Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM)
Artist rendering of the Ball smallsat, set to carry the Green Propellant Infusion Mission to space for flight-testing in 2015.
"There are no passengers on spaceship Earth. We are all crew."
-- Marshall McLuhan, 20th-century Canadian philosopher

Efficiency has long been a key driver in our nation's journey to space. We seek hardware, system and power solutions that optimize performance, giving us the greatest value for our investment. But in the 21st century, additional factors help drive our mission of space exploration -- factors closer to home. Now we seek "green" alternatives to the historically efficient but environmentally hazardous propellants that have seen us to this point in our journey. Toxic, corrosive fuels like hydrazine, which have powered a variety of rockets, satellites and other spacecraft over the years, now are being superseded with new solutions -- ones that improve overall efficiency while also promising safer stewardship of the environment. The era of green propellants is upon us: more powerful, burning cleaner and still safely delivering new generations of explorers to destinations across the solar system.

The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) project will demonstrate the practical capabilities of AF-M315E, a high-performance green alternative to hydrazine. This innovative, low-toxicity propellant is expected to improve overall vehicle performance. It boasts a higher density than hydrazine, meaning more of it can be stored in containers of the same volume; it delivers a higher specific impulse, or thrust delivered per given quantity of fuel; and it has a lower freezing point, requiring less spacecraft power to maintain its temperature.

While all rocket fuels can be dangerous to handle without the proper safety precautions, AF-M315E is considerably easier and safer to store and handle than hydrazine, and will dramatically reduce costs and permit shorter launch processing times. NASA and its partners will always maintain the strictest safety standards for storage, transport and use of rocket propellants.

Led by Ball Aerospace Corp. of Boulder, Colo., the Green Propellant Infusion Mission project includes co-investigators from NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; Aerojet Corp. in Redmond, Wash.; and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Edward Air Force Base, Calif. Additional support is provided by NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., and the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M.

The GPIM payload is expected to fly to space aboard the Ball Configurable Platform, a compact small satellite set to be launched in 2015.

GPIM: Key Mission Facts
  • Hydrazine fuel is an efficient propellant used extensively in Earth-based and space applications, particularly to propel rockets, satellites and other spacecraft -- but its high level of toxicity and corrosiveness makes storing, handling and burning hydrazine a serious safety and environmental challenge.
  • The Green Propellant Infusion Mission project, set to be launched to orbit in 2015, will demonstrate and characterize an alternative to hydrazine -- a high-performance "green" propellant known as AF-M315E.
  • AF-M315E boasts low toxicity and easy handling. Its use is expected to improve vehicle performance, reduce costs and permit shorter launch processing times.
  • Planned orbital maneuvers to be tested include demonstrations of the attitude control system, changes in orbital inclination and orbit lowering.
  • The project is intended to bring AF-M315E and compatible tanks, valves and thrusters to an operational level for future NASA and commercial spaceflight missions.

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