NASA wants green rocket fuel

NASA wants a green alternative to the ubiquitous hydrazine, but will it have enough money to develop it?

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NASA today said it was looking to for technology that could offer green rocket fuel alternatives to the highly toxic fuel hydrazine used to fire up most rockets today.

According to NASA: "Hydrazine is an efficient and ubiquitous propellant that can be stored for long periods of time, but is also highly corrosive and toxic. It is used extensively on commercial and defense department satellites as well as for NASA science and exploration missions. NASA is looking for an alternative that decreases environmental hazards and pollutants, has fewer operational hazards and shortens rocket launch processing times."

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NASA said it expects such green fuels would decrease environmental pollutants nut also reduce propulsion systems complexity, create fewer operational hazards, decrease launch processing times and increase performance.  

Of course creating and testing such fuels takes money and time.  NASA noted it expects to make multiple contract awards for the technology with no single award exceeding $50 million.

This isn't the first trip down the green fuel lane NASA has made. In 2009 the agency and the Air Force said they had successfully launched a 9ft rocket 1,300 feet into the sky powered by aluminum powder and water ice.

Aluminum powder and water ice, or ALICE, has the potential to replace some liquid or solid propellants and is being developed by Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University to possibly replace liquid or solid rocket propellants. 

Aside from the environmental impact ALICE could be manufactured in distant places like the moon or Mars, instead of being transported to distant locations at high cost, researchers said

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In a paper scientists said aluminum-water combustion has been studied since the  1960s as a viable propellant for propulsion since the mixture's reaction liberates a large amount of energy during combustion as well as green exhaust products.

Currently, propellants used for Earth to orbit and orbit-to-orbit missions are expensive. Thus, there is quite a need for new-generation propellants which can be used in the booster stage as well as possess characteristics which make them storable in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). ALICE reportedly has a toothpaste-like consistency, and is cooled to -30° C (-22° F) 24 hours before flight, researchers said. 

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