot of handling risks. Anything in your plumbing that looks like a catalyst to O3 is a big no-no.

Could this oxidizer double the payload of a next generation shuttle design? Probably. But the man-rated launchers going forward have all learned the space shuttle lessons about large SRBs. (Once lit you can't turn them off. And, of course, joints can be dangerous.)
alq131
4.1 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2010
...and what does it take to make this molecule?

I mean, anti-matter is a pretty efficient rocket fuel, if only it could be made in quantity...
Quantum_Conundrum
1.4 / 5 (5) Dec 22, 2010
This article isn't very informative. What does this new molecule react with? O2, Hydrazine, Perchlorates, etc???
Why is it more efficient? The title of the article is misleading since the article doesn't say how this improves rocket fuel.

Article should be called "New stable Nitrogen Oxide Molecule found"


The amount of chemical energy stored in the molecule is greater per unit mass, while producing daughter products (water adn nitrogen compounds) that behave similar to existing rocket fuel, namely those that burn liquid hydrogen.

Greater energy per mass ratio translates to greater thrust per mass ratio.

It should be pretty elementary to prove that the ideal reaction of this is better than the ideal reaction in solide state rockets. Then you would just model the reactions on a super computer to see how efficiently the extra energy is being converted to thrust.

If the simulations look good, then you make a test model...apparantly, they've already done simulations
Quantum_Conundrum
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 22, 2010
...and what does it take to make this molecule?

I mean, anti-matter is a pretty efficient rocket fuel, if only it could be made in quantity...


Because of the way the rocket formula works, if you can increase energy density (energy per mass,) by just a few percent, then it's worth it even if the fuel costs twice as much to make.
Husky
2.8 / 5 (5) Dec 22, 2010
war just got greener , using kinetic kill vehicles with clean exhaust, merry christmass or what about 120 mm mortars with extanded range in Afghanistan, a batterie of those could support multiple forward outposts
Graeme
not rated yet Dec 22, 2010
Since this exists, I wonder if N(ONO2)3 exists too. If this exists there may be three dimensional structure nitrogen oxides that are solid and reasonably stable.
Egleton
1.4 / 5 (5) Dec 22, 2010
I hope that this makes getting out of the Gravity Well more feasible.
Our Left hand Brain, which does all the logical thinking, is forced into recursive pathways as it is unable to use information that it does not know to be "true".
It is only once we are out of the gravity well and our situation is experienced that we will be able to accept space living as obvious.

As an illustration the newspapers would not report the Wright Bros. achievements as they knew that flight was impossible.
Air fight is now "obvious" because we have all experienced it. Out of Well living will become obvious in the same way.
It is a boot-strap problem.
antialias
not rated yet Dec 23, 2010
If every 10% increase doubles the payload then a 30% increase means an increase in payload of a factor of 6.8 (not 8).

Increase is 2^x
where
1.1^x = 1.3

Still: That would be pretty good. I'll believe it when I see it (testfired), though.
GreyLensman
not rated yet Dec 23, 2010
A more informative link on Fast Company indicates that this is an additive to solid fuels.
http://www.fastco...tner=rss
danlgarmstrong
5 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2010
Thanks for that FastCompany link! Here is what it had to say about payload:
They've now synthesized it, and are studying how stable the molecule is in everyday situations, but they've already discovered that as an additive to solid fuels it could be up to 30% more efficient than existing fuel. Rocket scientists have a rule of thumb that says a 10% increase in rocket fuel burning efficiency translates into a doubling of payload. This means that trinitramid could easily quadruple the payload that solid rockets can fire into space.
stealthc
1 / 5 (2) Dec 23, 2010
Can you use this instead of hydrazine with aluminum powder and ammonium nitrate to make a better explosive too? I know they make military grade explosives with the hydrazine as a substitute for the diesel fuel and the fine aluminum powder (nano would be best) to increase temperature and explosive power. Just wondering...
StandingBear
1 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2010
This would be good for heavy lift capability from the Earth's gravity well. However, given that you are still throwing away the rocket, literally, to get off the ground, far better is it to use this simply for just that. Big, dumb boosters, as Buzz Aldrin said in his book. I would modify that by using Aldrin's StarForce rockets to launch components of a much larger system exploration ship that would be powered by nuclear fission/fusion or pure fusion electrical generators driving magnetohydrodynamic accelerators. With that we just 'drive' to the places that we want to go without all the fancy orbital mechanics or energy poverty. With that we would have sufficient mass to provide proper shielding to our crews so that they could live safely in space in ships that could also provide the proper simulated gravity. We could also build large mirror arrays in space to power energy driven means to get us off planet without using polluting fuel.
Justsayin
1 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2010
Think of this as a weapon. Rockets lying in wait in orbit fueled and loaded with lead (or your metal of choice). From orbit just aim it at the target on the ground or ocean and light the candle. How fast could you push the rocket through the atmosphere towards the target! Complete annihilation of whatever it hit. Would it have enough energy to take the place of low level nukes without the byproducts?
sstritt
1 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2010
Think of this as a weapon. Rockets lying in wait in orbit fueled and loaded with lead (or your metal of choice). From orbit just aim it at the target on the ground or ocean and light the candle. How fast could you push the rocket through the atmosphere towards the target! Complete annihilation of whatever it hit. Would it have enough energy to take the place of low level nukes without the byproducts?

