NASA selects “green” propellant technology demonstration mission


August 16, 2012

NASA is seeking a "green" alternative to hydrazine which, amongst other things, was used to power the Space Shuttle's auxiliary power units (APUs) (Photo: NASA)

NASA is seeking a "green" alternative to hydrazine which, amongst other things, was used to power the Space Shuttle's auxiliary power units (APUs) (Photo: NASA)

After putting out a call for technology demonstration proposals for non-toxic “green” propellant alternatives to highly-toxic hydrazine earlier this year, NASA has selected a mission proposed by a team led by Boulder, Colorado-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation. The mission, which is intended to bridge the gap between technology development and use of green propellant, is expected to be developed and flown in around three years, with NASA providing US$45 million and additional funds provided by the mission co-investigators.

The selection of the Green Propellant Infusion Mission proposal will see Ball and co-investigators from the Aerojet Corporation in Redmond, Washington, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at the Kirkland Air Force Base, NASA's Glenn Research and Kennedy Space Centers tasked with developing and flying a “high performance green propellant, demonstrating and characterizing in space the functionality of the integrated propulsion system."

Although the specifics have not yet been revealed, the green propellant can be a liquid, solid, mono-propellant, which uses one fuel source, a bi-propellant, which uses two, or a hybrid. However, it must be safer to handle and have lower environmental impact than currently used fuels.

"High performance green propellant has the potential to revolutionize how we travel to, from and in space," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "An effective green rocket fuel would dramatically reduce the cost and time for preparing and launching space missions while decreasing pollution and harm to our environment."

The Green Propellant Infusion Mission will be conducted as part of the Space Technology Program.

Source: NASA

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I really don't see Hydrazine and Dinitrogen tetroxide as rocket propellent as being that bad environmentally granted Hydrazine is highly toxic and corrosive but it is an industrial chemical and they won't stop making it if it stops being used as rocket fuel. Dinitrogen tetroxide (N204) is also highly toxic and corrosive has other uses than just as rocket propellent and they are both so reactive that they don't last long in the environment after a leak.


Interesting that they don't specify how long the propellant should be able to be stored in "ready to go" form. Also, they don't mention cryogenic fuels versus those that can be stored at room temperature.

Replacing hydrazine is a good idea, though.

Jon A.

I'm not sold on the idea of "green" propellant. Does being less toxic make up for requiring more fuel to lift it to orbit? Is a minor reduction in the use of two industrial chemicals greener than a entire orbital launch to test other propellents?

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