Products & Markets

The green pathway to space

Without satellites, most things on Earth would soon grind to a halt. Not only do satellites show us when storms are coming, they also coordinate the flow of goods and help us reach our destinations. About 1,800 active satellites are currently in orbit. Tens of thousands more will be joining them in the years ahead. Space flight will become an everyday occurrence and the associated fuel will become green.

The days are long gone when only the superpowers were able to launch satellites into orbit. More and more private companies are going into space. Among other things, they want to use satellites to provide an ultrafast Internet all around the world. To this end, the private space industry is developing microsatellites for mass production as well as small launch vehicles that can carry several of these satellites into space at the same time. Until now, satellites have been expensive one-offs that are as big as medium- size cars. “At the moment, the entire market is experiencing the next evolutionary step,” says Dr. Stefan Leininger, who is responsible at Evonik for the business with hydrogen peroxide (H₂O₂) for special applications. “H₂O₂ is playing an important role here as a rocket propellant.” Scientists are working hard to develop alternatives to the current standard propellants, some of which are very toxic and suspected to be carcinogenic. That’s not the case with H₂O₂, which Evonik is producing under the name PROPULSE®. H₂O₂ breaks down into steam and oxygen—a fuel can’t get any cleaner than that. Moreover, it has a high energy density and is easy to handle. As a result, there’s no need for expensive safety measures during fueling.

PROPULSE® isn’t new to space travel: It has been used for many years to power the turbopumps of Soyuz rockets. These pumps propel the actual fuels into the combustion chamber. PROPULSE® is scheduled to be used as the green main propellant in the next generation of rockets.