You won’t be surprised to hear it, but rocket fuel is dangerous stuff. It’s potent and volatile, meaning it can explode before it even gets into the rocket. That makes manufacturing it tricky, as you need to mix together certain materials, but fling them around too hard and they’ll start doing their job early. The solution? Well, scientists from Japan suggest puking robots.
In the video above (spotted by IEEE Spectrum) you can see prototype apparatus designed by engineers from Chuo University and Japan’s national aerospace agency (JAXA) to mix solid rocket fuel. It’s basically a series of connected segments of tube that compress back and forth like a worm. This motion mimics how our intestines and esophagus move food around our body — a process known as peristalsis.
Normally, rocket propellant is created in huge industrial mixers, which work the same way the ones in kitchens do, with rotating blades. But peristalsis instead of these rotational forces is gentler, and would allow fuel to be manufactured in one slow, continuous process, rather than in batches. Constituent ingredients are entered in one end, and the final product is vomited slowly out the other before being left to dry into a solid. This, say the Japanese researchers, could prove to be safer and more efficient than current method.
As IEEE Spectrum’s Evan Ackerman notes, the white gloop you can see in these videos is simulated propellant (for safety reasons), but the researchers have used their robot intestines to produce real fuel which they tested in real rockets. So, yes, these robots can puke good. For more on the dangers of rocket fuel manufacture, you should check out this 1966 NASA video, which graphically illustrates what happens when things go wrong.