NASA's successful green rocket fuel test could revolutionize spaceflight

A non-toxic propellant alternative to monopropellant hydrazine created by the US Air Force Research Laboratory in California has been validated for use in spacecraft by NASA. First known as AF-m315E and now called Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT), this propellant can be used in the place of toxic hydrazine in a variety of spacecraft.

The validation work is taking place under NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission, also called GPIM, which launched around one year ago. This ASCENT propellant is a 'green' alternative to existing toxic options, but it and its related propulsion system have never actually been used before. According to NASA, this is the first time ASCENT has been proven as suitable for future space missions.

According to NASA, ASCENT doesn't require a separate oxidizer in order to burn; it is pink-colored, safer to handle and use, and doesn't require the full protective suits worn when handling hydrazine. This also makes ASCENT less expensive to deal with compared hydrazine, plus it offers overall higher performance.

The lower cost and higher performance pave the way for space missions that will be able to last longer or travel farther, the space agency says, assuming those future spacecraft are equipped with the hardware necessary to use the new type of 'green' propellant. That's where NASA's GPIM testing comes in.

At this point in time, NASA has wrapped up nearly all of the tech demonstration objectives related to proving that ASCENT can be used for its space missions, as well as commercial airline launches. NASA plans a Lunar Flashlight mission that will involve a small spacecraft that uses the propellant.