Skip to main content

Fuels and Space Propellants for Reusable Launch Vehicles


The NASA Glenn Research Center supports and promotes research in advanced propulsion and propellants.  This research encompasses both air-breathing fuels and space flight rocket propulsion and propellants.  The air-breathing fuel research is addressed with pulsed detonation engine fuels and the majority of the content below addresses our work in metallized gelled fuels, gelled hydrogen, atomic propellants, and very advanced rocket propulsion, including nuclear electric and nuclear thermal propulsion.

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Summary

Fuels and Space Propellants

This focused SBIR topic is designed to foster the development of higher density, higher Isp, and more operable propellants. In the development of aeronautics and space technology, there have been limits to vehicle performance imposed by traditionally used propellants and fuels. Increases in performance are possible with either increased propellant specific impulse, increased density, or both. Safety of flight systems will also be increased by using denser, more viscous propellants and fuels.

Many challenges have been overcome recently in the discovery and synthesis of propellants which can have higher performance than traditional O2/H2, O2/RP-1, and aircraft fuels. This focused SBIR topic provides a substantial infusion of resources that can enable the commercialization of these fuels and propellants for aeronautics and space applications.

The space flight applications of the higher performing propellants include high density monopropellants for upper stages and the on-board propulsion for small spacecraft.

Higher energy fuels, such as N4, N6, BH4 or others would be more applicable to launch vehicles. Aeronautical uses are directed toward improving the storage density over typical JP type fuels and related research in endothermic fuels. These fuels and their commercialization will be the major products of the SBIR topic.

This SBIR topic will promote development and demonstration of propellants with NTO/MMH performance, which are self pressurizing, and less toxic. Examples include mixtures of nitromethane, nitrous oxide (N2O), hydroxyl ammonium nitrate (HAN), ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3), aluminum, water, and/or other species (this list is not all inclusive). Gelled monopropellants are also of interest for safety enhancements.

It will also promote development of high energy density species, whether monopropellant or bipropellant, which offer the performance of O2/H2 while offering significantly higher system density. Possible examples include cubane, strained-ring compounds, polymeric oxygen (O4, O6, O8 … ), polymeric nitrogen (N4, N6, N8 … ), and and B-N analogs of prismane (B3N3H6), among others.

Managers and Related NASA Centers

1) Title – Monopropellant Fuel Development

Subtopic Manager – Bryan Palaszewski
Field Center – NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC)

2) Title – Propellant Operations and Safety

Subtopic Manager – William Boyd
Field Center – NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC)

3) Title – Hypersonic Fuel Development

Subtopic Managers – Gerald Pellett (LaRC) and Chris Snyder (GRC)
Field Center – NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) and NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) (rotating leadership)

4) Title – High Energy Density Propellant Formulations

Subtopic Manager – Steve Langhoff
Field Center – NASA Ames Research Center (ARC)

5) Title – Large Scale Booster Applications

Subtopic Manager – Bryan Palaszewski (GRC) and Charles Schafer (MSFC)
Field Center – NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) (rotating leadership)

The Space Show

Listen to Bryan Palaszewski on “The Space Show”

The Space Show Image


Atmospheric Mining in the Outer Solar System: Outer Planet Resource Processing, Moon Base Propulsion,and Vehicle Design IssuesPalaszewski, Bryan A.AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum and ExpositionConference Paper2019NTRS
Solar System Exploration Augmented by Lunar and Outer Planet Resource Utilization: Historical Perspectives and Future PossibilitiesPalaszewski, BryanSciTech 2014Technical Memorandum2014NTRS
Atmospheric Mining in the Outer Solar System: Outer Planet In-Space Bases and Moon Bases for Resource ProcessingPalaszewski, BryanAIAA Propulsion & Energy 2017 ConferenceConference Paper2017NTRS
Atmospheric Mining in the Outer Solar SystemPalaszewski, BryanAIAA Joint Propulsion ConferenceConference Paper2014NTRS
Metallized Gelled Propellants Combustion Experiments in a Pulse Detonation EnginePalaszewski, Bryan, Jurns, John, Breisacher, Kevin, Kearns, KimAIAA Joint Propulsion ConferenceTechnical Memorandum2006NTRS
Launch Vehicle Performance for Bipropellant Propulsion Using Atomic Propellants With OxygenPalaszewski, BryanJoint PropulsionPreprint (Draft being sent to journal)2000NTRS
Launch Vehicle Performance With Solid Particle Feed Systems for Atomic PropellantsPalaszewski, Bryan34th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion ConferenceConference Paper1998DOI
Preliminary Assessment of Using Gelled and Hybrid Propellant Propulsion for VTOL/SSTO Launch SystemsPalaszewski, Bryan, Pelaccio, Dennis G., OLeary, RobertReprint (Version printed in journal)1998NTRS
Solid Hydrogen Experiments for Atomic PropellantsPalaszewski, Bryan36th Joint Propulsion Conference and ExhibitTechnical Memorandum2001NTRS
Solid Hydrogen Experiments for Atomic Propellants: Image AnalysesPalaszewski, Bryan37th Joint Propulsion Conference and ExhibitTechnical Memorandum2002NTRS
Solid Hydrogen Experiments for Atomic Propellants: Particle Formation Energy and Imaging AnalysesPalaszewski, Bryan39th Joint Propulsion Conference and ExhibitTechnical Memorandum2005NTRS
Metallized Gelled Propellants: Oxygen/RP-1/Aluminum Rocket Engine Calorimeter Heat Transfer Measurements and AnalysisPalaszewski, BryanJoint Propulsion Conference and ExhibitConference Paper1997NTRS
Propellant Technologies: A Persuasive Wave of Future Propulsion BenefitsPalaszewski, Bryan, Ianovski, Leonid S., Carrick, PatrickInternational Symposium on Space PropulsionTechnical Memorandum1997NTRS


Improving Fuels with Higher Density, Energy, and Safety. A Focused Topic for Small Business Innovation Research. Briefing to the SBIR Convocation at the Ohio Aerospace Institute and the NASA Lewis Research Center.

Overview Presentation

Technical Presentation

Propellant Technologies

Nanotechnology and Gelled Cryogenic Fuels

Advanced Fuels

White papers

Propellant Technologies

Gelled Liquid Hydrogen

Solid Hydrogen Video Image Capture – Particle Formation Experiments

  • Solid molecular hydrogen particles (H2 matrix) formed on the surface of the liquid helium (shown in the circle)
  • Liquid helium at 4 K temperature
  • Solid hydrogen has been on the helium surface for 1 minute
  • Several particles have already agglomerated in this photo
  • Bright area is light reflected off the Helium surface
Solid hydrogen video still
Provide feedback