Ethanol to help fuel Russian space tourism rocket


A Russian company is designing a rocket to take tourists into outer space, including five minutes in zero gravity, and is developing an engine system that runs on ethanol. NASA Photo by Tony Gray/UPI |

March 7 (UPI) -- Ethyl alcohol, which can be used in a gasoline mix or on its own as vehicle fuel and as a beverage to fuel social events, will now power a rocket for commercial suborbital spaceflight.

A company named CosmoCourse plans to start relatively short flights in 2025 to take groups of six tourists to an altitude of 37 to 200 miles -- giving space tourists five minutes in zero gravity.

The rockets would use "environmentally friendly components: liquid oxygen as the oxidizer and ethyl alcohol as fuel. Nitrogen in its liquid and gas forms will be used as an additional component," company CEO Pavel Pushkin said, as quoted by Tass on Thursday.

Ethanol is produced mostly from sugar cane in Brazil, while in the United States it is mostly made from corn. In Russia, ethanol is also made from grain.

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Drinking and fuel ethanol are the same, and countries that use ethanol as fuel include additives to alter taste or otherwise make it distinguishable from similar alcohols that result from fermentation, but are intended for human consumption.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in December signed into law regulations for the production and trade of fuel ethanol.

The ethanol industry had for several years complained it could not produce ethanol at an acceptable cost, blaming the situation on high taxes. As a result little had changed in recent years.

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The annual production of ethanol in Russia was estimated at about 5.6 billion liters, mostly for the production of vodka, according to a 2016 report by Ethanol Producer.

"There are nearly 140 plants in the country with a total capacity of 9.5 billion liters. Modern production technologies, however, are used only at 10 to 12 industrial sites," the report said.

A U.S. Foreign Agricultural service report from 2017 said that high taxes, as well as the abundance of hydrocarbon resources in Russia, kept development of the ethanol industry in check.

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"High excise taxes for ethanol in Russia, coupled with high production costs and other increasing uses for grain, are the major obstacles for the development of the bioethanol industry," the report said.

"Russia's abundant resources of petroleum and natural gas (and subsidized natural gas prices) are a disincentive for both more efficient use of fuel and for any development of alternative energy sources," it added.

As of that year, Russia owned more than 20 percent of the global natural gas resources, 19 percent of all coal, and four to five percent of global resources of petroleum.

As for CosmoCourse, Pushkin said in 2017 that within Russia alone there are enough people ready and willing to pay up to $250,000 for space flight experience.

The company is currently testing liquid-propellant injection nozzles and a reusable engine ignition system for its self-developed rocket engine

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