Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Pocket Rocket

Mass-produced rocket engines no larger than a fingernail may one day lift payloads cheaply into orbit. MIT aerospace engineer Adam London is etching a microrocket motor just 3 millimeters thick and 1.5 cetimeters across into a silicon wafer. Thanks to microscale physics of the sort that allows ants to haul potato chips, the rocket-on-a-chip should pro-vide 20 times as much thrust per unit weight as the space shuttle’s main engine.

London plans first ignition this winter. Burning gaseous methane fuel and oxygen, he hopes to generate 15 newtons of thrust. A chip-top turbo-pump under development at MIT could pressurize the liquid propellants in a second-gen-eration prototype, says Alan Epstein, head of MIT’s Gas Tur-bine Laboratory.

London figures that an array of 800 microrockets (about the size of a hardcover novel) could carry a 1,000-kilogram vehicle into space.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Online Only.
  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.