Spaceflight Insider

NASA selects Aerojet Rocketdyne to mature development of green propulsion system

Green Propellant Infusion Mission GPIM Aerojet Rocketdyne NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) is scheduled to launch in late 2016. The mission will test AF-M325E, a high-performance, green alternative to hydrazine. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) is scheduled to launch in late 2016. The mission will test AF-M325E, a high-performance, green alternative to hydrazine. Image Credit: NASA

A green propulsion system is being developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne in a public-private partnership with NASA to mature the development of an MPS-130 CubeSat modular system, which will use a propellant known as AF-M315E.

The new technology, once developed, should both increase CubeSat in-space mission capabilities and provide a safer, higher performance and a more efficient alternative to systems using traditional hydrazine propellants.

MPS-130 cubesat modular propulsion system. Image Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

An artist’s rendition of the MPS-130 CubeSat modular propulsion system. Image Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

“We’re excited about this partnership with NASA to advance CubeSat propulsion with green propellants,” said Eileen Drake, CEO and president of Aerojet Rocketdyne. “There’s no doubt it will open exciting new doors in the private and public sectors for those seeking to increase the capability of nanosats and operate them more affordably and efficiently, and with safer propellants.”

The MPS-130 green propulsion system will give CubeSats increased capabilities similar to those of much larger satellites, such as extending mission life, maneuvering to higher and lower orbits and conducting complex close proximity operations such as formation flying. Under the agreement with NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne will deliver a fully integrated propulsion system for flight demonstration, as well as conduct development and validation testing.

AF-M315E, the green propellant that will be used by the MPS-130 propulsion system, is a liquid monopropellant that has a high density and is much safer to handle than hydrazine—a fuel currently employed on many launch vehicles and spacecraft. Because it is safer and easier to handle and store than hydrazine, launch processing times can be reduced, resulting in lowered costs. The propellant was developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

NASA selected Aerojet Rocketdyne for this project under the space agency’s “Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies” solicitation. The goal of the program is to enable private industry to develop and qualify crucial technologies for market, thus stimulating the commercial space industry while delivering technologies and capabilities needed for future NASA missions and commercial applications.

AF-M315E will be tested in space later this year during NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM). The GPIM payload will fly into space aboard a Ball Aerospace small satellite or “SmallSat.” During the test flight, researchers will order it to conduct orbital maneuvers to demonstrate the performance of the propulsion system during attitude control shifts, changes in orbital inclination, and orbital lowering.

Video courtesy of NASA


Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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