Benchmark Awarded Second Contract by AFRL to Test New Thrusters on Non-Toxic Fuel

Benchmark Awarded Second Contract by AFRL to Test New Thrusters on Non-Toxic Fuel

Tapped to help U.S. defense agencies deploy safer propellant alternatives to hydrazine, Benchmark Space Systems announced a two-year, $2.81 million AFRL SPRINT (Space Propulsion Research and Innovation for Neutralizing Satellite Threats) award to further develop and test flight-optimized thrusters running on ASCENT (Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic) fuel.

It is Benchmark’s second SPRINT award in two years, after the company successfully demonstrated a prototype thruster burning the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) developed Advanced Space Craft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT) monopropellant without the use of a catalyst bed. The milestone trials opened the door to ASCENT as an affordable, viable alternative for a broad range of on-orbit mobility and tactical missions in space.

As part of this new AFRL-funded program, Benchmark is building a flight-like 22 Newton thruster to perform advanced ASCENT hot-fire demonstrations and will also deliver a preliminary design of a larger 100 Newton thruster assembly in 2025 with the goal of meeting overall demand for scaled ASCENT-fueled spacecraft in the 10-500 Newton range.

Benchmark also unveiled its new Advanced Propellants Group, led by Director Michael Martin, Ph.D., who has spearheaded much of the ASCENT thruster prototype development and testing, both at Benchmark’s technology center in Pleasanton, California and test cells at Texas A&M University’s Turbomachinery Laboratory in College Station, Texas. The new team will build on Benchmark’s overall mission to explore and test a broad range of greener propellants for its growing suite of proven non-toxic chemical, electric, and hybrid propulsion systems.

Benchmark’s collaborative work with AFRL and the U.S. Government is a model example of how the company thoroughly vets the safety and optimizes the performance of propellant for use in space, such as the flight-proven high-test peroxide (HTP) bi-propellant running its Halcyon product line. Benchmark propellant innovations also include the inert non-toxic powder fueling its Starling systems, and a variety of readily and domestically sourced metals to feed its Electric Propulsion offerings. Benchmark’s propellants team will continue to screen and solve inherent propellant challenges, including hurdles posed by LMP-103, nitrous oxide, water, and other fledgling propellants that have shown promise for specific mission types.

“Benchmark has developed a novel ASCENT thruster technology that provides the high-thrust scalability to make ASCENT a viable propellant across the full necessary performance range of DoD’s current and future dynamic space operations,” explained Jake Teufert, Benchmark Space Systems Chief Technology Officer. “This next two-and-a-half-years of ASCENT thruster prototype development and testing under the SPRINT program will ultimately enable the refinement and scale of storable monopropellant systems and operations to support immediate off-the-shelf availability for rapid deployment defense missions.”

“Our expertise in non-toxic propulsion systems and testing means Benchmark is well positioned to provide thrust to a wide range of government and commercial spacecraft on low Earth orbit, lunar, and cislunar missions,” said Michael Martin, Ph.D. and Director of Benchmark’s Advanced Propellants Group. “We are non-toxic propulsion professionals who will open the door even wider for ASCENT usage, as we also explore bringing in other underutilized and promising green chemical, electric, and hybrid technologies to power the space economy.”

Click here to learn more about ASCENT propellant developed by AFRL.

Click here to learn more about Spacecraft Thrusters from Benchmark Space Systems.

Publisher: SatNow

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Satellite NameOrbit Date
BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 I3Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019


Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014


Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013