UCLA MAE Professor Ann Karagozian was quoted in the LA Times article “The final frontier: cheap space travel.” The article is an overview of recent efforts in the new space race to cut launch costs. Professor Karagozian was quoted regarding using methane as fuel.
Experts say liquefied natural gas, which is a commercially available form of methane, could have several advantages as a rocket fuel.
Blue Origin has said its wide availability and low cost would enable an “extended engine development test program.”
Methane is also clean, meaning it’s less likely to clog fuel lines inside the engine. That would reduce the type of rigorous cleaning needed to clear those particulates and make it easier for reusability, said Ann Karagozian, UCLA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
SpaceX is also developing a liquid-oxygen-and-methane staged combustion engine called Raptor, which company President Gwynne Shotwell has said could be flown on “orbital trajectories and beyond Earth missions,” according to her statement last year to the House Armed Services Committee.
This could be a factor in the company’s plans for Mars, as SpaceX has said methane could be synthesized in the Martian atmosphere. “Methane has those advantages for reusability,” UCLA’s Karagozian said. “But it is not standard. It’s not a sure thing by any means.”