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Home News Archive Can ALICE Save the Day?

Can ALICE Save the Day?

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"I dare say you haven't had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

(Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)


As this fragment of a technical paper presented at an August 2009 conference points out:”Currently, propellants used for Earth to orbit and orbit-to-orbit missions are expensive. Thus, there is quite a need for new-generation propellants which can be used in the booster stage as well as possess characteristics which make them storable in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).” Recent advances in nanoscale aluminum-water combustion have led to the first reported launch of a test rocket fueled by a combination of aluminum powder and water ice, or ALICE (ALuminum/ICE). If ALICE works out as advertised, we may be hearing more about this innovative propellant.

NASAScientists have studied aluminum-water combustion since the 1960s, since “the Al-H20 reaction liberates a large amount of energy … as well as green exhaust products,” according to the paper presented to the 45th Annual AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference by a team of scientists from Pennsylvania State University and Purdue University (link above). More recently, studies have focused on aluminum combusting with frozen oxidizers, such as water ice.

AFOSROn August 25, 2009 news media carried stories reporting that a nine-foot long test rocket using the ALICE propellant “achieved a thrust of 650 pounds, accelerated to a speed of 205 MPH, and soared 1,300 feet into the sky” near Purdue University. A NASA scientist was quoted as saying that ALICE is “an environmentally-friendly propellant that can be used for flight on Earth and used in long distance space missions.” According to several reports, ALICE, when optimized, it could have a higher performance than conventional propellants. According to the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), “The propellant has a high burn rate and achieved a maximum thrust of 300 kg during the test.” One of the lead researchers, Dr. Steven Son, was quoted as saying, “The ALICE propellant can be improved with the addition of oxidizers and become a potential solid rocket propellant on Earth. Away from this planet, on the Moon or Mars, ALICE can be manufactured in those locations instead of being transported at a large cost."

So ALICE has promise. It may not need to be carried on deep space missions (since it can be manufactured from local materials found on the Moon or Mars, thus lowering the fuel weight and cost. It is environmentally friendly (unlike current solid rocket propellants). What’s not to like? ALICE seems to be a huge advance over current propellants. However, NASA has an unfortunate history of redirecting funds away from promising technologies in favor of large, congressionally supported programs. Let’s hope ALICE doesn’t get stood up by her patrons, and fulfills the promise of early tests.


The ALICE flight-vehicle accelerated to a speed of 205 mph and reached an altitude of nearly 1,300 feet. credit: Dr. Steven F. Son, Purdue University

ALICE Rocket






Effective January 1, 2019, Nick Sanders has been named as Editor of two reference books published by LexisNexis. The first book is Matthew Bender’s Accounting for Government Contracts: The Federal Acquisition Regulation. The second book is Matthew Bender’s Accounting for Government Contracts: The Cost Accounting Standards. Nick replaces Darrell Oyer, who has edited those books for many years.