Rocket science fuels torch

BEIJING: Though the Olympic torch had to contend with adverse weather conditions on Mount Qomolangma, China’s name for Mount Everest, its flame is burning bright, thanks to rocket science.

“Even on a benign weather day, bright sunshine one moment can quickly turn into a pour of hailstones the next,” said Zhang Ming, head of the Beijing Organising Committee’s torch relay centre. “The lack of oxygen and low temperature is the main hindrance to keep the flame from burning on the mountain, so the torch must be able to burn under such circumstances,” she added.

Combustion system

In January 2006, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, an institute that specialises in designing burning systems for rockets, was entrusted with the task of designing the combustion system for the Olympic torch. Liu Xingzhou, chief engineer for the designing project, said the same principle to keep rocket motors flaring in thin air was adopted to keep the flame flaring.

“We installed a pressure-retaining valve in the torch, which enables the flame to withstand winds of up to 65 kilometres an hour, nearly 6 centimetres of rain an hour, and temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius,” said Mr. Liu.

The flame was fuelled entirely by propane, which marks a departure from its predecessors. While the 2000 Sydney Olympics’ torch burned a propane-butane mix, the Athens Olympics’ torch was run on propylene and butane, which produced more soot but increased the flame’s brightness. “No material, except carbon dioxide and water remain after the burning, eliminating any risk of pollution,” said Mr. Liu, adding that the fuel system used to light up the Olympic torch is gradually moving towards the system used to fire up rockets.

The successful Olympics torch relay to Mount Everest showcased hi-tech technology applied to the 2008 Beijing Games, said Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang on Thursday. — Xinhua

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