NASA SBIR 02-1 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER:02- H4.01-7827 (For NASA Use Only - Chron: 024172 )
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Extravehicular Activity Productivity
PROPOSAL TITLE: Nitrous Oxide Propulsion System

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Pioneer Astronautics
11111 W. 8th Ave., Unit A
Lakewood , CO   80215 - 5516
(303 ) 980 - 0890

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Robert Zubrin
11111 W. 8th Ave., Unit A
Lakewood , CO   80215 - 5516
(303 ) 980 - 0890

The Nitrous Oxide Propulsion System (NOPS) is a new Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) thruster concept using nitrous oxide as a monopropellant. Liquid monopropellants are often used in propulsion systems where simplicity of design, restartable/control on demand, and repeatability is desired. Unfortunately, many monopropellants are toxic and dangerous, ruling them out for EMU thruster application. Thus, EMU thrusters have relied upon cold gaseous nitrogen, which offers very low specific impulse and propellant mass fraction. A NOPS, however, uses nitrous oxide, a readily available safe and storable propellant which is not toxic, has performance comparable to hydrazine, and does not decompose spontaneously like hydrogen peroxide. Furthermore, Pioneer Astronautics has demonstrated a system that decomposes N2O into a breathable mix of oxygen and nitrogen. Thus, for example, an EMU propelled by a NOPS would provide an astronaut with a large emergency backup supply of oxygen. Such a dual use system could also have great utility as the propulsion system for manned spacecraft, such as the International Space Station or the Space Shuttle, where safety is paramount and breathing gas reserves are desired. Replacing current liquid monopropellant thrusters with NOPS would greatly reduce ground processing time and costs, while providing comparable performance.

The Nitrous Oxide Propulsion System has the potential of promoting use of liquid monopropellant rockets. Currently, the difficulty and cost in safely handling and storing conventional liquid monopropellants has hindered their use. The NOPS would not have these limitations. Hydrazine is commonly used as a monopropellant in attitude control thrusters in spacecraft. Unfortunately, hydrazine is extremely toxic. NOPSs, however, use a benign monopropellant, and so much less care and expense is necessary. NOPSs would be much more profitable and attractive to use than current common monopropellant rockets systems, and should be able to dominate the market for liquid monopropellant propulsion systems, such as are used in attitude control of spacecraft. Currently, some 1000 satellites are planned for launch in the next 10 years, and all will need attitude control systems. These satellites and their necessary replacements thus guarantee the NOPS a large and highly lucrative commercial market.

The NOPS propulsion system concept, due to its inherent safety, is an attractive propulsion system for a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) or SAFER system, as the N2O monopropellant greatly out performs cold N2 thrusters used on current MMUs in both specific impulse and propellant storability, because its 5 times as dense at ? the pressure as compressed N2. In addition, Pioneer Astronautics has also demonstrated that N2O can be decomposed into a breathable mixture of N2 and O2, offering the potential for a combined spacesuit breathing/MMU propulsion system, with greatly increased endurance and mobility compared to current systems. If manned spacecraft were to use a NOPS it would allow the propellant aboard the Space Station or interplanetary spacecraft to be used as a backup to the life support system. Transporting air reserves to the Space Station as N2O would significantly reduce logistics costs by drastically cutting transport tankage mass.

Form Printed on 09-05-02 10:10