Thursday, August 21, 2014

GPIM spacecraft to validate use of "green" propellant

Artist rendition of NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) that will demonstrate and test the capabilities of a high-performance, non-toxic, “green” fuel on orbit. 

Credit: Image courtesy of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

Milestone progress is being made in readying NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) for launch in 2016, a smallsat designed to test the unique attributes of a high-performance, non-toxic, "green" fuel on orbit.

The GPIM marks the first time the United States will use a spacecraft to test green propellant technology, thereby showcasing the innovation needed to develop a fully domestic, green propellant solution for the next generation of space flight.

GPIM is a Technology Demonstration Mission made possible by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and draws upon a government-industry team of specialists.

"The GPIM project symbolizes what we do best in STMD," said Timothy Chen, program executive for Technology Demonstration Missions at NASA Headquarters.

"We invest in break-through technologies that will fundamentally change the way industry does things."

"We enable critical technologies such as the green propellant to buy down the risk of development so that NASA, industry and other government agencies can use the technology as close to off-the-shelf as possible."

"The GPIM project has continued to make significant progress towards proving a mission-capable green alternative to mono propellant hydrazine thrusters."

The propellant and new propulsion technology offer several advantages for future commercial, university, and government satellites, such as longer mission durations, additional maneuverability, increased payload space, and simplified launch processing.

Alternative fuel
The propellant, a Hydroxyl Ammonium Nitrate fuel/oxidizer mix, also is known as AF-M315E. This fuel may replace the highly toxic hydrazine and complex bi-propellant systems in-use today.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado is the prime contractor for GPIM and is leading the demonstration of the alternative fuel for future space vehicles.

"Green fuel is not only great in terms of handling and safety, it is also a very high-performance rocket fuel," said Chris McLean, principal investigator for GPIM at Ball Aerospace.

"It opens the mission trade space for expanded science operations and/or increased durations."

The green propulsion system will fly aboard the tried-and-true Ball Configurable Platform 100 spacecraft bus, a cost-saving approach, McLean added, since this is the third build of this bus.

The AF-M315E fuel for GPIM was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The propellant offers nearly 50 percent higher performance for a given propellant tank volume compared to a conventional hydrazine system.

Credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Ball Aerospace technicians use specialized equipment to build the GPIM satellite so that the space vehicle instruments and thrusters align perfectly with the payload interface. 

Credit: Courtesy of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

GPIM team
The GPIM is among several other payloads to be lofted in 2016 by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster.

GPIM team co-investigators also include NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, with additional mission support from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The GPIM effort is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

"One of the things that I love about technology demonstration missions is that for a relatively low dollar amount we are capable of doing significant technology advancements," said McLean of Ball Aerospace. "Everybody on the program is contributing to the success of GPIM."

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