Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM)

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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

Through the Green Propellant Infusion Mission, or GPIM, NASA is developing a "green" alternative to conventional chemical propulsion systems for next-generation launch vehicles and spacecraft. The new green propellant will be an enabling technology for commercial spaceports operating across the U.S. With the green propellant, launch vehicle and spacecraft fuel loading will be safer, faster and much less costly. The "shirt sleeve" operational environment GPIM offers will change ground processing time from weeks to days. Building and operating satellites will be simplified.

NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., are collaborating on the Green Propellant Infusion Mission, which seeks to improve overall propellant efficiency while reducing the handling concerns associated with the highly toxic fuel, hydrazine. The space technology infusion mission also strives to optimize performance in new hardware, system and power solutions while ensuring the best value for investment and the safest space missions possible.

The Green Propellant Infusion Mission is scheduled to launch in mid 2016.

The GPIM project will demonstrate the practical capabilities of a Hydroxyl Ammonium Nitrate fuel/oxidizer blend, known as "AF-M315E." This innovative, low-toxicity propellant, developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is a high-performance, green alternative to hydrazine.

NASA and its partners always strive to maintain the strictest safety standards for storage, transport and use of rocket propellants. While all rocket fuels can be dangerous to handle without the proper safety precautions, AF-M315E has significantly reduced toxicity levels compared to hydrazine, making it easier and safer to store and handle. It also requires fewer handling restrictions and potentially shorter launch processing times, resulting in lowered costs.

AF-M315E also 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. In addition, it delivers a higher specific impulse, or thrust delivered per given quantity of fuel, and has a lower freezing point, requiring less spacecraft power to maintain its temperature.

The GPIM payload will fly to space aboard a Ball compact small satellite or "smallsat." During the test flight, researchers will conduct orbital maneuvers to demonstrate the performance of the propellant during attitude control shifts, changes in orbital inclination and orbit lowering.

Once proven in flight, the project will present AF-M315E -- and compatible tanks, valves and thrusters -- to NASA and the commercial spaceflight industry as a viable, effective solution for future green propellant-based mission applications.

The team is led by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., and includes Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, Calif.; the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory; the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; and two NASA field centers: NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

GPIM is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

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 mid 2016, 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.

Page Last Updated: January 16th, 2015
Page Editor: Brooke Boen