Hydrazine (aka, N2H4) is a fuel used as a monopropellant for satellite station-keeping motors. It’s also highly toxic, and costly, due to all the pesky environmental regulations associated with it. Currently, a clean, green alternative does not exist, but NASA would like to change that, having recently put out the call for demonstration proposals for green propellant alternatives to hydrazine.
Seeking “innovative and transformative fuels that are less harmful to our environment,” NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions Program broadens its focus with this announcement to include potential green space propellants. The NASA Demonstration Missions Program was developed in order to help take promising space technologies all the way from research to mission readiness through relevant environment testing and demonstration, reducing the risk associated with developing new space tech for American companies with an eye on the skies.
This announcement is consistent with NASA’s increasing focus on greening its operations (and the federal government’s increasing focus in that direction overall), as evidenced by a number of green moves it has made in other areas lately, including a focus on solar power for its next moon mission and for a “space tugboat” under development that can ferry satellites from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous Earth orbit. The agency has also awarded the largest prize in aviation history ($1.35 million) to the Taurus G4 electric airplane for winning the CAFE Green Flight Challenge, signaling its focus on more eco-friendly technologies as a defining feature of the future of space flight.
“High performance green propulsion has the potential to significantly change how we travel in space,” said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, in a statement. “NASA’s Space Technology Program seeks out these sort of cross-cutting, innovative technologies to enable our future missions while also providing benefit to the American space industry.”