Ball Aerospace and Aerojet Rocketdyne have met the first milestone in demonstrating a more environmentally friendly spacecraft fuel by completing an end-to-end checkout of the 22 Newton thruster required for NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM).
Ball is leading an industry and government team that will develop and fly the GPIM to demonstrate a high-performance, non-toxic fuel alternative to conventional hydrazine. This will bridge the gap between characterizing the functionality of an integrated propulsion system, and the technology development needed for eventual use of green propellant in space.
The milestone is significant because the 22 Newton thruster will fire simultaneously along with four smaller 1N thrusters to initiate orbit inclination changes and altitude changes. It is also critical for GPIM’s eventual de-orbit upon mission completion.
“The successful first firing of the thruster proves we have the right technology for the mission and are on track for flight development,” said Civil Space and Technologies Vice President and General Manager of Ball, Jim Oschmann. “Ball and Aerojet Rocketdyne are demonstrating the innovation needed to develop a fully domestic green propellant solution for the next generation of space flight.”
As the prime contractor and principal investigator, Ball collaborates with a team of co-investigators from Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA Glenn Research Center, NASA Kennedy Space Center and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, with additional mission support from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Kirkland Air Force Base.
This is the first time the nation will use a spacecraft to test green propellant technology. The mission propellant, a Hydroxyl Ammonium Nitrate (HAN) fuel/oxidizer blend, or AF-M315E, offers nearly 50 percent better performance when compared to traditional hydrazine. Green fuel alternatives also reduce environmental impact and operational hazards, improve launch processing capabilities, increase payload capacity, enhance spacecraft maneuverability and make longer duration missions possible.
"This thruster test is a crucial step toward infusing this green spacecraft propulsion technology into a wide range of government and commercial missions,” said Roger Myers, Aerojet Rocketdyne executive director Electric Propulsion and Integrated Systems. “Its applications are diverse and its impact on performance will make green propellant a leading choice for future space missions.”