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Roto Rockette

The MIT Rocket Team is pioneering “the first new idea in a rocket engine that I’ve heard of in decades,” says Edward Crawley, head of the MIT Aerospace Department. Team leader Carl Dietrich has patented a device replacing the turbines that, in a conventional rocket, run the pump that pressurizes the fuel and liquid oxygen. Dietrich instead uses something akin to a lawn sprinkler with spinning jets. This modification could allow a rocket to operate efficiently even when scaled down to the size of a can of paint. Shrinking a conventional rocket engine to that scale results in excessive leakage around the turbine blades, spoiling performance. The team expects its test rocket to create 90 to 180 kilograms of thrust, enough to launch a small video observation system, at a cost of a few thousand dollars. If testing of the fourth prototype proves successful, the rocket could take its maiden voyage in about two years.

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