Biofuel Flight Test
Research & Development
Thermodynamics, Fluid Dynamics, Design & Testing
Flometrics originally built the rocket for Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters” TV show. In addition, we were currently working on biofuel plant fluid dynamics at the time, so we decided to use the rocket to test whether Bio-Diesel would work as a rocket fuel. Besides the obvious environmental perks of using a cleaner, sustainable fuel, one can imagine growing oilseed crops on other planets to provide fuel for return vehicles. Also, there is always interest on how new designer fuels may improve rocket performance.
Flometrics initial static fire test using commercial grade Bio-Diesel proved a success, so we attempted to launch the rocket on Biodiesel. Unfortunately, during the launch the rocket had a hard start, which cracked the oxidizer manifold. However, this revealed a key safety attribute of the renewable fuel. With fuel and oxidizing spraying out on to a live igniter, there is a high potential for disaster. The low flammability/high flash point of the BioDiesel fuel left only an unusually small fire on the launch pad, leaving the rocket practically unscathed and ready for another launch attempt. For more see our article in Biodiesel Magazine.
Unlike the red RP-1 [refined kerosene rocket fuel], the biofuel does not have any dye in it, It exhibits an odor of a sweet paint thinner. This fuel was designed to duplicate the properties of JP-8, the current jet fuel used by the U.S. Air Force. A particular challenge was achieving the same freezing temperature in the biofuel. However, it is very possible the fuel could be optimized for the cold temperatures of space. With custom designed biofuels, there is the possibility of increasing the density, heat transfer, and perhaps specific impulse of the fuel