While solar panels can provide the electricity a space probe needs, it requires a propellant to actually move, and ultra-efficient ion engines aren’t the answer since they need expensive Xenon gas. Meet the World is Not Enough (WINE) experiment by the University of Central Florida and Honeybee Robotics. This steam-powered spacecraft is designed to fly to an asteroid, conduct research and mine for water at the same time. Once refueled, it can move onto its next objective or asteroid. Read more to see a prototype in-action and for additional information.
We demonstrated prototype of WINE (the World Is Not Enough) spacecraft in vacuum. WINE extracts water from asteroids and uses it for steam propulsion. Thanks @DrPhiltill for asteroid simulant, doing all simulations, and being an awesome PI and thanks to @NASA SBIR for funding it! pic.twitter.com/vrFB8WhEGt
— Kris Zacny (@kriszacny) December 31, 2018
On December 31, a microwave oven sized prototype ‘hopper’ was placed in a vacuum tank that was filled with a layer of simulated asteroid soil. The spacecraft gathered its own fuel and then successfully ‘took off’.
“WINE successfully mined the soil, made rocket propellant 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,” said UCF planetary scientist Phil Metzger.