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NASA Earth Space Transportation Science Technology

NASA Wants Green Rocket Fuel 185

Posted by samzenpus
from the save-the-earth-before-you-leave-it dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA is looking for technology that could offer green rocket fuel alternatives to the highly toxic fuel hydrazine used to fire up most rockets today. According to NASA: '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."
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NASA Wants Green Rocket Fuel

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  • God help us (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fnj (64210)

    NASA is wasting time and money on this crap?

    • by SomePgmr (2021234)
      I think they use hydrazine (nasty stuff I guess) in APU/EPSU's on aircraft too. I'd think a less awful alternative would be a good thing to have for more than just NASA.
      • by Lumpy (12016)

        They already have a "green" fuel. They used it in the Main stage of the Saturn V rocket.

        Kerosene + LOx = OMFG that is a LOT of Thrust!

        • Re:God help us (Score:5, Informative)

          by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:00AM (#38994061)
          Hydrazine isn't used for heavy lifting rockets. It's for monopropellant thrusters. Satellite positioning, lifting and attitude control. The shuttle manouvering thrusters (Until recent retirement). That sort of thing. Very important in moving satellites around once they are up there.
          • Re:God help us (Score:5, Interesting)

            by tibit (1762298) on Friday February 10, 2012 @09:10AM (#38994513)

            Doesn't it happen to be the propellant for the Dragon's thrusters -- used for launch escape, orbital maneuvering, attitude control, and perhaps even controlled descent. I don't see that last one panning out all that well: you probably don't want to step out from a Dragon capsule right after it touched down on Earth and breathe the fumes. There's always a bit of unburned stuff around, and it doesn't take much to make you sick AFAIK. Space Shuttle is a much bigger vehicle so it can support you hanging around until it's safe to egress -- just listen to NASA TV recordings from Shuttle landings and hear how long they stay after landing, doing checklists... On a Dragon there would be not much to do, and I don't know how much oxygen is left in the Spacecraft segment after landing -- i.e. how long can you stay put before popping the hatch; especially in emergency situations -- say somehow they blow a tank a-la Apollo 13 and need to get back ASAP, it'd be a sad thing to land safely just to get killed by hydrazine vapors... I'm sure they are considering all that, but it'd be interesting to read some documents giving a bit more detail to the procedures...

            • by 0123456 (636235)

              I don't see that last one panning out all that well: you probably don't want to step out from a Dragon capsule right after it touched down on Earth and breathe the fumes.

              Apollo used to burn off the remaining RCS fuel shortly before landing, so it's not an unknown practice.

              • Apollo used to burn off the remaining RCS fuel shortly before landing, so it's not an unknown practice.

                The Dragon will use the same OMS rockets during decent to slow and control itself. The Soyuz just has one big explosion before landing, the Dragon will be purging for some time. Therefore, the Dragon cannot just "burn off" the remaining hydrazine.

            • It's unlikely they'd ever run the life-support so close to the bone that the crew can't wait in the capsule for the fumes to dissipate. (But, worst case, it wouldn't be difficult to include some small oxygen tanks/masks to allow the crew to get far enough up-wind of the fumes, assuming they've landed too far away from the recovery team due to an emergency decent.)

              So even if this is a problem, it's not actually a problem.

          • Re:God help us (Score:5, Informative)

            by Migraineman (632203) on Friday February 10, 2012 @09:20AM (#38994607)
            Even more important - a hydrazine thruster is super-high-reliability. In space, pulling to the curb and calling AAA isn't an option (yet.) A liquid bi-propellant thruster is substantially more complicated than a hydrazine monopropellant one, and is more likely to have problems.

            "Green" is the modern equivalent of "Safety First," which is a load of crap except for the safety alarmists (i.e. safety equipment vendors.) Mike Rowe is spot on with "Safety Third." [mikeroweworks.com] I'd put Green at fourth. Every task has an attendant risk and cost. Environmental impact is a cost.

            I'm all for developing less-toxic solutions, but a hydrazine monopropellant thruster is damned effective. It also shifts the system risk to the ground handling crews, where we can deal with it (as opposed to shifting it to on-orbit failures.)
            • It also shifts the system risk to the ground handling crews, where we can deal with it (as opposed to shifting it to on-orbit failures.)

