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Alternative Propellants

Alternative Propellants for Space Propulsion

Airbus Safran Launchers working areas in the field of alternative propellants for space propulsion.

The need for non-toxic or green propellants is increasing not only due to the fact that classical, hydrazine based propulsion systems are facing legislative regulations but also because non-toxic alternatives can offer significant economic benefits. As the main European supplier of space propulsion systems, Airbus Safran Launchers has a vital interest in playing an active role in the development and industrialisation of components and propulsion systems using non-toxic propellants.

Applications and Technologies

  • Access to Space (Ariane 5, Vega, Rokot, Future launchers)
  • Orbital Propulsion (e.g. Communications, Geo-information, Weather forecasting, Navigation, Space exploration)
  • Human Space flight (e.g. ISS, Columbus, ATV)
  • Security and Defence
  • Space Tourism

 

 

Currently there is no generic replacement for hydrazine with a single green propellant. Therefore, several options are considered when the entire field of space propulsion with respect to the short, mid and long term future, where Airbus Safran Launchers is involved.


Basically the mission requirements can be divided in two areas: short term missions with a maximum of some days of operations (typically for launcher propulsion) and long term missions with lifetimes up to and beyond 15 years (satellite propulsion). For orbital propulsion in GEO an additional trend towards an increased market share of electrical propulsion is considered.

Alternative Propellant Working Areas

In a first priority the replacement of hydrazine as a monopropellant is regarded keeping in mind that there is also a need for an alternative to the even higher toxic MMH used on bipropellant systems. In order to be able to select the best technology ASL considers the following main technologies and their impact on the different propulsion systems:

 

  • Ammonium Dinitramide (ADN) based propellants that successfully demonstrated space heritage on the PRISMA satellite and where ASL has a strong teaming with the Swedish Inventor company ECAPS.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) as a monopropellant and in hybrid mode.
  • GOX / GH2 propellants produced via water electrolysis
  • Ionic liquids to replace hypergolic bipropellant's MON / MMH .
  • Furthermore, other technologies are being assessed as for example HAN based propellants.

Qualification of a Green Solution for a Small LEO Platform

Together with our partner ECAPS we are currently qualifying their ADN based  LMP-103S technology to be a fully exchangeable propulsion system solution for a small LEO platform.

Development of a Fully ALM manufactured H2O2 Thruster:

Airbus Safran Launchers recently completed a test series with newly developed 3D rocket engines. These engines are made out of only two parts and were printed in one day.

 

The use of 3D printing or Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) significantly reduced development time and development cost: the new engine, a reaction control thruster for rockets only incorporates in one part the injector, heat barrier and mounting interface and in the second part the chamber and the canted nozzle. A comparable classical engine would need more than 10 times more parts with subsequent effort in joining these parts together.