Gel travel

Scientists fly rockets with toothpaste-like jelly

Published: Monday 15 March 1999

The us Army is about to embark on a landmark mission: to launch a missile fuelled not by the usual solid fuel, but by a toothpaste-like gel. The gel will help them control the missile better, will improve the missile's range and even allow it to attack more than one targets on its flight path. The change from regular solid fuel was imminent. Like any vehicle, a missile, too, burns more fuel when travelling at high speeds. A fuel-efficient missile would have to travel slowly for a greater part of its journey, accelerating only when it nears its target. But achieving fuel efficiency with conventional missiles is difficult since it involves varying the rate at which the fuel is burnt and this is nearly impossible with solid fuels. "With a solid, the only thing you could do is light it and let it go," said Jerrold Arszman, propulsion technology manager for the us Army's Future Missile Technology Integration project. "You turn the thing on, it does what it's going to do and then that's it." On the other hand, it's easy to change the rate at which a missile burns a liquid fuel -- just pump less fuel into the engine and it slows down. But these are hazardous. A punctured shell fragment in a liquid-fuel tank, for instance, can lead to leaks and explosions. According to us Army, the gel fuel will be safer and could still be pumped into the engine at varying rates.

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