US-based spacecraft and components manufacturer Ball Aerospace has commissioned Nasa’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) and started on-orbit testing of a non-toxic, high-performance propellant.

The GPIM was launched on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket last month.

Ball Aerospace Civil Space vice-president and general manager Dr Makenzie Lystrup said: “This mission has been an excellent example of an industry-led team involving multiple Nasa centres, the airforce and industry partners to test this new high-performance fuel using a Ball small satellite.”

Designed and constructed by Ball, the small satellite comprises Nasa’s first alternative to reveal the sensible capabilities of a ‘green’ propellant and propulsion system in orbit, which is an alternative choice to standard chemical propulsion programmes.

The AF-M315E propellant is a hydroxylammonium nitrate fuel and oxidiser monopropellant developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

The AFRL at Edwards Air Force Base in California, US, has developed the ‘green’ fuel and the objective of the mission is to demonstrate the features of the propellant.

GPIM is a part of Nasa’s technology demonstration missions programme within the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

Aerojet Rocketdyne has designed, built and tested the GPIM propulsion system.

As the primary contractor for GPIM, Ball Aerospace is responsible for system engineering flight thruster performance verification and ground and flight data review. The company also leads the assembly, integration and test, and launch and flight support of GPIM.

GPIM uses the Ball Configurable Platform (BCP) small satellite, which provides standard payload interfaces and streamlined procedures, offering affordable access to space with flight-proven performance.

There are currently two BCP small satellites acting on orbit, namely STPSat-2, launched in November 2010; and STPSat-Three, launched in November 2013.