              I suppose the goal here is take that risk out of ground handling, not to have on-orbit failures...

          • by Muad'Dave (255648)

            Hydrazine isn't used for heavy lifting rockets.

            I'm not sure if you consider the Titan II,III, and IV series 'heavy lift' (I think you should), but they used a UDMH/hydrazine mix and nitrogen tetroxide and flew as recently as 2005 [wikipedia.org].

          • by jafac (1449)

            Yes, and actually, even though hydrazine is an awesome fuel, very high-performing, and reliable, the costs imposed on its use, due to the safety hazards, are one of the things that make spaceflight so freaking expensive. Think especially, about the precautions needed for decomissioning satellites or other space vehicles.

            The US shot a satellite down, a couple years ago, with an interceptor missile. This satellite was going to come down anyway - but the problem was, that this vehicle had failed, while it st

        • Re:God help us (Score:5, Informative)

          by SuperTechnoNerd (964528) on Friday February 10, 2012 @09:31AM (#38994685)
          "Kerosene + LOx = OMFG that is a LOT of Thrust!"
          Yes but you can't store LOX for long periods, It want's to boil off. Hydrazine will stay stable for a long time, and another important aspect of hydrazine is it's hypergolic properties. This makes the engines very very reliable and simple to build. Just mix hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide in a combustion chamber and it auto ignites. Or you can use a catalyst to break down the hydrazine, like in the shuttle APU. I know of no "green" propellents that can do this.
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Kerosene has hardly "green."

      • by drerwk (695572)
        Not on any commercial aircraft I'm aware of, and I'd be surprised if it was used on any aircraft at all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Going green already killed Columbia crew because the foam problems started when they moved away from a chlorofluorocarbon foaming agent. The EPA was willing to grant NASA an exception.

      • by realxmp (518717) on Friday February 10, 2012 @04:10AM (#38993239)
        I don't know if you've ever tried to obtain Halon lately but you'll find even if your system is still grandfathered it's nigh on impossible to get hold of, they've pretty much stopped making it. It's the same with the CFC's used by the shuttle's foam, being allowed to make it didn't mean the raw components are easy to come by. If they'd wanted to continue using CFCs they'd have to had to pay for a supply line to be available and maintained, whether they needed a lot or a little. The problem wasn't that they went green, the problem was that the alternative they chose wasn't the right one and they didn't want to invest the time and money working around that properly.
        • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:09AM (#38993439)
          You make the mistake of using facts against an emotional narrative. It rarely works. The 'Damn gaia-worshiping liberals endangered the astronauts lives to save a few trees' narrative is a powerful one, and thanks to the exceptionally divisive left-vs-right nature of US politics it is one that a lot of people really want to believe in.
          • Example: when the US Army switched to walnut shells instead of solvents to clean the oil system of Chinook helicopters because it was greener. In Mannheim, Germany 46 people lost their lives because the shells were not flushed out entirely and a bearing failed.

            " The failure of the Forward Transmission Input Pinion Capsule caused the Number 1 Synchronized Drive Shaft to rotate eccentric and contact the Forward Pylon structure, causing the shaft to fail, followed by the subsequent de-synchronization of t
        • by digitig (1056110)

          I don't know if you've ever tried to obtain Halon lately

          I'm not sure, but I suspect that NASA would be able to get hold of things like that more easily than I could.

        • I don't know if you've ever tried to obtain Halon lately...

          I have a Halon extinguisher at home next to my computers. Bought it at a home-improvement store at least 12 years ago. Never been used and the pressure is still in the green.

      • by mug funky (910186)

        wrong. this has already come up today in another thread. they were using an old rig, from before the ban.

        they were just unlucky.

      • Re:God help us (Score:5, Informative)

        by Ellis D. Tripp (755736) on Friday February 10, 2012 @07:51AM (#38994017) Homepage

        Before you spout off about the ET insulation foam having been reformulated without CFCs, try reading the CAIB report (volume 1, Page 51), which specifically states that the portion of the foam that broke loose was the OLD CFC-based formulation.

        http://caib.nasa.gov/news/report/pdf/vol1/full/caib_report_volume1.pdf [nasa.gov]

        The story about the reformulated foam causing the Columbia accident is largely the doing of Rush Limbaugh, who seized on a lie from one of his typically ill-informed listeners, and kept repeating it until it became accepted as fact by everyone on the right.

        http://mediamatters.org/research/200508090007 [mediamatters.org]

      • by tibit (1762298)

        I don't think that's true. They have had foam issues from day one; foam is pretty brittle when cold and it really needed some sort of a metal matrix to make it stable (think of lath used for stucco).