Already on the drawing board. A kinetic energy weapon nicknamed "rods from God". It consists of long rods of tungsten. No explosives needed as the kinetic energy is comparable to small nuke.
fmfbrestel
1 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2010
Yeah, "Rods from God" do not need a strong push, just a small deorbit burn, gravity does all the work for you.

What they need to do, is with this fuel or another, make modular automated factories that can take lunar regolith and process it into fuel. If we can launch 200 tons to a refueling station on the moon, we can really open up the solar system to exploration fast.
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Dec 24, 2010
if you refuel in orbit, space travel changes dramatically. Currently all our probes are basically bullets -- short burst of acceleration followed by a long ballistic trajectory. But if you can refuel, you could have a 30 minute burn to start, and a 30 minute burn to stop, and get to your destination MUCH faster.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2010
if you refuel in orbit, space travel changes dramatically. Currently all our probes are basically bullets -- short burst of acceleration followed by a long ballistic trajectory. But if you can refuel, you could have a 30 minute burn to start, and a 30 minute burn to stop, and get to your destination MUCH faster.


Pointless. For long term flights, i.e. Mars and beyond, the Vasimir engine is already better than that.

With five engines of the The existing model Vasimir, and orbital tow vehicle to the moon can transport payloads much cheaper than conventional rockets.

Additionally, for a trip to mars, Vasimir ends up being cheaper AND faster than a chemical rocket, assuming nuclear power supply.

You'd still need chemical rockets to put the OTV in space, and to transit from earth to OTV or moon to OTV, or vice versa, but the point is it's slow, but extremely fuel efficient. Once you have it in orbit it stays in orbit
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Dec 25, 2010
The reason vasimir is cheaper is because of how little the propellant weighs, but you are just wrong about being faster for moon/mars trips. And the point of this whole article is cheaper launch costs + higher payload, which will help enable prefabricated fuel factories to be dropped on asteroids or the moon. Which would further drop the cost of chemical rocket propulsion.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Dec 25, 2010
which will help enable prefabricated fuel factories to be dropped on asteroids or the moon. Which would further drop the cost of chemical rocket propulsion.


NASA scientists have proven you can get water from Lunar Regolith just by super-heating it. Adn then if you could electrolize the water, you'd have hydrogen and oxygen = rocket fuel.

However, this would require immense amount of solar arrays to do this in a reasonable amount of time. More solar arrays than we could lauch. This requires some form of nano-assemblers that can make at least primitive solar cells from materials available on the moon, as it would be too expensive to launch all this stuff from earth.

The problem with mining from an asteroid right now is you need nuclear power, at least fission, to make that even possible, as they are too far away for solar power to fuel the machinery, and they are so cold that many of our machinery components would shatter or warp under temperature variations.
Ronan
not rated yet Dec 27, 2010
Now this IS fascinating. I was actually wondering about this compound not long ago--I figured that it'd tear itself to pieces at anywhere close to room temperature, it looked so unstable. It's so neat that I'm wrong! I'd imagine it'd be kinda like nitroglycerin in behavior, though; a touchy contact explosive, at the most, and something that you wouldn't want anywhere near you in the solid phase. But then, must wait and see, I guess.

(Edit:) And of course, nitrogen's got that lone pair of electrons...heavens, this thing'd have strained bond angles. I wonder if it could be stored as a gas or in solution, and then rapidly precipitated/deposited for use as a propellant? Alternatively, you could dissolve it in some other liquid explosive, which could stabilize it while still making it possible to decompose or burn it in useful energy densities.

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