A Place Called Space
Day 22

Supported by Wellcome Trust

Hypergolic fuels

Chemist Professor Andrea Sella shows how the spontaneous ignition of hypergolic mixtures can fire rockets into space.

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.

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