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Mission: Green Propellant

At Infinite Composites, we’ve seen an uptick of interest in green propellants, through customer related projects and inquiries as well as in the media. Many existing satellite thrusters are powered by hydrazine, a toxic and corrosive fuel that is dangerous to handle and store. The material is so nasty, it used to be referred to as “Devils Venom” by Soviet rocket scientists. NASA has been combating using fuels such as this, an on-going commitment of $45M, since as early as 2013. Although the timeline hasn’t kept up with the original target, the mission is still on.

MORPHEUS Lander with Propellant Tanks

A variety of companies are pursuing these green propellant alternatives. Deep Space Industries (DSI) will be operating a full line of green propulsion based asteroid mining probes. Their Comet sats are designed to be low-pressure and non-toxic. These considerations make them launch safe, according to a recent press release. DSI’s system will focus on using water-based thrusters to move its crafts around.

NanoAvionics is pursuing a similar goal of using a green chemical propulsion system. The company is using an ammonium dinitramide (ADN) system, which uses high-energy inorganic salt, mainly intended as an oxidizer.

Furthermore, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., has developed its own high-performance, low-toxic, green alternative to hydrazine called AF-M315E. It’s been under testing for use in CubeSats. The fuel blends Hydroxyl Ammonium Nitrate as the fuel with an oxidizer. This fuel is easier and safer to store and handle.

“One type of propellant might work best for one type of mission while another is better suited for a different mission. It’s important that we have choices as we go green,” said Charles Pierce, manager of Marshall’s Spacecraft Propulsion Systems Branch. NASA is still standing strong on that vision with its Green Propellant Infusion Mission, as it develops alternatives to conventional chemical propulsion systems for next-generation launch vehicles and spacecraft. The ESA is also involved in this clean space initiative.

The adoption of more green propellants would reduce a variety of risks associated with other propellant materials such as toxicity, operational handling complexity, spacecraft contamination, and hazardous contamination of the environment. In addition, some of the green fuels have the potential to be mined or created on other planetary systems.

One of the benefits of the infinite composites pressure vessel (infiniteCPV), is that the design and manufacturing process allows for changes of the innermost materials. The team has been faced with challenges of developing vessels to store some of these new propellants. In some cases, this requires material compatibility development and testing to make sure materials don’t dissolve or release new variables into the system. Others require a propellant management device (PMD) to control the fluids used.

Contact us to see if we’re providing solutions to your green propellant needs. Interested in learning more about green propellants, do your homework on some of these hydrazine alternatives*:

AF-M315E - Bipropellant

Hydroxyl Ammonium Nitrate (HAN) fuel/oxidizer blend

HTP - Monopropellant/Bipropellant

High Test Peroxide (usually 90% or higher concentrate)

90% or higher hydrogen peroxide

ADN - Bipropellant

Ammonium Dinitramide, a high-energy inorganic salt, mainly intended as an oxidizer in solid rocket propellants

LMP103S - Monopropellant

65% ammonium dinitramide, NH4N(NO2)2, in 35% water solution of methanol and ammonia

*Does not represent a full list of green propellant options