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Into Orbit with Plastics
What would we be missing out on without satellites? Precision navigation, reliable weather forecasts and, of course, the live transmission of news from around the world. Fairly small rockets are getting more attention as a way to launch satellites. The advantage: They can be fueled cheaply and easily with plastics, among other substances.
The construction of launch vehicles for space flight was long the exclusive sphere of governmental organizations. But this monopoly is coming apart as the commercial space industry grows. It sometimes focuses on smaller, less expensive launch vehicles. That trend coincides with the use of relatively small yet high-performing satellites. These cube satellites are designed to complete their missions over a relatively short period, about three years, and then new mini-satellites replace them. The shortened cycles guarantee that the latest state-of-the-art technologies can be considered for new satellites.
Hybrid Rockets as a Viable Future Option
A range of propulsion options are considered for the rockets that launch mini- satellites. Hybrid solutions using both solid and liquid fuels appear especially promising. One function of the liquid propellants is to supply the oxygen needed for a reaction. Liquid oxygen, laughing gas or hydrogen peroxide are well-suited for this. The latter breaks down into oxygen and water, which makes the chemical a clean and ecologically sound option. The buzzword here is green rocketry.
Rocket Fuel, Not Plastic Bottles
One potential solid fuel under consideration might amaze non-experts at first glance. Among other options, polyethylene is highly suited for use in hybrid rockets, though it is commonly used in plastic bottles, plastic bags and packaging. In combination with an oxidizer, it can provide enough thrust to send small satellites into space. The advantage: The fuels are inexpensive and readily available while posing no handling hazards. They are enabling private companies to play a role in the aerospace sector.
Trimming Weight with Plastics
Since every kilogram counts during rocket launches, plastic lends itself to the manufacture of rockets, in payload modules, for example. Heavy-duty carbon fiber, which is both tough and lightweight, can play out its strengths in these applications. In the aerospace industry as well as other sectors, plastics are proving to be versatile – in the rockets’ fuel tanks and other structures.
Plastic is our current focus. We deal with single-use plastic as a burden – and how we can confront this problem – and the question of whether plastic could prove to be a solution. Read more on our special theme “Plastic – Breakthrough and Burden” in the November issue of our company magazine ESSENTIAL.
More Stories About Sustainability
Tender Leaves amid Mountains of Trash
Plastic trash from around the world ends up in Vietnam. At the same time, a new generation of innovative city-dwellers is discovering its ecological conscience. Are rice-flour straws and leaf-based packaging suitable solutions for the rest of the world? A visit to Southeast Asia.
Materials for Wind Power
If you were to stand a single rotor blade on end next to the Dresden Frauenkirche, it would rise more than 10 meters higher than the church’s tower cross. Without the use of composite materials, the blades of the latest wind turbine giants would be too heavy to function.
A Material from the Bark of a Tree
Natural rubber, sometimes called caoutchouc, is the raw material used in making what we simply call rubber. Thailand is the world’s biggest exporter of natural rubber. It is where the first plantations and producers are turning to sustainable cultivation methods – by abandoning pesticides and monoculture, for example.
Would the World Be Better Off without Plastic?
In the emotional debate over microplastics and the accumulation of trash in the oceans, Dr. Ernst Osen makes the case in ESSENTIAL magazine for a sober accounting. In many technical applications, plastics provide the best ecological footprint, the expert says.
“The Future Is Presenting Us with Opportunities”
In July 2019, Dr. Theodore Duclos began serving as Chief Operating Officer (COO) in addition to his duties as Chief Technology Officer (CTO), taking over operations, lean, supply chain management, and corporate procurement. In this interview, he talks about the advantages that his dual role offers, the capacity to innovate, and what the transformation of the auto industry means for Freudenberg Sealing Technologies (FST).