      • by vadim_t (324782)

        I don't think that would have mattered much.

        Once the world decided to switch away from CFCs, even with an exception, soon enough there wouldn't have been anybody to make it anyway. There can't be that much profit in ocassionally selling small amounts to NASA.

        And if they did keep making it, it'd be at astronomical prices, and you'd be whining instead about NASA wasting money instead of switching to one of the perfectly good alternatives that cost 10 times less.

    • by fantomas (94850) on Friday February 10, 2012 @03:51AM (#38993177)

      I guess if I was one of the technical crew who had to work with this stuff and be exposed to its toxicity, I'd be welcoming my boss researching a way of making my life safer. I'm sure the technicians love working for NASA but given the choice between working with highly toxic fuels that might burn them/ give them cancer/ other nice side effect, or something less damaging, I am sure they'd be all in favour of an option that won't harm them and won't potentially leak into local water tables, get drawn up into local water supply / agriculture and end up in their kids.

      My experience is the people most likely to moan about health and safety are those whose greatest risk of an industrial injury is stabbing themselves with the office stapler. Folk working in genuinely high risk environments seem quite grateful their bosses have to abide by regulations.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 10, 2012 @04:06AM (#38993227)

        I had an uncle who was an honest to god rocket scientist. Stuff he made is sitting on the moon.

        In the 60's he was working for Thiokol (the company that went on to blow up the space shuttle Challenger) and was exposed to "something" during rocket motor testing. An area had not been vented, he was told it was, he entered the area. He did not really remember anything between going through the hatch and waking up in the hospital. Decades later he developed an odd cancer in his spine. My family always wonders if there was a connection between the chemical exposure and the cancer.

        • by zoloto (586738)
          Decades? I hardly see any connection with that kind of time between his exposure and the development of that.
      • Hydrogen peroxide (Score:5, Informative)

        by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:06AM (#38993627)
        Correct. I can't mod you up further but I'll support you with an example. An early oxidiser (hydrazine is a reducer, yes I know) was hydrogen peroxide. The British space effort (do not laugh, there was one) relied on H2O2. When fuelling or doing maintenance, the drill was to have a second guy standing by with a fast running hose. When rather than if the stuff fell on someone, his job was instantly to flood with water before fire broke out/skin burns. When we wonder how a previous generation (the generation of engineers before mine, in fact) got to the Moon, we need to remember that after two World Wars risk acceptance was much higher and life was cheaper. The people who rant about this (and modded down my last comment on this subject) have probably never had to put their lives on the line in support of the day job, and can't understand why nowadays somebody perhaps wouldn't want to risk an unpleasant death for an underpaid job.

        When I was at school, one of the exam questions in S level chemistry was to estimate the maximum temperature reached if a stream of hydrazine hydrate was mixed with a stream of concentrated hydrogen peroxide. Of course, after the exam we had to try it... two carefully aimed pipettes over the centre of the biggest Belfast sink in the lab, three quarters full of cold water. I'm not disclosing how we released the liquids safely. If you can work it out, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know here. There was a white glow at the centre. I guess nowadays with the fear of terrorists no school exam would dare ask the question, whereas in those days I suspect the exam setter thought "Well, if they've done the work for S level, they deserve a little entertainment."

        • Some schools no longer permit chemistry students to handle copper sulphate, because it is classed as a potential carcinogen.
          • by Sulphur (1548251)

            Some schools no longer permit chemistry students to handle copper sulphate, because it is classed as a potential carcinogen.

            Add boic acid instead to the big flame in back, and it turns green.

      • by trout007 (975317) on Friday February 10, 2012 @06:49AM (#38993791)

        We can handle it safely but it comes at a cost. Here are some examples.

