BOULDER - Ball Aerospace & Technology Corp. in Boulder has met its first milestone in developing a nontoxic alternative rocket fuel for NASA.

Ball Aerospace and Aerojet Rocketdyne in California were able to fire thrusters using the "green" fuel made of hydroxyl ammonium nitrate, the companies said Tuesday.

"The successful first firing of the thruster proves we have the right technology for the mission and are on track for flight development," said Jim Oschmann, vice president and general manager of Ball's Civil Space and Technologies division. "Ball and Aerojet Rocketdyne are demonstrating the innovation needed to develop a fully domestic green propellant solution for the next generation of space flight."

Ball Aerospace said the green fuel provides nearly 50 percent better performance when compared to hydrazine, a traditional rocket fuel.

Green fuel alternatives also reduce environmental impact and operational hazards, improve launch processing capabilities, increase payload capacity, enhance spacecraft maneuverability and make longer duration missions possible, according to Ball.

The fuel will be used to propel NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission that is set to launch in late 2015.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., speaking Tuesday at the Reserve Officers Association, said the mission means a lot to Colorado.

"Space exploration supports good-paying jobs in Colorado. Our aerospace industry is the second-largest in the nation, and it is through public-private partnerships like this that we will continue to lead the country," Udall said.

He pointed out that Colorado's private aerospace industry generated $8.7 billion in economic development in 2011. He said all Aerospace has been a national leader in technical innovation in the aerospace industry for more than50 years and employs more than 2,800 highly-skilled workers - with the majority of these employees living and working in Colorado.

As the prime contractor and principal investigator, Ball collaborates with a team of co-investigators from Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA Glenn Research Center, NASA Kennedy Space Center and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, with additional mission support from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Kirkland Air Force Base.