Inside Rockets: The Role of Ice and Aluminum

Aluminum is widely known for its extensive use for kitchen utensils, exterior building siding and varying industrial applications. More sophisticated uses of aluminum can be found in Navy, more specifically in solid rocket propellants. The use of aluminized propellants for rockets dates back to the early 1950s, and research proved to be a vital breakthrough that made the Navy’s missile submarines practical.

rocket 1Today, aluminum still remains a main ingredient in many tactical missiles and space-launch platforms, including NASA’s next generation Ares rockets. The most common type of aluminum used in solid propellant formulations is powdered spherical aluminum 5 to 60 mm in diameter and usually constitutes 14% to 20% of the propellant by weight.

aluminum powder as rocket fuel
Aluminum powder as rocket fuel

The aluminum 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 aluminum combustion. That reaction produces products in the form of hydrogen gas and aluminum 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.

ares rocket

But a new mixture of nano-aluminum powder and frozen water, known as ALICE, could make rocket launches more environmentally friendly, and even allow spacecraft to refuel at distant locations such as the moon or Mars. Unlike the solid propellant aluminum that ignites when temperature are higher than 6.920 degrees Fahrenheit, forcing gases out to propel rockets upward, ALICE gets its kick from a chemical reaction between water and aluminum. ALICE squeezes even more out of the aluminum 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.

Creating the proper mix of ALICE propellant proved tricky, but the researchers ended up with slurry that some describe as being like toothpaste. And the freezing helped keep the propellant intact during the first test launch, as well as prevent any premature aluminum-ice reactions caused by accidental sparks, or slow oxidation from occurring.

Research goes further. Perhaps the most immediate idea involves mixing nano-aluminum with larger aluminum particles. That could allow more efficient use of the aluminum, and cut back on the amount of wasted aluminum oxide in the initial aluminum. The researchers are also working with more energetic aluminum-water mixtures as they initially chose a mixture with extra ice to err on the safe side. Their caution came at the cost of lower exhaust gas temperatures during launch, which translated into lower performance and less hydrogen produced. Future work might even look at creating gelled propellant that behaves like liquid fuel. New mixtures could also produce more hydrogen, and take a step closer to helping run hydrogen fuel cells.

rocket 3

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Source & Pictures:,

Camilla G.//SMC Editor


Aviation Made Possible By Light Weight Aluminum: A Brief History

The Wright brothers built the world’s first successful airplane on December 17, 1903 in Dayton, Ohio. What was the secret to their success? To keep the weight low enough, the engine block was cast from aluminum, a rare practice for the time. Since then, advancements in aircraft and rocket technology are directly correlated with the advancement and product of aluminum alloys.Take a look at a few key events in the aircraft and aerospace market:

Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first airplane in 1903.
Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first airplane in 1903.

The Wright engine, with its aluminum crankcase, marked the first time this breakthrough material was used in aircraft construction. Lightweight aluminum became essential in aircraft design development and remains a primary construction material for all types of aircraft.

The American public was urged to contribute to the aluminum scrap supply to build fighter jets during World War II.
The American public was urged to contribute to the aluminum scrap supply to build fighter jets during World War II.

In 1942, a New York radio station created a show “Aluminum for Defense” to encourage Americans to contribute scrap aluminum to the war efforts. The aluminum was used in to produce one-third of planes built during World War II

The Apollo Command Module housed the first man on the moon in 1969.
The Apollo Command Module housed the first man on the moon in 1969.

In 1969, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the Apollo program that was responsible for the lading of the first humans on Earth’s Moon. The Apollo Command Module, which housed the crew accommodations, equipment bays, controls and displays, was made of an aluminum honeycomb-sandwich bonded between sheets of aluminum alloy.

NASA plans to launch the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle Ascent Abort 2 test flight (AA‑2) from Spaceport Florida Launch Complex 46 in 2018.
NASA plans to launch the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle Ascent Abort 2 test flight (AA‑2) from Spaceport Florida Launch Complex 46 in 2018.

NASA’s Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) will serve as the next-generation space exploration vehicle. The primary structures of the Orion spacecraft are made from an aluminum-lithium alloy and will be covered by an advanced version of the thermal protection tiles used on the space shuttle.

Shanghai Metal Corporation is proud to supply products that have influenced modern technology. For details on all that we have to offer visit our website here. Be sure to join the conversation on our LinkedIn groupTwitter, and Facebook. 

Kristie K.//SMC Editor

Aluminum and the space travel

The advancement of aircraft and rocket technology is directly tied to the advancement and production of aluminum alloys. From the Wright brothers’ use of aluminum in the engine of their first biplane to NASA’s use of an aluminum-lithium alloy in the new Orion spacecraft—aluminum has created the potential for mankind to fly both around the Earth and into space.

The air-frame of a typical modern commercial transport aircraft is 80 percent aluminum by weight. Aluminum alloys are the overwhelming choice for the fuselage, wing, and supporting structures of commercial airliners and military cargo/transport aircraft. Structural components of current United States Navy aircraft are made of fabricated wrought aluminum (forged, machined and assembled parts). Attention is now focused toward aluminum casting technology, which offers lower manufacturing costs, the ability to form complex shapes and the flexibility to incorporate innovative design concepts.

Space flight
Ever since the launch of Sputnik a half-century ago, aluminum has been the material of choice for space structures of all types. Chosen for its light weight and its ability to withstand the stresses that occur during launch and operation in space, aluminum has been used on Apollo spacecraft, the Skylab, the space shuttles and the International Space Station. Aluminum alloys consistently exceed other metals in such areas as mechanical stability, dampening, thermal management and reduced weight.

The new project that is NASA preparing to launch in 2017 is the Orion spacecraft. This spacecraft is built to take humans further than they have ever gone in history. It will serve as an exploration vehicle, that will need to have all life supporting functions for long space travels and back.

Shanghai Metal corporation is a proud supplier of high quality aluminium products which range of uses is endless.

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Written by:

Jovelle W. // SMC Editor

International Trade and Marketing Specialist