Experimental Program Could Make Hydrazine Obsolete

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Propulsion provider Aerojet says its work on an experimental NASA mission could pave the way for replacing highly toxic hydrazine propellant on future satellites with a fuel that not only is safer to handle but also performs better.

Aerojet is a subcontractor to Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., on NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM), with responsibility for the propulsion system. NASA’s Space Technology Program is providing $45 million for the mission, slated to fly in three years, with additional contributions expected from other partners on the project.

In a press release dated Oct. 16, Sacramento, Calif.-based Aerojet said the GPIM project will utilize a monopropellant blend developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory that offers a nearly 50 percent boost in performance by volume over conventional hydrazine systems. Hydrazine, which is widely used for in-space propulsion systems, requires specialized and expensive handling procedures and equipment due to its extreme toxicity.

“NASA is seeking new, reduced toxicity high performance green propellants as an alternative to hydrazine in order to make propellant handling safer for ground crews, as well as to reduce mission cost and enable new application opportunities,” Marshall Cousineau, Aerojet vice president of advanced programs, said in a prepared statement. “Aerojet recently achieved a significant technical breakthrough in our thruster technology that supports the GPIM project and offers a path to replace hydrazine for next-generation spacecraft.”

Ball’s other partners on the project include the Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, and NASA centers in Cleveland and Florida. NASA has not specified how the mission would be launched.