On Tuesday, December 19, 2023, two payloads from Team Space Enabled launched to space via a suborbital flight with the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket.
The payloads are part of a multi-year research study on the potential for beeswax and candlewax to be used as fuel for satellites in space. The Space Enabled research group at the MIT Media Lab is pursuing a vision of one day operating a spacecraft that can cast (or manufacture) wax into a fuel grain and use it to deorbit the spacecraft or perform a maneuver to avoid a collision. More information about the ongoing research can be found at this project page.
The two payloads flew to space and experienced approximately three minutes of microgravity effects before landing safely on Earth. The microgravity environment is key to advancing Space Enabled research on wax. During these experiments, Team Space Enabled specifically studied the dynamics of melting and rotating wax in microgravity. To use wax as a fuel, it needs to be cast into a fuel grain shape, which is a tube with a hollow center. Previous research by Team Space Enabled on reduced gravity plane flights implied that wax can be cast or manufactured into a fuel grain geometry at lower rotation rates in microgravity than on Earth. The present experiments further pursue this study to better understand the thermodynamics and fluid dynamics of wax in microgravity. As shown by previous researchers at Stanford, wax is a potentially useful material to use for propulsion because it is low cost, nontoxic and burns well when mixed with oxygen.
To learn more about the Blue Origin launch and watch a recording of the mission, follow this link.
At the launch site in Van Horn, Texas, Space Enabled team members Professor Danielle Wood and Dr. Scott Dorrington performed pre and post-flight checks on the experiments. Many other people from Space Enabled, both past and present also played a key role in making the flight possible, including Dr. Javier Stober (who served as Co-Investigator the experiments), Dr. Gladys Ngetich, Regina Apodaca Moreno, Juliet Wanyiri, Dinuri Rupasinghe, Rethabile Moswane, and more!
Team Space Enabled thanks the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate and the MIT Space Exploration Initiative for supporting our flights!