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August 25, 2007

We have ignition! — Watch (and hear) NASA's new rocket engine

The latest issue of Wired magazine features a story by Erin Biba about NASA's Mojave Desert rocket engine test site.

zoom Zoom ZOOM.

The article follows.

    We Have Ignition! NASA Tests a New Rocket Engine in the Mojave Desert.

    How do you test a new kind of rocket engine? Step 1: Bolt it to a trailer in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Step 2: Vroom! In this case, NASA is firing up the 5M15, which runs on compressed liquid methane. The odorless substance has multiple advantages over conventional rocket propellants: It's cheaper, it requires much less insulation, and it exists on several planets NASA hopes to travel to — Mars, here we come. That means astronauts could collect their own fuel for the trip home. Bonus rocket science: Those glowing figure eights in the blast stream are called Mach disks, after the guy who lent his name to the speed of sound. They're shock waves, created as the expanding fuel hits the higher atmospheric pressure outside the nozzle. If part of this blast weren't obscured, you could take the number of Mach disks (we count seven) and multiply by the speed of sound — about 758 mph at the 1,300-foot altitude of this test — to estimate the speed of fuel exiting the engine. Just don't get too close.


That eerie sound toward the end of the video gives me goosebumps.

August 25, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Good to find fuel where you can - but they'll still need an oxidiser of some sort. Extracting that from Martian dust is going to take considerable energy.

Posted by: Skipweasel | Aug 27, 2007 4:10:52 PM

Gave me goosebumps, too. That was WAY eerie.
Interesting phenomena, sounds that can do that. The other biggie that comes to mind is one I never heard in person (thank God) but have heard countless times on WWII docs and films (there are probably tons of examples on YouTube) -- that horrible screaming, howling sound of those German Nebelwerfer mortars going off. (When my father returned to the US from the unpleasantness in Europe, he said he "heard" that sound in terrible nightmares for YEARS later.)

Posted by: Flautist | Aug 25, 2007 12:58:06 PM

Please don't let my daughters find out about this, or I will find myself having to buy 3.

Posted by: Elux | Aug 25, 2007 10:53:30 AM

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