A couple of months ago NASA tested a new engine in the Mojave Desert that uses methane as its fuel.
With methane abundantly available in the solar system, it is considered a better fuel to use than conventional fuels such as liquid oxygen (LOX)/liquid hydrogen (LH2) and solid chemicals—what is used on the engines of the Space Shuttle.
Methane is a chemical compound with the molecular formula CH4. Although this test of the methane-powered engine is in the very early stages of development, such an engine could be key for successful exploration of the outer solar system.
NASA contractor Alliant Techsystems manufactured the main engine in the test. The engine had a thrust of 7,500 pounds. Alliant (ATK), spun off from Honeywell in 1990, is a major U.S. defense and aerospace contractor. With headquarters in Edina, Minnesota, ATK Launch Systems Group (formerly known as ATK-Thiokol) will build the Ares I launch vehicle for the new NASA Project Constellation, which replaces the Space Shuttle fleet.