        We need to wear these things. http://www.wolfhazmat.de/astrosuit/nasa_01.htm [wolfhazmat.de].
        Every time you run an operation where it might spill you need to clear the work area of all nonessential personnel.
        You need scrubbers to vent the vapors through when processing.
        You need detectors/absorbers on every port.
        You need yearly training for the whole workforce to know what to do when there is a leak (there is a VERY distinctive ammonia smell)

        So the main thing isn't that it's unsafe. We know how to work with it properly. The problem is the costs involved with doing it. If an alternative can be found it would make it much safer and quicker to process rockets and spacecraft. Imagine if you had to have a 500 ft clear area around an airplane while fueling it. It would make everything about flying more expensive.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:29AM (#38994211) Homepage Journal

        Folk working in genuinely high risk environments seem quite grateful their bosses have to abide by regulations.

        You know things have gotten bad when a small bit of truth, expressed clearly amidst an environment of emotion, blind partisanship and ignorance can almost bring tears to my eyes. I hear so much about how "Regulations are bad, m'kay?" even from people who should know better, that a calm persuasive case for why we need regulation actually chokes me up.

        Regulations are not a "necessary evil". They are simply "necessary".

    • by 88Seconds (242800)

      Some people are trying to lead us to believe that NASA is a waste of time and money too. $DEITY help us if we start believing them. Your comment would lead me to belive that you already have.

    • Re:God help us (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:10AM (#38993443) Homepage

      Hydrazine is described as corrosive and toxic, both of which will make it expensive to handle, require special pipes and tanks and so on. As far as I know, it's not
      an environmental consideration -- it surely decays to nitrogen and water pretty fast.

      I suspect this is about cost saving in the handling.

    • Re:God help us (Score:5, Informative)

      by subreality (157447) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:36AM (#38993523)

      It's not really about being "Green". Hydrazine is very toxic and extremely unstable. It's terribly dangerous to work with even when things are going right, and when a launch goes wrong you may end up dropping a hydrazine-filled satellite in an urban area. That's not good, so you have to considerably overengineer the tanks (adding weight, reducing payload) so they'll survive reentry and not poison people.

      So why do we use this devil of a propellant?

      Normal rocket juice is two parts - fuel (eg H2, kerosene) and oxidizer (eg O2, N20). You flow both into your combustion chamber, strike a spark, and away you go. That's great for long sessions of high-power lift. The problem is it's terrible for fine maneuvering. Maintaining the proper mixture gets harder with small flows, your spark plugs wear out with repeated firings, and generally the whole bipropellant setup is big, heavy, and complicated, and you want your satellite to be compact, light, and as simple as possible for reliability.

      So that's where hydrazine comes in. It's the same property that makes it dangerously unstable that makes it an ideal fuel when you need very low impulse and very high reliability. You just open a small valve on the line from the pressurized tank tank to the engine - that's your only moving part. The hydrazine flows into the combustion chamber where there's a catalyst. It instantly and very exothermically decomposes into ammonia, nitrogen and hydrogen gas. The very high temperature rise makes the exhaust velocity really high, which is great for efficiency.

      Et voila, you have a rocket engine where the only moving part is the flow control valve. Since you want to do complex maneuvers, you can sprinkle a bunch of these little, simple, lightweight engines all over your craft instead of having a couple big complex (fuel mixing) ones with vectoring (gimbals and actuators are just more things to fail, plus now you need flexible fuel lines), and you can do your maneuvers in tiny bursts that are too short to even get a bipropellant engine to light off.

      Similarly, the very low parts count makes hydrazine turbine engines very useful where maximum reliability is required - for instance APUs for hydraulic power used for the space shuttle, and on military aircraft for emergency backups.

      Finding a safe replacement would allow much safer handling, lighter safety systems, and allow monopropellant engines to be used in places that they're impractical now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by nojayuk (567177)

        Ummm, hydrazine is not a monopropellant, it is "burned" with an oxidiser such as nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) or an acid like Red Fuming Nitric Acid (RFNA) which, as you can guess from the name has the same sort of ground handling properties as hydrazine (i.e. if it leaks it can dissolve the operators working the fuelling system).

