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Aerojet Rocketdyne exec says SmallSats likely to be first adopters of green fuel

15 August 2014

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Aerojet Rocketdyne anticipates the first users of the "green fuel" hydrazine alternative AF-M315E will be SmallSat manufacturers. The company recently completed testing a 1-newton engine designed for attitude control at the company's new green propulsion test facility. Findings from these tests have expanded the number of missions for which the fuel is well suited.

"When you control a small satellite, you need to be able to fire your rocket engine in very small pulses so that you get accurate control," Roger Myers executive director, advanced in-space programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne told Via Satellite. "We demonstrated the pulse duration and frequency required and also the number of pulses. We greatly exceeded the total number of pulses and the total duration of hot firings. What that means is we can do the mission that we're planning and many other missions."

The United States Air Force Research Lab at Edwards Air Force Base in California created AF-M315E as an alternative to the corrosive and highly toxic fuel hydrazine. While hydrazine is one of the most noxious substances used in the satellite industry, AF-M315E stands on the very opposite of the Lethal Dose 50 (LD50) spectrum. The green fuel is comparable in toxicity to caffeine or drinking too much water (not that consumption is encouraged). The propellant has been in development for more than 15 years now and is readying for the first launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy in late 2015.

NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM), built by Ball Aerospace, will demonstrate AF-M315E in-orbit, with Ball software evaluating performance. According to Ball, the green fuel offers roughly 10 percent better fuel efficiency than hydrazine, and is 40 percent more dense. This combination of higher density and specific impulse translates to a 50 percent improvement in performance.

Source: Satellite Today

Image credit: Aerojet Rockeydyne - Testing the new fuel

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