NASA has issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA, NNM12ZZP03K) seeking technology demonstration proposals for green propellant alternatives to the highly toxic fuel hydrazine. As NASA works with US companies to open a new era of access to space, the agency seeks innovative and transformative fuels that are less harmful to the environment.
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.
Propellants that greatly reduce the handling hazards of hydrazine have been under development for many years and have been termed “green propellants”, a general name for a family of propellants (liquid, solid, mono- or bi-propellants, hybrids) which offer safer handling conditions and lower environmental impact.
Beyond decreasing environmental hazards and pollutants, promising aspects of green propellants also include reduced systems complexity, fewer operational hazards, decreased launch processing times and increased propellant performance.
NASA is seeking demonstrations of a hydrazine alternative in a storable liquid monopropellant chemical propulsion implementation relevant to at least one of the following applications: in-space reaction control propulsion; in-space primary propulsion; launch vehicle reaction control propulsion; and launch vehicle power generation. Proposals may address more than one application and may also include bipropellant implementations as an extension of the base monopropellant system.
NASA also desires demonstrations of complete propulsion and power generation systems including such items as engines, tanks, valves, injectors, igniters, thrust chambers, feed and control systems. Demonstrations may include one or more thrust and/or power generation classes.
The candidate technologies must be mature, exhibiting a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of at least 5 at the time of proposal submission, and the proposed demonstration must raise the technology readiness of the new capability, to TRL 7 or higher, such that infusion into the critical path for future missions may occur immediately following successful demonstration.
Maturing a space technology, such as green propellants, to mission readiness through relevant environment testing and demonstration is a significant challenge from a cost, schedule and risk perspective. NASA has established the Technology Demonstration Missions Program to perform this function, bridging the gap between laboratory confirmation of a technology and its initial use on an operational mission.
NASA invites any capable domestic organization, of any type, to respond to this solicitation. Participation by non-US organizations is generally welcome, but subject to NASA’s policy on no exchange of funds. However, as specified by law (Public Law 112-55, Section 539(a)), proposals must not include bilateral participation, collaboration, or coordination with China or any Chinese-owned company or entity, whether funded or performed under a no-exchange-of-funds arrangement.
NASA anticipates making one or more awards in response to this solicitation, with no single award exceeding $50 million. Final awards will be made based on the strength of proposals and availability of funds. The deadline for submitting proposals is 30 April.
High performance green propulsion has the potential to significantly change how we travel in space. NASA’s Space Technology Program seeks out these sort of cross-cutting, innovative technologies to enable our future missions while also providing benefit to the American space industry. By reducing the hazards of handling fuel, we can reduce ground processing time and lower costs for rocket launches, allowing a greater community of researchers and technologists access to the high frontier.—Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program
The Technology Demonstration Missions Program is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.