Orbital ATK, ECAPS Complete Green Thruster Tests at NASA Marshall

orbital_atk_logoDULLES, Va., September 15, 2015 (Orbital ATK PR) — Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, announced today the successful completion of the first U.S. test of a 22 Newton (N) thruster using a high-performance green propulsion system powered by a safe, low-toxicity rocket fuel, designated LMP-103S,  provided by the Swedish firm, ECAPS. Green rocket fuels pose fewer health risks and are more cost-effective in terms of storage, material handling, transportation and launch-site processing.
The test was part of a series at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and included both a 5N thruster and, for the first time in the United States, a 22N thruster, both of which performed well across all test parameters. Thrusters of this size are commonly used for maneuvering satellites while in Earth orbit.

“Orbital ATK and our partner ECAPS are dedicated to helping NASA achieve its goal of eliminating the challenges and risks associated with manufacturing, transporting and handling the current generation of high-performance propellants,” said Cary Ralston, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Missile Products division of the Defense Systems Group. “These successful tests move us another step toward providing safer, higher performance thrusters without the need for expensive and time-consuming protective processes and equipment.”

LMP-103S is a low-toxicity, environmentally-benign propellant, providing benefits over conventional hydrazine, which include improved performance, enhanced volumetric efficiency, reduction of propellant handling hazards and safer launch operations. Orbital ATK, ECAPS, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA Glenn Research Center are testing the green propulsion system to demonstrate the performance and safety features of the system, and collecting data for evaluation of green propulsion options for spacecraft systems.


Founded in 2000, ECAPS is an innovative company with focus on green propulsion-based products for space applications. ECAPS innovations will enable simplified access to space for satellite and launcher systems. ECAPS holds a number of patents worldwide for a family of ADN (ammonium dinitramide) based propellants, catalyst, thruster design and manufacturing methods. ECAPS has its development and hardware manufacturing facilities in Solna in the greater Stockholm area.

About Orbital ATK

Orbital ATK is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies. The company designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation systems for customers around the world, both as a prime contractor and merchant supplier. Its main products include launch vehicles and related propulsion systems; missile products, subsystems and defense electronics; precision weapons, armament systems and ammunition; satellites and associated space components and services; and advanced aerospace structures. Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, Orbital ATK employs more than 12,000 people in 18 states across the U.S. and in several international locations. For more information, visit www.orbitalatk.com.

  • savuporo

    Worth mentioning that ECAPS thrusters have orbital flight heritage on PRISMA tech demonstrator satellites by SSC/DLR. They have also contracts with SkyBox for future sats

  • therealdmt

    Could these be eventually scaled up to make a replacement for Dragon’s Super Dracos?

    That would really change the landing scenario (from causing a temporary hazardous materials site to, well, just a landing site).

  • Aerospike

    “LMP-103S is a low-toxicity, environmentally-benign propellant, providing benefits over conventional hydrazine…”
    In other words: It is slightly less nasty than hydrazine, but still nasty.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Yes still nasty, 65% (by weight) ADN (ammoniumdinitramide) is used in the composition of LMP-103S as oxidizer. ADN is a high-explosive.

  • TimAndrews868

    As I understand it the catalyst systems for ECAPS would add enough weight and volume if scaled up to Super-Draco capability that they wouldn’t be practical for Crew Dragon.

  • stoffer

    The only somewhat benign monopropellant is H2O2. The Isp is somewhat low and it needs vented tanks, but I would choose any day to work with H2O2 than with hydrazine. Both are monoprops and both are sensitive to contamination.

  • Snofru Chufu

    At least H2O2 is a simply composed and well characterized, but it is difficult to use for long-term storage (5-10 yeas) as in case of GEO and deep space missions. There is not something as free lunch also not in case of monopropellant because you would like to combine contrary properties as simple decomposition, high energy content (which means it must combine oxidizer and fuel into one propellant composition) and long term storability and stability.
    A question: What do you prefer to drink (let assume 10 cm³) hydrazine, H2O2 or LMP-103s, if there would be no choice?

  • stoffer

    So your are basically asking my how do I want to die? A safe monopropellant is an oxymoron. H2O2 self-decomposition is not so much of an issue, you load more propellant and vent the tanks. The low Isp means that a lot more of H2O2 has to be taken than hydrazine. Accounting on top of that for self decomposition and hydrazine starts looking tempting. After all, you deal with toxicity once, and then you have 10 years of good performance. Also, may years ago hydrazine was not though to be that dangerous. F-16 has hydrazine driven APU, which today sounds crazy.

    The other “safe” alternative would be N2O, but that has high vapor pressure and has a history of accidents.

  • Snofru Chufu

    I would select the hydrazine drink, because I quite sure that it would result in smallest consequences. You are right,
    hydrazine and its derivatives are very good propellants (or fuels (combining all properties) and it is also my impression that hazards attributed to it are somewhat overrated. In former times hydrazine was even filled in conventional domestic
    heating systems to serve as corrosion protection.
    N2O has also the disadvantages of a low density and it is required relative heavy storage tanks because its high storage pressure (as liquid), which is also subject of large variations due to temperature effects.

  • stoffer

    You may find this case of hydrazine oral intake interesting:

    H2O2 will give you burns, but on the plus side it will not poison you.

    There is no safe monopropellant. It is an oxymoron. If you want to be safe, and have surplus electricity there are plenty of types of electric rockets, resistojets, in drives, hall thrusters, you name it.

    People who chose hydrazine were not stupid. There was a lot of propellant research done both in the US and the Soviet Union. If there was a better alternative, it would have been chosen.

  • Snofru Chufu

    You are right, there is no difference in judgement between us.

  • Hug Doug

    More than slightly, I understand this can be worked with, stored, and moved without taking more than normal handling precautions, unlike hydrazine. While I’m sure you wouldn’t want to drink it, I gather it can be handled and even touched without severe problems, also unlike hydrazine.

    My understanding may be in error, I haven’t read the MSDS for it.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Your forgot an important part of the text to cite:

    “In the UK, possession of such materials will require certification under
    the terms of the Explosives Act and may not be easy to acquire. Such
    certification is not needed for MON or hydrazine.”

  • Hug Doug

    I don’t see how that’s relevant, as it doesn’t give us any indication of its toxicity or its handling procedures. It only tells us it’s restricted.

    Hydrazine probably doesn’t have that restriction because it’s commonly used in auto airbags and other gas generator applications.

  • Snofru Chufu

    It is always somewhat difficult if somebody try to make judgements about stuff that he knows only from theoretical sources as Google.
    Working with explosives under the law of Explosives Act is quite restrictive (potentially more stringend in European countries as In USA), for example in terms of safety measures and handling/transportation restrictions that have to applied under supervision of the government.

  • Hug Doug

    That’s precisely my point. The classifications / restrictions tell us nothing about its toxicity.