SCIENCE: Environmentally Friendly Rocket Propellant Tested

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    TheMissingno.'s Avatar
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    Default Environmentally Friendly Rocket Propellant Tested

    For decades, NASA has relied on an efficient but highly toxic fuel known as hydrazine to power satellites and manned spacecraft. Now the agency is laying the groundwork to replace that propellant with a safer, cleaner alternative.

    NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission, or GPIM, has passed its first thruster pulsing test, a major milestone that paves the way for a planned test flight in 2015, agency officials said. NASA unveiled the rocket thruster success Tuesday (July 9) in Washington, D.C., during a briefing with aerospace industry officials and Colorado Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO).

    The GPIM initiative aims to demonstrate that a green fuel with nearly 50 percent better performance than hydrazine could power Earth-circling satellites and eventually deep space missions. [Images: Superfast Spacecraft Propulsion Concepts]

    Hydrazine has powered satellites and manned spacecraft for years, but it is highly flammable and corrosive, making it dangerous and expensive to transport. Since the fuel can be extremely harmful if it is inhaled or touches the skin, it is handled by workers wearing inflatable suits.

    The new rocket fuel, dubbed AF-M315E, is far more benign; it is stored in glass jars and has been described as less toxic than caffeine.

    The propellant is an energetic ionic liquid that evaporates more slowly and requires more heat to ignite than hydrazine, making it more stable and much less flammable.Its main ingredient is hydroxyl ammonium nitrate, and when it burns, it gives off nontoxic gasses like water vapor, hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

    Importantly, M315E is safe enough to be loaded into a spacecraft before it goes to the launch pad, which would cut the time and cost of ground processing for a vehicle headed for space.

    "In today's world you cannot and do not want to load a spacecraft with hydrazine and ship it," said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

    Udall, a Democrat, said the new propellant will cause less harm to the environment, boost fuel efficiency and pave the way for more complex launches.

    "I don't know what there isn't to like in there," he told reporters Tuesday.
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    Hydrazine has been the number one propellant for orbital maneuvering and attitude control. Unfortunately it is extremely toxic and corrosive. Why does this effect you? Well they don't mention it in the article, but a lot of satellites and upper stages eventually end up falling out of orbit down to earth. They mostly land in the ocean, but occasionally hit ground.
    That's nice.

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    Proud Pokeservative! 97SaturnSL1's Avatar
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    Default Re: Environmentally Friendly Rocket Propellant Tested

    [QUOTE=TheMissingno.;4814793]
    Hydrazine has been the number one propellant for orbital maneuvering and attitude control. Unfortunately it is extremely toxic and corrosive. Why does this effect you? Well they don't mention it in the article, but a lot of satellites and upper stages eventually end up falling out of orbit down to earth. They mostly land in the ocean, but occasionally hit ground.
    Well that not the worst thing that has been dumped in the ocean...

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    Registered User Mamasoftshellturtle's Avatar
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    Default Re: Environmentally Friendly Rocket Propellant Tested

    At least it's one less toxic chemical to be put in the ocean and air.
    Amyda Nakornsrithammarajensis

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    TheMissingno.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Environmentally Friendly Rocket Propellant Tested

    A little bit of background for anyone who is interested. There are two reasons why hydrazine and its derivatives are so useful. One is because it is what's known as a "hypergolic" propellant. This means that it automatically ignites when mixed with another chemical as opposed to requiring an ignition source. This makes it extremely reliable for things like orbital adjustments and reaction control systems. The second reason is because it's liquid at room temperature. During the Cold War it was often used as fuel for intercontinental ballistic missiles because of the difficulty of storing cryogenic fuels for long periods of time. Fortunately their use for this purpose has been phased out because we have much better solid fuels these days which can be stored pretty much indefinitely and remain reliable.

    This new fuel is a lot more stable, which means it requires a higher temperature to burn. That means that the nozzles will have to be redesign, but I think it's worth the benefits.
    That's nice.

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