        The Space Shuttle's Orbital Manoeuvering System (OMS) engines burned monomethyl hydrazine (MMH) and N2O4. This meant that when the Shuttle returned to Earth it had to be effectively

        • Re:God help us (Score:5, Informative)

          by subreality (157447) on Friday February 10, 2012 @07:01AM (#38993835)

          Wikipedia says:

          Hydrazine is also used as a low-power monopropellant for the maneuvering thrusters of spacecraft, and the Space Shuttle's auxiliary power units (APUs). In addition, monopropellant hydrazine-fueled rocket engines are often used in terminal descent of spacecraft. A collection of such engines was used in both Viking program landers as well as the Phoenix lander launched in August 2007.

          In all hydrazine monopropellant engines, the hydrazine is passed by a catalyst such as iridium metal supported by high-surface-area alumina (aluminium oxide) or carbon nanofibers,[25] or more recently molybdenum nitride on alumina,[26] which causes it to decompose into ammonia, nitrogen gas, and hydrogen gas according to the following reactions:

          Countercitation needed. :)

      • "Hmm , this liquid smells like ammonia , I wonder what its properties..."

        BANG!!!!

    • Buzzwords (Score:2, Troll)

      by Shivetya (243324)

      Green is a buzzword. It has traction. It shows "they care".

      When your totally out of ideas you start a buzzword blitz. In other words, find the guys who came up with this at NASA and show them the door. They obviously have nothing better to do.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Because it damned important, that's why. I wish I could have filled a few balloons full of Monsanto air in 1969 for you kids -- but they would have disintegrated immediately. You kids can't envision just how bad pollution really is. But here's a tiny sample: go into your garage, pour a gallon of gasoline in a bucket and a bottle of chlorene bleach in another bucket. Stand there for a while and you'll see how things were before the EPA existed.

      And rocket fuels are VERY toxic. More toxic than that gasoline.

      Wh

    • by thrich81 (1357561)

      If you would read the article, some of the reasons are: "also reduce propulsion systems complexity, create fewer operational hazards, decrease launch processing times and increase performance." I would say those are desirable goals in a rocket fuel no matter how knee-jerk crazed a person may be to reject improvements to processes which might make the air we all breathe a bit more pleasant.

    • Because NASA has lost support from the Left.
      While NASA is a highly political organization. It was one of those that never really sided with the Left or Right.
      The Right liked it because it was part of the military.
      The Left liked it because they did some real science.
      And was really a symbol of Peaceful American Power.

      However the left sees is as an expendable area to cut. As it really isn't solving any problems that we are facing right now. So if NASA can do some Green Fuel side effects even from failure may
  • Ignition! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by imbaczek (690596) <imbaczek&poczta,fm> on Friday February 10, 2012 @03:43AM (#38993127) Journal
    Everybody should read one book about rocket propellants: Ignition! [sciencemadness.org] by John D. Clark. Apart from it being a good (and hilarious at times) read, it'll also show you why this project will most likely end up being a waste of money.
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Friday February 10, 2012 @03:46AM (#38993139) Homepage

      Hey, at least it isn't "Muslim Outreach".

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      Thank you for mentioning Ignition! and providing the link. Never heard of it, likely never would have thought to go looking for anything like it. I just finished the introduction and intend to continue until I finish or have to crash.

      Way back I'd read about Goddard, von Braun, et al, including some of their papers, and some stuff coming out of a few of the labs; an uncle, who started his career as a chemist in what later became the USAF and whose first assignment was working under Alvarez at Los Alamos, w

    • Quote by Isaac Asimov. Sorry about the extract-from-pdf bad formatting

      Now it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outs t a n dingly ma d. I d o n 't m e an ga rden-va r i e ty crazy or a merely r aving lunatic. I me an a r e c o r d - s h a t t e r i ng e x p o n e nt of f a r -out insanity. T h e re a r e, after all, some chemicals t h at explode sha t t e r ingly, some t h at flame r avenous ly, some t h at c o r r o de hellishly, some t h at poi son sneakily, a nd some

      • by stjobe (78285) on Friday February 10, 2012 @08:11AM (#38994105) Homepage

        Tidied up the quote a bit, since it's delectable:

        Now it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outstandingly mad. I don't mean garden-variety crazy or a merely raving lunatic. I mean a record-shattering exponent of far-out insanity.

