Considering hydrazine-free satellite propulsion

ATV-4 fuelling in progress
14 November 2013

Whenever engineers fill up satellites with propellant, they put on spacesuit-like protective gear. That’s because hydrazine, while being highly energetic, is also extremely toxic.

Hydrazine has been the satellite monopropellant of choice for more than half a century, but that era might potentially be reaching its end.

Now ESA is seeking industrial bids to study how propulsion system hardware might best be requalified to work with an alternative, less toxic alternative.

In 2011 the European Commission’s Registration of Evaluation Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) framework legislation added hydrazine to its candidate list of “substances of very high concern”.

This step increases the risk that the use of hydrazine will be prohibited or restricted in the near- to mid-term. 

While ESA is pursuing possible exemptions for hydrazine for space uses, additional mitigation of this risk has been judged necessary, including the development of new ‘green’ propellants as a replacement for hydrazine and other high toxicity propellants along with associated hardware

In Europe, the most mature propellant option to serve as a hydrazine replacement is the High Performance Green Propulsion ‘LMP-103S’ – ammonium dinitrimide-based monopropellant – developed by Sweden’s ECAPS, part of the Swedish Space Corporation Group.

A 1 N thruster using LMP-103S has been developed to its ‘critical design review’, with follow-on developments of both the thruster and propellant in preparation. The next step is to consider the other hardware in the propulsion system.

The Agency accordingly has issued a new Invitation To Tender: ‘LMP-103S System/Component Qualification Needs Evaluation’. The main goal is to identify the tasks and approach needed to qualify associated propulsion system hardware for use with LMP-103S, focused on small monopropellant thrusters (from 1 N to 20 N).

The ITT package is accessible via ESA’s Electronic Mailing Invitation to Tender System (EMITS) for any registered company. If your company is not yet registered with EMITS, follow this link to find out how to register.

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