Catalyzing Clean Propulsion

A CT scan of the prototype High test peroxide thruster showing pellets of a ceramic catalyst the thruster uses to decompose its peroxide fuel. Credit: µ-VIS centre at the University of Southampton

A CT scan of the prototype High test peroxide thruster showing pellets of a ceramic catalyst the thruster uses to decompose its peroxide fuel. Credit: µ-VIS centre at the University of Southampton

As Europe’s satellite builders confront a potential European Union ban on hydrazine, British small-sat pioneer Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., is aiming to produce by year’s end a “flight-ready concept” of a High Test Peroxide-based satellite propulsion system.

Leveraging a $400,000 grant from Innovate UK — Britain’s science and technology stimulus agency — SSTL is leading a consortium that includes TISICS Ltd., which will develop the fiber-reinforced aluminum composite HTP propellant tank; and European Astrotech, which will investigate HTP propellant materials options for future use in small satellites and test the demonstration unit.

The entire project is estimated to cost some 490,000 British pounds, or $740,000, with Innovate UK contributing 290,000 pounds to fund the portion of the work conducted by the Open University as well as part of the work conducted by the other consortium partners. SSTL’s role, in addition to overseeing the development, will include developing a novel satellite propulsion unit valve that has been patented by the Open University.

The 28-nation European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations have targeted hydrazine, a common satellite propellant, as a substance that ultimately should be banned as environmentally hazardous.

REACH has been in vigor since 2007 but there is no fixed deadline for when satellite builders must stop using hydrazine. European regulators have said they will take account of the difficulty of finding replacements — and not wanting to undermine European industry’s competitiveness — before deciding on when to “sunset” the use of hydrazine.

“SSTL has identified HTP as an environmentally friendly monopropellant with the potential for providing the high performance required for future small-satellite missions,” the company said.