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Aerojet Rocketdyne awarded DoD contract to research next-generation green propellants for rockets and missiles; follow-ons to AF-M315E

Aerojet Rocketdyne was awarded a contract to research and to develop environmentally sustainable monopropellants and gas generators for rocket and missile propulsion and Divert Attitude Control Systems. The company is working with the US Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center; the US Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base; and the US Army Medical Command to develop a new family of high-performing liquid propellants. The effort is funded through the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, an office of the Department of Defense.

Under the three-year contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Redmond, Washington team will lead the effort to conduct small-scale testing of potential monopropellant candidates in the laboratory, scaling up likely candidates in the Sacramento Chemical Synthesis Laboratory, then performing subscale thruster testing to select the most promising ones for future research. Parallel efforts will ensure that these compositions are safe to handle and leave a minimal environmental footprint.

As part of its work with next-generation propellants, Aerojet Rocketdyne recently finalized flight designs for propulsion systems that use the Air Force-developed propellant AF-M315E, which will fly on the NASA Green Propellant Infusion Mission program in 2016.

An Hydroxyl Ammonium Nitrate fuel/oxidizer blend, AF-M315E is an innovative, low-toxicity monopropellant developed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and is a high-performance, green alternative to hydrazine.

AF-M315E has significantly reduced toxicity levels compared to hydrazine, making it easier and safer to store and handle. It also requires fewer handling restrictions and potentially shorter launch processing times, resulting in lowered costs.

AF-M315E also is expected to improve overall vehicle performance. It boasts a higher density than hydrazine, meaning more of it can be stored in containers of the same volume. In addition, it delivers a higher specific impulse, or thrust delivered per given quantity of fuel, and has a lower freezing point, requiring less spacecraft power to maintain its temperature.

A 2010 evaluation of AF-M315E by the USAFRL reported that:

The results from AF-M315E indicate that a >50% improvement in propulsion system performance over hydrazine is achievable while simultaneously providing a safer environment for the general public, ground personnel, crews and flight participants.

The green propellants developed by through this new Aerojet contract would provide options for future spiral upgrades to the technology being flown next year. Aerojet Rocketdyne is also a leader in green bipropellant, solid and gelled propellants.

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