Space Technology: How Green Propulsion Technology is Helping Us Explore the Universe?

Vishal Kaushik
Blogger, Web Designer and Content Writer

Space technology, especially in the realm of propulsion, has come an extremely long way since the first satellites were sent into orbit. Whereas early spacecraft were heavy and required huge rockets to get into space, modern rockets are lighter and more efficient, making it possible to send larger payloads to Mars and beyond.

But this evolution of space technology didn’t happen overnight; it took a lot of time and effort to get here. What changed the game? Green propulsion technology!

What does green propulsion mean?

Green propulsion technology in space means developing new ways to power spacecraft that don’t produce harmful byproducts. This includes electric propulsion, which uses electricity to generate thrust, and solar sails, which rely on sunlight for propulsion.

Solar sails are an elegant way to explore outer space. The technology uses sun’s radiation to create a small thrust. This causes a change in trajectory of your satellite, in essence propelling it forward into deeper space. And best of all, solar sails do not need fuel and therefore does not produce harmful byproducts like conventional propulsion systems, which use toxic propellants such as hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

Role of green propulsion technology in space

Green propulsion technology is playing an increasingly important role in space exploration. By using less toxic and more environmentally friendly propellants, green propulsion systems are helping to make space exploration more sustainable.

Additionally, green propulsion systems often have lower operating costs than traditional chemical propulsion systems, making them more attractive to both government agencies and private companies.

As we continue to explore our solar system and beyond, green propulsion technology will play a key role in enabling us to do so in a sustainable way.

The pros:

  • Green propulsion technology uses significantly less fuel than traditional space propulsion technology, making it more cost-effective. 
  • This type of technology also produces far fewer harmful emissions, making it more environmentally friendly.
  • Since green propulsion technology requires less fuel, there is less risk of explosion and contamination in space.
  • This technology is also quieter than traditional space propulsion, meaning that it won't disturb delicate astronomical equipment.
  • Theoretically, green propulsion technology will be able to propel a spacecraft further than any other kind of propulsion, meaning that it has even more potential for exploration.
  • In addition to these benefits, green propulsion technology will be useful for missions on Earth as well.
  • Currently, some spacecraft use traditional propulsion technology for their descent through Earth's atmosphere. With green propulsion technology, spacecraft could slow down more efficiently, preventing damage to fragile instruments.
  • Some spacecraft carry fuel from Earth to space, adding cost and complexity to their missions. Since green propulsion technology works in a variety of environments, spacecraft could be refueled with waste products produced on site (such as CO).
  • Like traditional propulsion technology, green propulsion technology uses chemical reactions to create thrust and movement. However, instead of using combustion (i.e., burning), green propulsion uses a plasma arc thruster to expel matter out of a spacecraft at very high speeds.

The cons:

Though, there are many benefits to using green propulsion technology in space, there are also a few drawbacks. First, green propulsion technology is often more expensive than traditional propulsion methods.

Second, green propulsion technology can be less reliable than traditional methods, meaning that spacecraft using this type of propulsion may not make it to their destination.

Third, green propulsion technology often takes longer to develop and implement than traditional methods.

Fourth, green propulsion technology may not be as effective in some cases as traditional methods.

In addition to these drawbacks, green propulsion technology isn’t always environmentally friendly. Spacecraft sometimes run on non-renewable fuel sources, which can damage ecosystems both on Earth and in space. While green propulsion technology may be less harmful to Earth than traditional methods of space travel, it isn’t perfect.

The future of green propulsion technology in space travel remains unclear. One thing that is certain, however, is that it has a long way to go before being widely implemented throughout space exploration.

Green propulsion technology does have many benefits. It’s more environmentally friendly than traditional methods of propulsion and also produces less harmful emissions for spacecraft on Earth.

The biggest drawback to green propulsion technology, however, may be its cost. Traditional methods of space travel are much cheaper than green propulsion technology. Until prices can be brought down, it will be difficult for many companies to turn to green propulsion technology for space exploration and travel.

Though still in its infancy, green propulsion technology has already proven useful in sending unmanned probes into deep space.

How are diesel engines being made greener?

Diesel engines are being made greener in a few ways. One way is by using low-sulfur fuel. Another way is by installing devices that trap and remove particulates from exhaust gases before they're released into the atmosphere. And finally, newer, more efficient diesel engines are being developed that use less fuel and produce fewer emissions.

One way diesel engines are being made greener is by using low-sulfur fuel. Low-sulfur fuel allows diesel engines to meet new, tougher environmental standards without extensive modifications.

Low-sulfur fuels typically have an octane rating of at least 92 and contain only a few tenths of a percent sulfur compared to previous, higher-sulfur fuel.

How hybrid engines work?

Hybrid engines work by using a combination of two or more different power sources to create thrust. In the case of space propulsion, these power sources can be chemical and electrical. The chemical source is typically a liquid or solid propellant that is burned in a combustion chamber to produce hot gases. These hot gases are then expelled through a nozzle to create thrust. The electrical source can be either solar panels or batteries. Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, which is then used to power an electric motor.

The most common type of hybrid engine is one that combines solar panels and batteries. With these, thrust can be generated at night or in areas where sunlight may not be readily available. NASA currently uses two types of solar-powered engines to power its satellites in space — the Stirling Radioisotope Generator (SRG) and Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). These convert heat energy from decaying plutonium into electricity, which powers electric thrusters.

When will these new types of engines replace today’s combustion engines?

Although green propulsion technology is still in its infancy, it has great potential to revolutionize space travel. These new engines are more efficient and cleaner burning than traditional combustion engines, and they could one day help us explore the universe in a more sustainable way. For now, green propulsion technology is being used to power small satellites and robotic spacecraft. But as this technology matures, it may one day help us power human-rated spacecraft as well.

While they may not one day power a mission to Mars, green propulsion technologies have already started to make an impact on other forms of space travel.

The solar electric propulsion (SEP) drive aboard NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been used for over a decade and has set many firsts for its kind — including becoming the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet and enter orbit around two of them.


Green propulsion technology is a huge step forward for space exploration. Not only does it provide a cleaner and more efficient way to power spacecraft, but it also helps us reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources. This technology is helping us explore the universe in a sustainable way, and that's something we can all be excited about.

Even if you're not interested in exploring outer space, green propulsion technology can help bring about some amazing changes here on Earth. This kind of innovation has given us a new way to power and launch rockets into space that makes sense on an environmental level.

Bottom Line - We will start to see more industries starting to look at ways they can reduce their environmental impact by leveraging renewable resources such as solar and wind energy, as well as storage batteries.

published on July 8, 2019