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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.