Officials with the University of Central Florida say that, thanks to a collaboration with the private space company Honeybee Robotics, a novel form of space propulsion is at hand.
That propulsion? Steam.
According to a release from the university, a prototype spacecraft, dubbed The World Is Not Enough, was designed and developed by these outfits along with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
The way it's envisioned, this small rocket extracts water from the asteroids or other planetary bodies it visits, and converts that water to steam.
This, in turn, propels the rocket to its next mining target, according to the designers.
Officials say the steam-driven spacecraft may not be the stuff of planet-hopping, star-spanning Steampunk dreams, but it should enable this spacecraft to hop around from one asteroid to another ... or to hop from point to point on any low-gravity world that has water reserves.
World Is Not Enough, or WINE, is the size of a microwave oven, and designers say it mines the water from the surface then makes it into steam to fly to a new location and repeat the process.
Officials say it is a rocket that has the potential to never run out of fuel.
As long as the rocket can find a ready source of water ice it can theoretically explore for a very long time ... decades or even centuries.
Investigators say the development of this type of spacecraft could have a profound impact on future exploration.
Currently, interplanetary missions stop exploring once the spacecraft runs out of propellant. This technology could remove that constraint, extending the operational life of a mission to as long as the spacecraft can function.