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article imageNASA will test 'green' fuel in Falcon Heavy mission next week

By Karen Graham     Jun 17, 2019 in Technology
SpaceX's upcoming Falcon Heavy mission next week will not only be testing a new "green" propellant, but it will be carrying 20 satellites and materials that will support the Deep Space Atomic Clock as well as two additional experiments.
In a press conference last week, NASA detailed all the missions in the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch scheduled for June 24 at 11:30 p.m. EDT.
There are four unique NASA technology missions aboard the June 2019 SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch of the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Test Program-2 (STP-2), which includes 20 satellites. Let's look at three of the missions.
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida  on February 6 ...
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 6, 2018, on its demonstration mission
JIM WATSON, AFP/File
Green Propellant Infusion Mission
NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) is a small spacecraft the size of a mini-refrigerator - packed with "green technology." GPIM will hopefully prove a sustainable and efficient approach to spaceflight. The mission will test a low toxicity propellant and compatible systems in space for the first time.
This technology could improve the performance of future missions by providing for longer mission durations using less propellant. The alternative propellant was developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Edwards Air Force Base in California
The non-toxic propellant is a hydroxylammonium nitrate fuel/oxidizer mix called AF-M315E, an alternative to the highly toxic and corrosive hydrazine fuel commonly used by spacecraft today. The new fuel is 45 percent denser than hydrazine, meaning more can be stored in containers of the same volume.
Chris McLean, principal investigator for GPIM at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, the primary contractor for the GPIM Mission said, "During the 13-month test period in orbit, we'll be running basically four series of experiments with the propulsion," reports Space.com.
A Ball Aerospace engineer performs final checks before the spacecraft carrying the GPIM mission is s...
A Ball Aerospace engineer performs final checks before the spacecraft carrying the GPIM mission is shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch processing.
Ball Aerospace/NASA
Dayna Ise, the technology demonstration missions program executive in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate also pointed out that the new propellant is very safe for humans, adding, "Oh, and you can send it through FedEx, so it's safe enough to be FedExed around the country."
Actually, the "green" fuel is closer to a lovely "peach" color. The propellant will utilize a set of thrusters that fire in different scenarios to test engine performance and reliability. Planned on-orbit maneuvers also include attitude control demonstrations, spacecraft pointing and hold, inclination change and orbit lowering.
"It's important that we develop technology that increases protections for launch personnel and the environment, and that has the potential to reduce costs," Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
JPL’s Deep Space Atomic Clock will fly aboard the General
Atomics Electromagnetic Systems Orbital...
JPL’s Deep Space Atomic Clock will fly aboard the General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems Orbital Test Bed satellite as a hosted payload.
NASA/JLP
Deep Space Atomic Clock
Since the 1950s, the gold standards for timekeeping have been ground-based atomic clocks. They are also the cornerstone of deep space navigation for most space missions because of their fundamental role in navigation measurements.
The Deep Space atomic clock will be run from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and will be a demonstration of a super-precise atomic clock in low Earth orbit. Jill Seubert, Deep Space Navigator for NASA, explained that "this is the world’s first ion-based atomic space clock. It’s about 50 times more stable than the GPS atomic clocks we use," reports Tech Crunch.
This is an important technology for future space travel. Right now, we have to navigate with clocks on Earth because clocks onboard spacecraft are not very accurate. The new Deep Space Atomic Clock has been shrunk to about the size of a gallon of milk, making it very easy to be placed aboard a spacecraft.
The atomic clock mission is a research mission and the first space test of this technology. All the testing will take place in low-Earth orbit. The mission will hopefully show that Deep Space Atomic Clock-based navigation can also be used to travel to locations so far away that two-way communication just isn’t feasible or possible.
Two giant belts of radiation surround Earth. The inner belt (red) is dominated by protons and the ou...
Two giant belts of radiation surround Earth. The inner belt (red) is dominated by protons and the outer one (blue) by electrons. The space between the two belts is sometimes called the "slot."
JHUAPL, NASA, recoloured by cmglee
Space Environment Testbed
The Space Environment Testbeds (SET) Project will fly through what is called the "slot." medium Earth orbit between two radiation belts. The purpose of the mission is to determine whether this region of space has less radiation than lower-Earth-orbit space.
If the "slot" does have significantly less radiation, this could make it a prime locale for navigation and communication satellites that are negatively affected by the radiation present in low Earth orbit.
NASA Heliophysics Division Director Nicky Fox explained that there will be four different kinds of hardware, designed to demonstrate how they perform under exposure to radiation.
Besides reducing the uncertainties involving the radiation environment and its effects on spacecraft and their payloads, the mission will help in improving design and operations guidelines, as well as test protocols.
More about NASA, green propellant, falcon heavy mission, catalyst technology, AFM315E
 
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