It’s not every day that the prospect of space exploration makes us feel a little bit nauseous. But that’s certainly the case with a new excreting robot designed to mimic the function of the human intestines. It was created by researchers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Japan’s Chuo University.
While it kind of looks like something that might appear on the robot version of Jackass, in fact it’s a tool intended to replicate the involuntary wavelike contractions of the digestive tract for the purpose of properly mixing rocket fuel. The idea is that turning the solid rocket fuel manufacturing process into a continuous pumping process is more efficient and safer than producing it in batches.
The gooey mixture that’s squeezed out of the robo-intestine (which sort of resembles the white android blood in the Alien movies) is a combination of ammonium perchlorate powder, aluminum powder, and an elastomer binder that’s composed of hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB). For those keeping track at home, those are the ingredients in rocket fuel. The tube-like system is closed off at both ends, and the materials is added in the middle, alongside pressurized air. As the tubing contracts and expands, the mixing process is carried out, with the end result being the expelling of rocket fuel. After it is expelled in this form, the gooey rocket fuel can then be cured to turn it into a rubbery solid.
A paper describing the innovative concept was previously published under the title The Continuous Mixing Process of Composite Solid Propellant Slurry by an Artificial Muscle Actuator. For safety purposes, the material manufactured in the above demonstration was a simulated propellant. However, the researchers behind the project have had a go at mixing real propellant to make sure that their proof of concept experiment works. They even took the liberty of firing off a bench-top rocket to prove the system’s efficacy.
So, a gross-looking bio-inspired robot that craps or vomits out real working rocket fuel? There is literally nothing about that concept that we don’t love. Now we just have to cross our fingers and hope that one of the groups leading today’s next-gen space race incorporates this into their setup.