A New Type of Rocket Fuel: “Green” Propellant
SpaceX is currently in the process of relaunching the Falcon Heavy, the rocket famous for carrying the Tesla Roadster back in February of 2018. Only this time, there’s something a bit different about the mission. This launch will mark the first to be done utilizing a new type of fuel that may make space travel safer and less damaging to the environment, not to mention less costly.
A new “green” propellant is hoped to be an alternative to the caustic and toxic fuel that has been used in the past. If the launch is successful, it will have a massive impact on space travel.
What is “Green” Propellant and Why is it So Important?
“Green” propellant isn’t actually green in color, but rather, a beautiful salmon that gives the fuel a resemblance to a rosé wine. It’s called AF-M315E and it’s a hydroxyl ammonium nitrate fuel and oxidizer blend. It was developed two decades ago, but only now is it being tested for the first time.
What’s so unique about this propellant is that it boasts several advantages over the fuel that has been used all these years. For one thing, it’s far less toxic – in fact, it’s less toxic than a cup of coffee according to chemical analysts. This means that workers can handle it without worrying about any serious adverse effects.
Additionally, it’s far more cost-effective and efficient. It’s about 50 percent more efficient actually, capable of boosting the distance a rocket can travel significantly before it’s time to refuel. This is an important attribute as it reduces cost of space travel greatly overall. The reason why it’s so much more efficient in terms of distance is because it’s much denser than what was used before.
What Was Used Before?
The fuel of choice over the last few decades is hydrazine, and NASA has been relying on it heavily. While it’s perfectly capable of getting the job done, it’s got some problems. For one thing, it’s very expensive and not very efficient. Additionally, it’s highly toxic, both to the environment and to people who come into contact with the substance.
Hydrazine is so toxic that workers must wear pressurized hazmat suits if they’re going to handle it. Even with the suits on, accidents happen, making it a substance that’s concerning within the working environment. Besides being extremely toxic, it’s highly flammable.
Meanwhile, this new propellant is neither highly flammable nor highly toxic. And, of course, it’s far better for the environment, which is crucial as NASA has been under some fire lately from environmentalists.
What Does This Mean for the Future of Space Travel?
This new “green” propellant is being tested at the present moment, and it’s hoped that the mission will be successful. If the Falcon Heavy is capable of sustaining its mission on this fuel alone, it means that NASA can further test it in the months to come. NASA is searching for an alternative to hydrazine, and this fuel seems to be the most likely alternative. Besides being safer in every sense of the word, it can help NASA save a good deal of money on space travel.
Changing Space Travel for the Better
If this new rocket fuel proves to be effective, it will change space travel in a variety of ways. Time will tell if this “green” propellant has what it takes to handle the heavy demands of NASA spacecraft, but so far, things are looking very promising.