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Image credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

NASA spacecraft will use fuel that's safer for humans

It's due to launch aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket.
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Aerojet Rocketdyne

Many spacecraft depend on hydrazine in their fuel, but it's extremely hazardous -- and that means very careful fueling processes that slow things down. NASA will soon have a safer option, however. It's about to test-fly the Green Propellant Infusion Mission, a spacecraft that ditches hydrazine in favor of a namesake "green" mix of hydroxyl ammonium nitrate with an oxidizer that lets it burn. It's safe enough that you could fuel a spacecraft while you're still building it, speeding up the launch process.

Here's the kicker: it's also more powerful. NASA says the safer fuel offers about 50 percent better performance, so you can either go farther on the same fuel or reduce the amount of fuel you need to carry on a given mission. That could be particularly useful for missions to the Moon and Mars, where cargo space will be at a premium.

You won't have to wait long to see how well the fuel works. GPIM is poised to launch in late June aboard the same Falcon Heavy rocket carrying LightSail 2. If it succeeds, it could make spaceflight safer as a whole, not to mention far more efficient.

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