A Ball Aerospace engineer adjusts the thermal insulation on NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission spacecraft bus following integration of the propulsion system. Credit: Ball Aerospace

WASHINGTON — Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, has integrated the propulsion system aboard the NASA-funded Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) spacecraft in preparation for a launch next year.

The propulsion system, provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, is powered by a fuel that is more efficient and environmentally friendly than the hydrazine propellants typically used aboard spacecraft. The fuel, called AF-M315E, developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, could save time and resources because it is much safer to handle prelaunch, Ball says.

Because it is 50 percent more efficient than hydrazine, it will enable longer-duration missions or allow mission managers to devote more spacecraft mass to payloads, Ball says.

Ball is the prime contractor on the GPIM mission, which will fly aboard the company’s standardized BCP-100 spacecraft platform and carry three additional experimental payloads for the U.S. Department of Defense. Ball has built three models of the BCP-100, which is about the size of a mini-refrigerator.

The Defense Department payloads are: an Air Force Academy mission to characterize Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere; a Naval Research Laboratory mission to measure plasma densities and temperatures; and an Air Force Institute of Technology experiment that will test space collision avoidance measures.

GPIM will be one of the satellites on the planned launch of the U.S. Air Force’s STP-2 mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket late next year. During its scheduled 13-month mission, the GPIM satellite will use its propulsion to demonstrate on-orbit maneuvers including attitude control shifts, orbital inclination changing and orbit lowering, according to NASA.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...