UCF’s World Is Not Enough spacecraft extracts water from asteroids and other celestial resources to generate steam, which is used as a propellant. (Image credit: UCF)


Scientists from the University of Central Florida have designed a spacecraft that utilizes steam to propel itself through space, which in theory, could allow it to explore space forever. The World Is Not Enough (WINE) probe would extract ice/water from asteroids and other celestial bodies, and convert it into steam, which it would then use as a propellant. The team collaborated with Honeybee Robotics and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to develop steam-based rocket thruster prototypes.


The scientists tested their probe using simulated Martian/asteroid material (AKA simulants), which was developed by UCF astrophysicists to research how Martian soil could be used by astronauts in future missions. Lead scientist on the WINE project stated, “It’s awesome, WINE successfully mined the soil, made rocket fuel, and launched itself on a jet of steam extracted from the simulant. We could potentially use this technology to hop on the Moon, Ceres, Europa, Titan, Pluto, the poles of Mercury, asteroids — anywhere there is water and sufficiently low gravity.”


One of the initial models of WINE rendered as a mother ship that could supply fuel to a swarm of CubeSats. (Image credit: Honeybee Robotics)


The WINE spacecraft itself is about the size of a microwave oven and can use deployable solar panels or radiosotopic decay units (RDUs) to provide enough energy for mining operations. Once enough ice or water is collected, it then converts it into steam to hop to the next celestial body to repeat the process. Current interplanetary missions rely on stored propellant to maneuver craft, but once those stores run dry, the mission is over. Steam power has the potential to extend that exploration using a single space vehicle, thus saving time and money on building and launching new exploration vehicles for a single mission. 


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