. 24/7 Space News .
NASA pursues greener, more efficient spacecraft propulsion
by Paul Brinkmann
Washington DC (UPI) Jun 14, 2021

NASA and the space industry will conduct several missions over the next year to test more efficient, environmentally friendly spacecraft, including a non-toxic propellant and solar power.

The rapid expansion of private spaceflight, along with planned missions to the moon and Mars, has prompted a need for easier handling of spacecraft and their fuel, Jeff Sheehy, NASA's chief engineer for space technology, said in an interview.

The industry traditionally relied on dangerous chemicals such as hydrazine, which has toxic fumes, or liquefied oxygen, which has to be supercooled and is highly explosive. But new fuels without such risks have lower handling costs and improved safety, Sheehy said.

"Everybody wants to build their own small satellite these days, but there are few places in the country where you can handle toxic hydrazine," he said.

"On the other hand, anybody can store and handle the green propellant that we've used, and so that opens up the whole field really to a much wider range of potential users."

NASA tested a new fume-free fuel known as ASCENT -- Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-toxic Propellant -- in 2019 on an experimental satellite, the GPIM. The experiment was a success, allowing the small spacecraft to maneuver as a hydrazine-fueled craft would.

NASA plans to use the same cleaner fuel in a tiny craft that will be sent to the moon on the scheduled Artemis I mission called the Lunar Flashlight later this year. The mission would be one of several to hunt for water ice on the moon.

"Lunar Flashlight will broaden the demonstrated applicability of the fuel," Sheehy said.

Another green fuel experiment just concluded successfully in space using only water for fuel, he said. That was an experimental craft called Hydros by Seattle-area company Tethers Unlimited, which was launched on a SpaceX rocket from Florida in January.

The spacecraft employed electrolysis to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen and used those elements for fuel. The company considers the experiment a success, Rob Hoyt, the president and CEO, said in an interview.

"There's a market for Hydros for certain types of missions, and it can be scaled to handle various sizes of spacecraft," Hoyt said.

While the Air Force Research Laboratory developed the non-toxic ASCENT fuel, rocket engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne builds engines that use it.

The Sacramento-based company also makes a line of smaller engines that use the new propellant and small amounts of hydrazine, Joe Cassady, executive director of space, said in an interview.

"ASCENT actually gets better performance in small spacecraft than hydrazine does. And that's been sort of a serendipitous finding that we learned during testing and demonstration," Cassady said.

Despite better performance, the non-toxic fuel burned much hotter than hydrazine, which required more expensive, heat-resistant materials in the GPIM engine, Cassady said.

Because of that expense, Aerojet Rocketdyne has developed new fuels that are less toxic than pure hydrazine, but burn slightly cooler and allow construction of less expensive engines, he said. Eventually, Cassady hopes the company can deliver fueled spacecraft engines through standard shipping.

Such fuels are ideal for small or even tiny satellites, known as CubeSats, that are being launched into space in growing numbers to conduct experiments, Cassady said.

Solar electric thrusters also offer an alternative to toxic fuels, according to NASA.

NASA recently awarded a new $124,000 contract to Colorado-based ExoTerra Resource to develop an upper stage for a rocket mission that would use solar panels to charge electronic thrusters. Eventually, NASA wants to expand the use of such thrusters to deep space missions, according to the contract announcement.

"ExoTerra is excited to ... enable micro-satellites and micro-landers to reach ... the moon and interplanetary destinations from responsive small launch vehicles," ExoTerra's CEO Michael VanWoerkom said in a news release.

Solar sails, meanwhile, can move small, relatively inexpensive spacecraft by catching solar winds with the use of large mirrors, according to NASA.

Japan, NASA and the California-based non-profit Planetary Society have tested solar sails in 2010, 2011 and again in 2019.

NASA plans a much bigger solar sail test in 2025, the Solar Cruiser, which will spread out to 17,800 square feet -- about the size of six tennis courts. Solar Cruiser would orbit the sun and be used to detect solar flares, according to NASA's mission description.

"NASA and other organizations continue to pursue the development and demonstration of solar sails, which use the momentum from solar photons for propulsion," Sheehy said.

Related Links
Rocket Science News at Space-Travel.Com

Thanks for being there;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5+ Billed Monthly

paypal only
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal

DLR is creating the rocket fuels of the future
Munich, Germany (SPX) Apr 09, 2021
Sustainability and environmental compatibility are becoming increasingly important considerations in the space sector. In order to achieve these objectives, scientists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in Lampoldshausen are developing fuels for next-generation space applications. The focus is on application-related properties such as improved environmental compatibility, safety, behaviour at different temperatures and reduced costs. "Choosing the corre ... read more

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Orchids in orbit: Seeds tested in space

Boeing plans second Starliner capsule test flight in July

Sierra Space and Rhodium Scientific exploring viability of science operations on Sierra Space Life Habitat

Israel 'start-up nation' era may be ending: new figures

Turkey invites Russia to take part in construction of country's spaceport

Boost for UK space sector as new facility offers cheaper and greener rocket testing

Debris from carrier rocket drop safely

NASA pursues greener, more efficient spacecraft propulsion

Mars rover to move south after testing

China reveals photos taken by Mars rover

Perseverance Rover Begins Its First Science Campaign on Mars

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity flies for 7th time

Stringent training will help fulfill spacewalk mission

China in space for cooperation, not zero-sum race

First astronauts arrive at China's space station

Rocket blasts off carrying first Chinese crew to new space station

Voyage 2050 sets sail: ESA chooses future science mission themes

SES Renews Long-Term Relationship with Comcast Technology Solutions

South Australia startups target international space opportunities

Iridium announces Operation Arctic Lynx

G7 nations commit to the safe and sustainable use of space

Space sustainability rating to shine light on debris problem

Compact quantum computer for server centers

Meringue-like material could make aircraft as quiet as a hairdryer

Study of young chaotic star system reveals planet formation secrets

Researchers discover orbital patterns of trans-Neptunian objects

SpaceML.org aims to accelerate AI application in space science and exploration

Liquid water on exomoons of free-floating planets

Next stop Jupiter as country's interplanetary ambitions grow

First images of Ganymede as Juno sailed by

Leiden astronomers calculate genesis of Oort cloud in chronologically order

NASA's Juno to get a close look at Jupiter's Moon Ganymede

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.