        There are, after all, some chemicals that explode shatteringly, some that flame ravenously, some that corrode hellishly, some that poison sneakily, and some that stink stenchily. As far as I know, though, only liquid rocket fuels have all these delightful properties combined into one delectable whole.

        Also, I'd like to also state my thanks to imbaczek for posting the link, 40 pages in and it's a page-turner :)

    • That's a fantastic link. It's perfect reading for geeks with a moderate interest in chemistry - lots of juicy technical info mixed with tons of fun anecdotes of the utterly insane things we've tried in our passionate (and sometimes suicidal) desire to fly higher.

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Friday February 10, 2012 @03:44AM (#38993129)
    But when it burns it doesn't create any green house gasses. since it contains nothing but nitrogen and hydrogen. Its also naturally occurring, so it can't be that bad can it?
    • It's the money (Score:5, Insightful)

      by realxmp (518717) on Friday February 10, 2012 @04:14AM (#38993269)
      Going Green is probably just an excuse here, it's the money. Because it's toxic and corrosive it's hard to handle and thus expensive to handle. First you have the expensive equipment and protective gear, and then we have the paperwork... Think about it this way, every time you use the stuff you're generating reams and reams of risk assessments and paperwork. That paperwork is essentially a writeonly document which has to be produced everytime they come up with a slightly different way to do things.
      • Think about it this way, every time you use the stuff you're generating reams and reams of risk assessments and paperwork.

        Bollocks.

        Do you generate reams of paper every time you fill your car? No. Did you have to sign anything before doing it? No. Has a surprising amount of R&D gone into the design of car fueling systems to make them safe even for soccer moms? Yes.

        Despite your libertarian fantasy, it doesn't work like that in reality. You do the risk assessment. You eliminate avoidable risk. Then you

        • Firstly you utterly missed my point, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with needing the paperwork. I'm just suggesting that perhaps investigating alternative fuels might be a good idea if at all possible. Even if they're more expensive to produce, the savings to be had from reduced handling costs should make up for that. If you've worked in a chemical plant then you should know Hydrozene itself is not amazingly expensive to manufacture, what's expensive is ensuring that it only goes where you want it

          • If I "utterly missed your point", why did you write that stuff about "reams" of risk assessment and "write only documents"? I can't help it if you appear to be Libertarian trolling and then say you aren't.

            However, I doubt someone who can't spell hydrazine is not best placed to comment on its risks. (And yes, I do know how to make hydrazine, but I haven't done it since I ceased to have a fume cupboard and suitable glassware handy. The precursors themselves are no fun, in volume.)

        • Degrading our safety systems to Chinese levels to make a billionaire slightly richer is not a preferred option.

          Unless you ask that billionaire.

  • Green fuel.. I mean seriously, who came up with that term anyway? I had a good laugh when i saw the headline. I laughed till the tears would not come anymore.

    The laugh is over now and I'm irritated with the way people use "green" insteadt of "environmentally friendly" for in the end, that is really what you want to say!

    The environment is anything but green! From space, even the planet looks blue! The Earth itself looks brown, but that's all beside the point. The point is if you mean something, say it! Don't

    • Chalk "green" up with "gay" and "hacker" then? Sorry pal, but words can have multiple meanings, which can vary over time. The definition of "green" is now being expanded with the meaning "environmentally friendly", and the more you rant over it, the more it will become ingrained.
    • Green fuel.. I mean seriously, who came up with that term anyway?

      From TFA's lame author. The NASA paper doesn't use the term.

      The quote from NASA is: "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."

      Ev

  • NOFB (Score:5, Informative)

    by amitofu (705703) on Friday February 10, 2012 @03:50AM (#38993171) Homepage

    Nitrous oxide fuel blend [wikipedia.org] is a mixed mono propellent that's non-toxic and has 320-340s ISP. Max Vozoff, formerly of SpaceX, talks about NOFB in this episode of The Space Show [wordpress.com]. He think's it's a game changer.

