Ball Aerospace and Aerojet Rocketdyne say they 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).
This is the first time the US will use a spacecraft to test green propellant technology.
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 company says.
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 mission propellant, a Hydroxyl Ammonium Nitrate (HAN) fuel/oxidizer blend, or AF-M315E, has about a 50 percent better performance when compared to traditional hydrazine, Ball says. 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, according to the company.
The green propulsion system will fly aboard a Ball Configurable Platform (BCP) 100 spacecraft bus.
As the prime contractor and principal investigator, Ball is collaborating with a team of co-investigators from Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA Glenn Research Center, NASA Kennedy Space Center and the US Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, with additional mission support from the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Kirkland Air Force Base.
In April, Ball ranked among Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 2013 Best 100 Corporate Citizens. The annual list is based on an assessment of publicly available information in seven key categories including climate change.
The company has reduced its Climate Intensity Index (CII) by 4.8 percent, compared to a 2010 baseline, moving the company closer toward its 2015 greenhouse gas emission reduction goal of 10 percent, according to Ball’s updated sustainability data published in May.