Imagine for a moment that you are a member of an early Mars colony. You’re stranded, and the only way to get a message home is to launch a radio well above the surface. To make matters worse, you’ve got no rockets! It was this thought experiment that has motivated [Thoisoi2] to experiment with making a rocket motor using only ingredients and methods available to your average Martian colonist. The methods he has chosen can be seen in the video below the break.
If you skipped Rocketry 101, a quick refresher might help: Rockets work by burning a fuel in an enclosed chamber and then expelling it at high speed in one direction. To get the fuel to burn more quickly (and therefore adding more oomph to the angry end) a complement to the fuel called an Oxidizer is added. It serves to create an oxygen rich environment for the fuel to burn in. It’s the same reason a oxy-propane torch burns hotter than propane by itself.
Firstly, a stranded Martian would need rocket fuel. If you recall the 1999 movie October Sky, four high school kids used table sugar as their fuel. You might also recall that those tended to get all explody. This volatility caused [Thoisoi2] to eschew sugar as a fuel in favor of a fuel that would also be available to any Martian colonist but be far less likely to cause Rapid Unplanned Disassembly.
What about the oxidizer? In October Sky, the boys experimented with Potassium Chlorate. This is commonly used in rockets but may be more difficult to obtain for your average Mars colonist. But, it turns out that Potassium Chlorate and Sodium Chlorate which can be prepared from table salt will work equally. It’s quite a bit more involved than that however.
Simply adding salt and fuel does not a rocket motor make. The nuances, the science, and the chemistry are all laid out in the wonderful video that [Thoisoi2] has put together, and we are sure you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.
You’ll also get to find out if our stranded Martian ever makes it home or if his potato farming was for naught.
We’d also like to echo the warning in the video: This is an experiment that is pretty dangerous, so don’t try this at home! Definitely try it at somebody else’s house first. Or on the surface of Mars.
To the upper right we have very pure potassium chlorate, so much so that it bursts into flames when mixed with sugar and catalyzed with some sulfuric acid. [Mr. Home Scientist] produced the KClO3 using household chemicals and some rudimentary equipment sourced on eBay.
The experiment started off with concentrated bleach containing 8.25% sodium hypochlorite. He needed sodium chlorate so a hot plate was used to boil the bleach until crystals started to form. A more efficient way to achieve this reaction would be using electrolysis (check out the HHO generator we saw recently for a homemade rig). The next step is to add potassium chloride, which is sourced from the grocery store as a sodium-free salt alternative. After mixing with the filtered remains of the bleach reaction the two are combined. There is no precipitate from this — an indication that not everything is as it should be. But an overnight stay in the refrigerator results in the potassium chlorate crystals seen above.
It turns out that old newsprint can be a bit explosive; at least when it’s combined with the proper ingredients. [Markus Bindhammer] worked out a way to make solid rocket propellant from newspaper. Judging from the test footage after the break the home made engines work great!
There isn’t a long list of ingredients. In addition to newspaper you’ll need some potassium chlorate (KClO3) which serves as an oxidizer, white wood glue, and PVC pipe. The KClO3 is ground with a mortar and pestle, then run through a sieve before being combined with the wood glue. This combination is painted on the newspaper which is then rolled up with a glass rod at the center. This is allowed to harden before going into the PVC. The excess is trimmed and the whole thing is baked in a convection oven at 105 C for two hours.
After we posted the “High explosives pc case” earlier we saw a resounding outcry in the comments for combustible destruction. Oddly enough, we got a submission of something along just those lines. [tazzik] has taken the heat sink off of his athlon 1400+ and covered the poor processor in potassium chlorate. As you can see in the video, this was not a very effective heat management decision. It is definitely fun, but nowhere near as explosive as our thermite shenanigans.