NASA has granted $45 million to Ball Aerospace to develop a “green” propellent to hydrazine, the toxic fuel used in by rockets, satellites, and even manned spacecraft.


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NASA has granted $45 million to Ball Aerospace to develop a “green” propellent to replace hydrazine, the toxic fuel used in by rockets, satellites, and even manned spacecraft.

Today’s use of hydrazine fuel for rockets, satellites and spacecraft is pervasive. Hydrazine is an efficient propellant and can be stored for long periods of time, but it also is highly corrosive and toxic. NASA is seeking new, non-toxic high performance green propellants that could be safely and widely used by rocketeers, ranging from government to industry and academia. Green propellants include liquid, solid, mono- propellant, which use one fuel source, or bi-propellants, which use two, and hybrids that offer safer handling conditions and lower environmental impact than current fuels.

The “green” terminology is meaningless in this context and is probably a politically-correct gesture to higher ups in the Obama administration. Nonetheless, finding a financially viable replacement for hydrazine would be quite helpful, as its toxic nature adds a great deal of cost to the production of any space vehicle that uses it.

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7 comments

  • JGL

    A “green ” rocket propellent.

    What is that?

    I point again to the E-cat L.E.N.R. , why is no one picking this up, this clearly appears to be viable.

    If the president was a serious person related to green energy he would / should be all over this.

    The probable answer: There are still trillions of dollars burried in the ground in the form of oil and gas and the level of infrastructure

    investment and employment which would be disrupted if a technology like L.ow E.nergy N.uclear R.eaction would actually destabilize the

    world and the power that goes along with those interests.

    I would still appreciate Mr. Zimmerman looking into it and apply his knowledge and contact list to the issue.

    A statement by Andrea Rossi, inventor of the L.E.N.R. E-cat.

    “After the validation fo the Hot Cat made on July 16th we made today another Third Party Validation, with the Certificator: the results have been the same of the test made on July 16th. The power of the Hot Cat is 10kW. The maximum temperature we reached has been 1200 C. Of this validation will be made an independent report which will be published soon. This test has been performed in the Product Validation Process that we have asked after the Safety Certification. This test has been directed by an independent Nuclear Engineer who is leading the certification process of the industrial plants. We are extremely enthusiast of the work of today, because is the second time we get a third party validation in a month, getting the same results.”

  • Patrick

    I thought hydrazine was only used as an initiator/igniter on large rocket engines and as the fuel for medium station keeping reaction rockets on stuff like the shuttle.

    Smaller satellites are using ION rockets which use zenon as a fuel.

  • Tom Billings

    Hydrazine is so toxic, to say nothing of its usual Nitrogen Tetroxide oxidizer, that if the shuttle’s takeoff load of reaction control propellant were placed in the warhead of a ballistic missile, it would be regarded as a weapon of mass destruction under current treaties.

    Further, Hydrazine makes development, assembly, integration and disposal more difficult, because of all the precautions that must be taken in these activities when Hydrazine is aboard.

    Further, there is already a “green” monopropellant approved for testing at the ISS, …NOFBX (Nitrous Oxide Fuel Blend, Experimental) series propellants, with a claimed ISP of 266 at sea level and 325-340 in vacuum. Competition is a good thing, but I wonder how many low toxicity propellants NASA really needs when one works already. Note that Ball is getting more money than I can total for *all* the work Firestar Technologies did on NOFBX.

    I have noted before that if a new start-up needs an economic advantage to allow it to compete with SpaceX, the qualities claimed for NOFBX would, in a 2 stage launcher similar to Falcon 9, give parts counts and operational advantages that could well make them competitive with an established group, such as SpaceX is becoming.

  • Tom,

    Who manufactures and sells hydrazine to NASA? I am wondering if there might be some crony capitalism going on here to protect that producer over newer companies such as Firestar.

  • Joe

    A very interesting assertion.

    A nontoxic, non-cryogenic monopropellant with that kind of specific impulse (assuming the thrust to weight performance ratio was commensurate) would certainly be competitive with a kerosene/oxygen engine.

    Do you have any links to technical papers on the work done on the Nitrous Oxide Fuel Blend, Experimental?

    I would be very interested in reading them.

  • “I would be very interested in reading them.”

    Ditto. Please post those links here.

  • An update. I did a google search for Firestar Technologies. See this page at their website:

    http://www.firestar-tech.com/NOFBX-MP.html

    Lots of papers listed. No links however. I imagine they are available through a variety of library sources.

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