Watch NASA’s Experimental Wax-Powered Rocket Burn

NASA: Putting candles in their place.

byWill Sabel Courtney| PUBLISHED Apr 30, 2017 7:19 PM
Watch NASA’s Experimental Wax-Powered Rocket Burn

When you think of items that use wax for fuel, if you're, well, pretty much anyone, your mind probably jumps straight to candles. But the bold engineers at NASA are smarter than just about anyone else on this lump of rock they spend so much time trying to launch people off. (They are, after all, rocket scientists.) So while the rest of us were sitting around cleaning wax out of our ears, NASA built—and test-fired—a rocket fueled by paraffin wax. 

The Peregrine hybrid rocket motor, as NASA calls it, uses a combination of solid paraffin wax and liquid nitrous oxide. As in NOS. As in, "NASA's new rocket is basically a giant candle with NOS." According to the space agency, the system has half as many components as a traditional rocket, and is safer to boot.

Paraffin, as a group of Stanford University researchers discovered, burns three times faster than regular rocket fuel, which could be used to create rockets with more performance than existing ones. On top of that, it also has the benefit of being non-toxic, and will ignite under conditions where it might be harder to start up a more conventional tower of, for example, the surface of Mars

All of which meant the space agency, along with those Stanford scientists and the Space Propulsion Group, which built the Peregrine motor—needed to see how well the engine worked in practice. And because NASA has gotten so damn good at putting media assets for all the cool things they do out there, the space agency released a quick little video showing the paraffin wax rocket letting loose from its first test at the Ames Research Center on March 15th, 2017. You'll never look at those birthday candles the same way.