Paul Dietz finally got around to posting on the blog he’s had for a while. His post was talking about one of the more interesting (and practical) near-term applications of nanotechnology: better rocket propellants.
Now, nanotechnology is one of those areas that I think has seen way too much hype (much like space elevators, or nuclear fusion), but this more “mundane” application strikes me as the kind of useful advance that is actually worth bringing attention to. I have read elsewhere about what I’d call “practical nanotech” advances, ie applications that take advantage of nanoscale physical phenomena for useful purposes. One example that I recall reading about was using small deposits of silver nanoparticles as an anti-bacterial/anti-viral treatment for various medical and food-handling equipment.
Paul’s suggestion is also one I’d consider to fall under the category of “practical nanotech”. Apparently it has been found that suspending a very small amount nanoscopic particles of copper in some fluids can increase their thermoconductivity by 40% or more. Paul suggested that by adding nanoscale aluminum or carbon particles to hydrocarbon fuels, the thermoconductivity could be greatly increased, which would make them better regenerative coolants. Now, I’m not sure how copper or carbon suspended in rocket fuel would do to the chamber liner. More importantly, I’m not sure if a concoction of that sort could be made cheap enough to be worth the slightly higher thermoconductivity, but it is definitely a thought.
Such advances aren’t really required for lower cost space access, but they definitely can’t hurt. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of other weird rocket-relevant materials advances will come out over the next several years.
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