International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Stardust 1.O: the first rocket to run on biofuel


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Stardust-1, Biofuels

Mains level : Not Much

Stardust 1.O was recently launched from Maine, the US has become the first commercial space launch powered by biofuel.

UPSC may puzzle you with the following type of MCQ asking:

Q.Which of the following is the unique feature of the Stardust 1.0 Spacecraft recenlty seen in news?

(a) It is propelled by Bio-fuels.

(b) It has the largest payload capacity.

(c) It is re-usable launch vehicle.

(d) All of the above

What is Stardust 1.O?

  • Stardust 1.O is a launch vehicle suited for student and budget payloads.
  • The rocket is manufactured by bluShift, an aerospace company based in Maine that is developing rockets that are powered by bio-derived fuels.
  • The rocket is 20 feet tall and has a mass of roughly 250 kg.
  • The rocket can carry a maximum payload mass of 8 kg and during its first launch carried three payloads.
  • The payloads included a cubesat prototype built by high-school students, a metal alloy designed to lessen vibrations.

Why such missions are important?

  • Such efforts are a part of a growing number of commercial space companies that are working to provide easier and cheaper access to space to laypeople.
  • It also makes access to space cost-effective for purposes of academic research, corporate technology development and entrepreneurial ventures among others.

Back2Basics: Biofuel

  • Biofuels are obtained from biomass, which can be converted directly into liquid fuels that can be used as transportation fuels.
  • The two most common kinds of biofuels in use today are ethanol and biodiesel and they both represent the first generation of biofuel technology.
  • Ethanol, for instance, is renewable and made from different kinds of plant materials.
  • Biodiesel on the other hand is produced by combining alcohol with new and used vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled cooking grease.

Categories of biofuels

Biofuels are generally classified into three categories. They are

  1. First-generation biofuels – First-generation biofuels are made from sugar, starch, vegetable oil, or animal fats using conventional technology. Common first-generation biofuels include Bioalcohols, Biodiesel, Vegetable oil, Bioethers, Biogas.
  2. Second-generation biofuels – These are produced from non-food crops, such as cellulosic biofuels and waste biomass (stalks of wheat and corn, and wood). Examples include advanced biofuels like biohydrogen, bioethanol.
  3. Third-generation biofuels – These are produced from micro-organisms like algae.
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