At the end of this month, a small satellite will fly riding on SpaceX rocket , the Falcon Heavy within the world’s first demonstration “green” rocket fuel in space. The satellite is flying on fuel AFM-315 developed by the BBC 20 years ago as an alternative to conventional satellites for the hydrazine. If successful, the AFM-315 can make satellites much more efficient, will reduce the deployment of the satellite from weeks to days and significantly reduce security requirements for the storage and handling of satellite fuels that will be good for people and the environment. Looking to the future, scientists are working on fuel, saying it will play an important role in facilitating the transactions with remote satellites from the ground.
What fuel satellites are flying?
Hydrazine is a volatile fuel which will ruin your day and maybe life if you are exposed to it. For fueling of the satellite you will need a lot of infrastructure security, including tight costumes SCAPE all over the body just to handle this material. AFM-315, on the other hand, is not more toxic than caffeine, therefore, you only need the lab coat and the pump. “We literally sat in the room with a plastic jug when filled companion,” says Chris McLean, Ball Aerospace engineer and project Manager of NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission.
Unlike hydrazine, which has the consistency of water, AFM-315 viscous. But the density of fuel will increase the “mileage” of the satellite by 50%, when compared to the same amount of hydrazine.
McLean said that one of the biggest advantages of AFM-315 is that it does not freeze. AFM-315 is a liquid salt, this means that at extremely low temperatures it undergoes a transition. It turns fuel into a fragile, glass-like solid, however, does not lead to expansion of the fuel, like frozen water or hydrazine. This attribute prevents the cracking of fuel pipes and storage tanks under load. In addition, its point of glass transition is extremely low, so the fuel needs to be heated on the satellite which usually is an energy-intensive process. McLean says that this will make energy available for other instruments or systems on the satellite that will open up new opportunities for missions on other planets.
But despite all its advantages, the way AFM-315 from concept to launch was a long one. First developed in the laboratory of the air force in 1998 as an alternative to satellite fuel, AFM-315 used is limited because of the high temperature of combustion, twice of hydrazine. Required exotic and expensive materials to prevent damage of the satellite. By the end of 2000-ies the cost of production of propulsion systems, able to withstand temperatures of combustion AFM-315, was low enough that they can be applied, but no company wanted to risk to fill their satellites experimental fuel. To AFM-315 engrafted in the satellite sector, says McLean, he had to show himself in orbit. Thus was born the mission of NASA’s “green fuel”.
Originally scheduled for launch in 2015, the mission of green fuels has experienced delays which prevented the development of rockets SpaceX Falcon Heavy. 24 Jun planned satellite launch with the Falcon Heavy and other cargo, including atomic clocks, tested for navigation in deep space.
Satellite bus with green fuel was developed by Ball Aerospace and is equipped with four engines with a power of 1 Newton and a single engine with a capacity of 22 Newton to be used for testing fuel AFM-315. During its 13-month mission, the satellite will enable the engines to perform orbital maneuvers such as orbit reduction, change of position or inclination, to test the effectiveness of a new rocket fuel.
McLean says that already have customers interested in using a green fuel, if the demonstration flight is successful. This means that the satellites will be able to perform operational flying around the Earth within 18 months after the demonstration. Looking to the future, McLean says that the AFM-315 can be especially useful for the study of cold regions of the Solar system, such as the Martian poles.
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