Scientists Develop New Safe Fuel For Satellites—Report

The world’s 1st green propellant for satellite usage will be deployed later down this month. The launch would be via SpaceX’s Falcon rocket. The fuel is AFM-315, developed 2 decades ago as possible alternative for hydrazine. If it’s found successful, this could increase efficiency rates in satellites, reduce satellite deployment period and reduce safety checklists for handling and storing satellite fuel. This would also aid extraterrestrial satellite activities.

Hydrazine exposure can ruin one’s life. Safety infrastructure, SCAPE suits are required to handle it. AFM-315 requires only a pump and lab coats. Chris McLean swears by its safety. He is the lead for this mission. Hydrazine has a similar consistency to water. Propellant AFM-315 has viscous properties though. Its density could increase efficiency and storage by 50%, compared to hydrazine.

Add to this the information that AFM-315 does not freeze. Due to it being a type of liquid salt, when it reaches extremely cold temperatures, it transforms into a glass-like structure. It doesn’t expand like hydrazine or ice. This feature is useful for prevention of storage containers and fuel lines from cracking when under duress. Its transition point happens to be low as well, therefore heating is not required. This means more power for other systems aboard the satellite.

AFM-315 has had to undergo an arduous journey from creation to launch. AFRL developed it in 1998, meant as a rocket fuel alternative. However, high combustion temperatures made it unviable. However, by the end of the 2000s, materials were strong enough to overcome this handicap. No company wished to risk going with a new propellant, therefore, requiring it to be proven in orbit for widespread adoption. This led NASA to launch its mission. Slated to begin form 2015, SpaceX delays affected its testing. Now, it will fly aboard Falcon Heavy for space navigation testing. It is fitted with various thrusters capable of testing AFM-315 propellants. Its mission will last 13 months, and various abilities will be tested.

Customers are interested if all goes well. AFM-315 would be useful while exploring colder regions in our solar system, aiding green initiatives as well.

About: Akash Gokhe