  • It's already fueling rocket cars
    http://youtu.be/i-hXcRtbj1Y [youtu.be]

  • Politicians (Score:4, Funny)

    by kawabago (551139) on Friday February 10, 2012 @03:58AM (#38993203)
    Put a politician in the engine and set him to Campaign and he will spew a continuous stream of rhetoric that will slowly accelerate the ship to near light speed.
  • by Hordeking (1237940) on Friday February 10, 2012 @05:01AM (#38993401)
    If NASA wants their rocket fuel to be green, all they have to do is add a whole lot of green food dye to the tanks before filling them!
  • what color is it today? Of course I don't know, it's rocket science, for pete's sake!
  • Antimatter

    It gives the best power to weight of any fuel

    • by dkf (304284)

      Antimatter

      It gives the best power to weight of any fuel

      Antimatter is the most fantastically expensive rocket fuel ever conceived of short of pure leprechaun farts. It takes a stupid amount of energy to make even a few atoms of the stuff. The mind boggles at the amount of power (and hence cost) involved in making kilograms of it (let alone tonnes). It would also be desperately dangerous to handle.

  • My first thought on seeing the headline was, why is NASA spending money to have green fuel, who cares what color it is?
  • Why not just do like the Russians have done for most of the last 55 years Paraffin & LOX
  • Republicans love toxic chemicals.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:07AM (#38995055) Homepage Journal

    I don't think so. I especially DON'T think that "green" means "non-toxic to humans who handle it carelessly".

    It seems to me that a "green" anything is something whose production, use, and disposal does not use up environmental capital faster than the biosphere replaces it. Alternatively, you can think of it as something whose entire life-cycle, cradle to grave, does not disturb any environmental equilibria except possibly on a highly localized scale (i.e. the footprint of the production facility).

    Perhaps the best way to think of green technology is that it contributes to our species' ability to live within its means. That means natural resources, not dollars. Nature doesn't care how we shift dollars around; that's really just an internal control mechanism. It does "care" if we take fish out of the sea faster than they can reproduce, or if we discharge substances into a river faster than the natural processes can absorb and use them. The substances in question might well be "natural" materials like sewage. Discharged into a creek fast enough to alter that stream's chemistry, even *pure distilled water* might reasonably be regarded as a pollutant. It's not just the toxicity to *us* that matters in these cases; it's the damage to functioning ecosystems. "Pollutant" is a *role* a substance plays in certain circumstances, not a fixed category of substances.

    DDT does not function as a pollutant when used in domestic (in-house) applications. Nor is it particularly toxic to humans. Used in agriculture or mosquito control it is a serious pollutant because of an important aspect of the way the DDT molecule interacts with the environment: ecosystems have not evolved to use DDT or any of the substances it breaks down into. So DDT and its by-products accumulate in the environment faster than the environment can transform them into benign substances; fast enough that they bio-accumulate up the food chain. The animals at the apex of the food chain are not at all sensitive to the ambient quantities of DDT byproducts in the environment, but the concentration of those by-products is far higher in the animals they predate upon.

    So how does hydrazine stack up? Well, unlike DDT hydrazine *is* created and consumed by natural biological processes -- ubiquitous ones at that. It is produced by yeasts, fungi and bacteria as they digest ammonia. Therefore it is *likely* that the environment can process occasional releases of hydrazine, or even continual releases of a diluted streams of hydrazine. Of course given that hydrazine in modest concentrations is acutely toxic, any process involving it should to be examined closely and designed to be environmentally and occupationally safe. Likewise, the materials from which hydrazine is synthesized have similar properties of being ubiquitous in low levels in natural environmental processes. Some of those materials pose occupational and environmental risks, but only if handled carelessly. With reasonable care, it should be possible to produce and use hydrazine responsibly.

    So hydrazine looks potentially quite "green" to me. What we have to be wary of is the possibility of adopting a *pseudo-green* alternative to hydrazine, one that might be less acutely toxic to humans while posing a greater risk of environmental damage.

  • Just order a few 55 gallon drums of green food coloring.
    Presto! Green rocket fuel!

  • Not exactly hydrazine, but a leak of a similar propellant (nitrogen tetroxide) from the reaction control system on the Apollo spacecraft almost killed the Apollo crew on re-entry during the Apollo-Soyuz mission so there is a reason NASA would look for non-toxic fuels other than just "greenness".
    From wikipedia, "The only serious problem was due to an Apollo crew mistake during re-entry preparations that resulted in a very rough landing and the entry of noxious gas into the spacecraft. The reaction control sy

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