Hypergolic Fuels – The Chemistry of a Rocket Launch

Chemist Andrea Sella combines dimethylhydrazine with dinotrogen tetroxide to show how hypergolic mixtures fire rockets into space.
Part of A Place Called Space, our 2015 advent calendar: http://rigb.org/advent
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There are a few ways to use chemistry to power a rocket, but all involved an oxider and a fuel. And with no oxygen in space, what’s the best solution? Professor Andrea Sella from University College London discusses the solid state boosters of the space shuttle, the cryogenic liquid approach used in the 1970s, and demonstrates to dramatic effect the power that hypergolic reactions can provide.

Hypergolic mixtures spontaneously ignite, remove the need for a spark in space, and give a huge relative reaction. Andrea combines nitrogen dioxide and dimethylhydrazine to demonstrate how just a tiny amount of these substances can pack a powerful punch.

‘A Place Called Space’ is the 2015 Royal Institution advent calendar. Every day in the run up to Christmas we’ll be releasing an original piece of content exploring the human experience and cultural significance of space travel. With hand-drawn animations, experiments in zero gravity, interviews with astronauts and creative data visualisations, the calendar will fire you into space every morning.

‘A Place Called Space’ channels the voices of seasoned astronauts and expert scientists through the eyes of a team of talented animators, film-makers and artists, bringing you a thought-provoking gem to kick-start each day.
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18 thoughts on “Hypergolic Fuels – The Chemistry of a Rocket Launch

  1. 🙂 I'm studying rocket science so that I can build my own rocket in my backyard first I need 28 million dollars to purchase a decommissioned rocket 🙂

  2. Hypergolics are notoriously toxic and dangerous but thankfully they arent used in many launch vehicles today, they're more used on spacecrafts that really need to light up quick like the superdracos on the dragon capsule and mars lander vehicles. Fortunately, monopropellant like hydrazine is very effective as well while being safer.

  3. This isn't even the wildest rocket chemistry, some nutters tried Flourine or even Chlorine Triflouride as the oxidizing agent. Compared to those, RFNA, like he's using here, is like milk. ClF3 especially is one of the most terrifying substances we've ever invented. For further information I heavily suggestion Ignition! An Informal Guide To Rocket Chemistry for some amazing tales of high-energy rocket fuel chemistry and some of the incidents that occurred.

  4. So glad NASA is investigating the use of less toxic Hypergolic fuels. I hope NASA is successful soon because we are going to be seeing a huge boom in the number of spacecraft that need hypergolic fuels in just a few years.

  5. American explaining British discovered concepts, in British institution. Truly a display of the modern era, Britain too weak to stand up on its own.

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