NASA Will Test ‘Green’ Rocket Fuel in 2017

Image: NASA
Image: NASA
Last year, 87 rockets went orbital. Each of these rockets was fueled by a propellant, and despite the wide variety of rocket propellants available, none of them are exactly what you’d call environmentally friendly. While the impact of astronautics might seem negligible when compared with other sources of emissions, NASA is nevertheless taking the environmental impact of space travel seriously.

By Daniel Oberhaus|MOTHERBOARD

To this end, the agency created the Green Propulsion Infusion Mission (GPIM), which will launch a small satellite into orbit in early 2017 to test out a new “green” alternative to the rocket propellants currently being used.

The propellant, known as AF-M315E, is a hydroxyl ammonium nitrate based fuel/oxidizer blend developed by the US Air Force at the Edwards Air Force Base in California. According to NASA, this new fuel offers a number of advantages over the hydrazine-based fuels currently in use.

Although the space industry’s impact on Earth’s environment is still negligible, by some estimates it isn’t likely to remain this way for long

In the first place, it is less toxic and safer to handle than hydrazine propellants, which will lower launch processing times and thereby decrease in mission costs. It is also more efficient than hydrazine. According to NASA, because AF-M315E is denser than hydrazine, it offers a 50 percent increase in a spacecraft’s maneuvering capability for the same volume of propellant. Moreover, it offers a higher thrust for a given amount of fuel and has a lower freezing point, meaning less of a spacecraft’s energy needs to be devoted to maintaining its temperature.

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