back to article How green is your ROCKET FUEL?

NASA is plotting the end of the hydrazine era, and has announced some successful tests of “green” propellants to replace it. Hydrazine, which has burned beneath bloody big rockets since World War Two, produces decent thrust, but it's toxic and difficult to handle. So, as the space-boffins explain here, a “green” alternative …

  1. Your alien overlord - fear me

    "Swedish chemical company Eurenco Bofors" - I wonder if they're related to the WW2 Bofors. Their claim to fame was to build excellent guns and sell to both the Allies and the Nazis.

    If they are the same company, will they be flogging their rocket juice to the Russian, Chinese and Indian space boffins as well?

    1. Chris Miller

      Not just guns

      During WW2 Sweden was known as "Hitler's unbombable ball-bearing factory".

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Not just guns

        Britain was buying ball bearings from Sweden too. Used Mosquitoes to fly them out. In fact for a short while Britain was buying Swiss Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns built from German steel...

        1. bitmap animal

          Re: Not just guns

          And we also used very fast boats navigating the small channel between Denmark. Some very ballsy people involved in those trips.

  2. MajorTom

    Fantastic...less toxic than hydrazine, easier to handle, higher density meaning longer lasting satellites, and presumably supports higher isp thrusters.

    What this stuff needs is a decent name!

    1. Duffy Moon

      I suggest Propellant 23

    2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Well its abbreviation is HAN (or at least, what it's based on). And it's a monopropellent. So, err... it's used in SOLO...

    3. Kharkov

      Hmm... A new name...

      Well, how about 'Up-Goer Juice'? No, even better, how about 'Bang-Bang Water'? Or, best of all, 'Super-Green, Extra-mean Go-Go Liquid'?

      Yes, I have been watching Idiocracy, how could you tell?

      1. Dr. Mouse

        Re: Hmm... A new name...

        Well, how about 'Up-Goer Juice'? ... Yes, I have been watching Idiocracy, how could you tell?

        I thought you were awaiting the release of "Thing Explainer" with as much excitement as I am

  3. Jan 0 Silver badge

    "We banged our way to the moon"

    NASA already has a near perfect green fuel for big rockets: Hydrogen and Oxygen. However, this is about fuels that need to be stored for long periods in space vehicles, while we wait for a solution dependent on pure energy.

    1. Kharkov

      Re: "We banged our way to the moon"

      "...near perfect green fuel..."

      Ah, no, not really. Yes, hydrogen burned with oxygen gives us clean, green water vapour, yes but...

      Making hydrogen for fuel is, sadly, a very ungreen process, with lots of CO2 released into the atmosphere during the manufacturing stage.

      And a smaller issue is, if someone spills kerosene all over you, you just need to a: change your clothes and have a shower (quickly!) and b: stay away from sparks, fires and whatnot. If someone spills (spill, as in, pour a liquid) hydrogen over you, it's fair to say that they've ruined your whole day.

      So it's a fuel that's green to make as well as use...

      1. DropBear

        Re: "We banged our way to the moon"

        "If someone spills (spill, as in, pour a liquid) hydrogen over you, it's fair to say that they've ruined your whole day."

        I have absolutely no idea why would you make such a ridiculous claim?!? Granted, hydrogen would be a bit colder but at that point I just don't think it would fundamentally change the outcome...

    2. TitterYeNot

      Re: "We banged our way to the moon"

      "NASA already has a near perfect green fuel for big rockets: Hydrogen and Oxygen"

      Agreed, a Hydrogen / Oxygen mixture makes an excellent propellant for getting a vehicle to orbit, as it ignites easily at launch, and once burning it stays lit (the Space Shuttle only experienced one major main engine failure in the entire programme, and that was a deliberate engine shutdown due to multiple sensor failures - even then the Shuttle still managed to abort to orbit, albeit a lower one than planned.)

      However, once in orbit with very little atmosphere and extremes of temperature, ignition of a Hydrogen / Oxygen mix becomes less reliable, so hypergolic fuels such as hydrazine derivatives are often used as they spontaneously ignite when mixed with nitrogen tetroxide i.e. no ignition mechanism required. This is particularly useful when short bursts of propulsion are required for small manoeuvres i.e. the thrusters they are talking about in this article. The Shuttle also used Hydrazine derivatives in its two Orbital Maneuvering System engines for orbital insertion and de-orbit burns.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A "one newton thruster"

    Isn't that a bit feeble?

    1. AdamT

      Re: A "one newton thruster"

      yes but these thrusters are just used for rotating the satellite and, I suspect (although I'm no rocket scientist) that, the 22N ones are for minor orbital changes. Basically these are just for pootling around (*) not for major course adjustments.

      (*) - I think the technical term is "station keeping"

  5. Rustident Spaceniak

    NASA is just playing catch-up again

    The LMP-103S propellant is already in use by the Swedish on their PRISMA satellite. It's a technology demonstration that apparently showed the stuff works, which in turn interested NASA enough to sample the Swedish liquor for themselves.

  6. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "toxic and difficult to handle."

    That's an understatment.

    $orkplace has an instrument off the first Ariane 5 launch (the one which famously, didn't) that was dug up from 8 feet down in a french Guyanian swamp and then thoroughly cleaned to get rid of the mud. It got returned to assess how well built it was.

    It's in a glass case because 20 years later it _still_ has enough trace hydrazine on it to be dangerous if touched.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: "toxic and difficult to handle."

      Hydrazine is a fluffy kitten compared to some of the things used as propellants.

      A wee dram of red fuming nitric acid anyone? No? How about a gulp of liquid fluorine?

      And then we get to the things that have been proposed as fuels, although no-one has been daft/brave enough to use. Fun things like the violently hypergolic chlorine tri-floride.

      (Bonus video of ClF3 setting fire to, well, everything.)

  7. AdamT

    Yes, but can you make water out of it?

    You know, if you're stuck on Mars, for example ...

  8. bitmap animal

    Space hardware to look at

    The Museum of Berkshire Aviation just south east of Reading is well worth a visit. It's a fairly small place but has so much oddball stuff and the exhibits are more accessible than most of the mainstream museum.

    It has a large part of a Chevaline ( our advanced version of the Polaris ) on display. From memory it is the Penetration Aids Carrier, the "top part" of the missile which is in space and drops off the warheads. You can see the quality of construction, it is quite stunning.

    (sorry for the non scientific descriptions..... Just get along to visit & support)

    Edited to add this link. I'm not affiliated, it's just a great place.

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