McGill Engineering Experiment Takes Off

A McGill-designed scientific experiment will be onboard a European Space Agency research rocket that’s set to be launched from northern Sweden on Thursday April 6. This rocket, MAXUS 9, will travel nearly straight up to 700 kilometres -- twice the height of the International Space Station.

UPDATE 3: The MAXUS 9 rocket launched Friday morning, April 7, and the McGill experiment worked:  It successfully dispersed iron powder in microgravity and propagated flames down the tubes. Helicopters were on their way to recover the capsule containing the experiment, which will give the researchers access to high-resolution data. Analysis of the results is expected to takes some weeks. Video of launch

UPDATE 2: Launch rescheduled for April 7 at 6 am (midnight in Montreal) due to bad weather. The launch can be followed via a live feed on youtube

as well as twitter:

UPDATE 1: Low clouds all day prevents flight control from visually following the MAXUS9 rocket's flight the first kilometres. Launch cancelled for Thursday, April 6.

The experiment is designed to further scientists understanding of how metal powders, like iron, could be used as an energy carrier that produces zero carbon emissions. When iron powder is burned, it  releases more heat than the equivalent volume of gasoline. And the exhaust from this combustion -- iron oxide, also known as rust -- is environmentally benign; it can easily be collected and recycled back into iron, using a renewable energy source. Iron is in many ways a more practical energy carrier than chemical batteries or hydrogen. But to understand the fundamentals of how metals burn, scientists need to go to the unique environment of weightlessness. That’s because in the lab on the ground, the metal powders settle too quickly and the hot combustion products rise and disrupt the experiments.  

(Left to right: Andrew Higgins, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Jan Palecka, PhD student in Mechanical Engineering, Samuel Goroshin, Research scientist in Mechanical Engineering)

During its 12 to 14 minutes outside the atmosphere, MAXUS 9 will provide a state of near perfect weightlessness.  From the launch site north of the Arctic Circle, members of the research team from McGill's Department of Mechanical Engineering – Prof. Andrew Higgins, research scientist Samuel Goroshin, and PhD student Jan Palecka – will monitor the experiment. If all goes according to plan, the experimental capsule will land softly with parachutes and be recovered, so the team can analyze all the data and move a step closer to the day when metal powders can be used as a clean energy source on Earth.

For background on McGill research into metal powders as a potential clean fuel:

Follow updates on Twitter at @A_J_Higgins