Re: Confronting The Singularity Conference

From: Doug Jones (
Date: Fri May 26 2000 - 20:48:30 MDT

Brian Atkins wrote:
> It was quite evident that nanotech is gaining steam. Technanogy sponsored
> the event, they are a nanotech incubator backed by Ted Waitt (of Gateway
> computers). Their first project is "nano aluminum", which in its first
> application is the creation of super high thrust solid rocket fuel. Think
> single stage to orbit at $50 to 100 a pound. But for starters they are
> working on refitting stingers and other conventional weapons.

Nanopowdered aluminum is not all that remarkable- there's a product
called AlEx or some such which is nanoscale aluminum powder made by
exploding a wire with a capacitor discharge in a helium atmosphere. It
has a slightly positive heat of formation relative to bulk Al, but solid
fuels are inherently a poor match for orbital launch- you get better Isp
and effective bulk density out of liquid fuels, and for SSTO or even a
cheap TSTO, delta-V is most important. Solids are great for tactical
propulsion (ie missiles) but just can't compete with liquids for system
bulk density, mass fraction, and Isp.

One problem with metallized solid propellants for tactical missiles is
"signature"- they burn *damn* hot and have a very bright plume (consider
the shuttle SRBs). This serves to warn the target that you've just
launched, enabling him to take countermeasures. A major focus in new
hypervelocity missile developement is low-observable propulsion, which
has a purely gaseous exhaust with low luminosity.

Doug Jones
Rocket Plumber, XCOR Aerospace

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