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Most Dangerous Spacecraft Fuel


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Methylmercury

I think that Falcon 9 sized booster would need at least tens of tons methylmercury to have significant effect on performance. That would have interesting environmental effects in addition to severe health hazard to everybody near the launch area.

How about methylmercury as a fuel and chlorine trifluoride as an oxidizer. That would be really kerbal way. Maybe with some very radioactive additive, like some fancy isotope from used nuclear fuel, just to increase street credibility.

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Liquid fluorine or ozone oxidisers would give neat ISP, but are suicidally unstable. Afaik, even at cryogenic temperatures, pure ozone can trigger a spontaneous explosive chain reaction via normal heat fluctuations, breaking down into O2. Imagine launching that stuff on a shaking rocket.

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I think that Falcon 9 sized booster would need at least tens of tons methylmercury to have significant effect on performance. That would have interesting environmental effects in addition to severe health hazard to everybody near the launch area.

How about methylmercury as a fuel and chlorine trifluoride as an oxidizer. That would be really kerbal way. Maybe with some very radioactive additive, like some fancy isotope from used nuclear fuel, just to increase street credibility.

If a few tiny drops of methylmercury, through a glove, is enough to kill, then a few tons of it...wow. I suspect that using a nuclear salt or other open cycle nuclear exhaust rocket would be a lot safer, especially if you stuck the launch pad 20 miles or more from a populated area.

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Honestly I would rather be sitting right next to a modern nuclear bomb that is unarmed than a Tripropellant Lithium - fluoride - hydrogen fuel tank, or hydrazine for that matter. One I can hit with a hammer and be fine with, the others would not end well for me or the block I live in.

Clearly, experiments are needed to confim the "hitting nuclear bombs with a hammer" thing. I suggest you try it. Far away from me. ;)

Oh they did made test bench versions of those rocket engines :) Chloride trifluoride + hydrazine nontheless :)

http://naca.central.cranfield.ac.uk/reports/1949/naca-rm-e9f01.pdf

But as with the tripropellant, the problems still far outweight the benefits :) (not the least that the oxyded later must remain intact within the fuel tank :P)

Really? That's interesting. So the exhaust would be hydrogen fluoride? Which, if it comes into contact with water makes hydrofluoric acid? The MSDS for that stuff includes:

Inhalation of fumes can lead to inflammation and congestion of the lungs, and circulatory collapse.
Burns to the eye that may lead to vision impairment or loss.
TARGET ORGANS: Eyes, skin, airway, lungs, liver, kidney, heart and bone.
Fuel that has been used? Hydrazine. Fuel that could be used? Antimatter.

True.

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I recommend J. D. Clark's "Ignition" for a scary history of Cold War-era propellant labs. Some of the craziest fuels researched were

  • Hydrazines / N2O4 (we're still using this... :huh:)
  • Fluorine compounds (liquid F2, ClF3, ClF5, OF2, O2F2...)
  • Ozone (O3)
  • Beryllium (metal, beryllium hydride...)
  • Boranes (B2H6, B5H9...)
  • Mercury (metal, dimethylmercury...)

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Anybody remember kosmos 954? That nasty satellite that spilled radioactive debris all over canada... Not rly a fuel meant for propulsion, but certainly an unpleasant example of an efficient concept gone wrong.

Anyway, from what I read so far mercury wins the the competition for me, even if (luckily) only lab tested. It makes nuclear propulsion and even hydrazin look quite manageable.

For real fuels that are used regulary it's probably hydrazin. LOX isn't exactly safe either, but at least you can store it somewhat safely pre-launch and the long term problems aren't nearly as bad. I just had to remember the images of hazmat suits clearing the site after the failed antares launch last year... (the payload very likely contained some)

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  • 3 months later...

Got to this years late, but can't believe no-one acknowledged SubzeroSpartan7's   about pentaborane. The wikipedia entry includes this gem:

" Long after the pentaborane was considered unworkable, the total United States stock of the chemical, 1900 pounds, was destroyed in the year 2000, when a safe and inexpensive means for doing so was finally engineered."

Above 30 °C it can form explosive concentration of vapors with air. Its vapors are heavier than air. It is pyrophoric—can ignite spontaneously in contact with air, when even slightly impure. It can also readily form shock sensitive explosive compounds, and reacts violently with some fire suppressants, notably with halocarbons and water. It is highly toxic and symptoms of lower-level exposure may occur with up to 48 hours delay. Its acute toxicity is comparable to some nerve agents.

 

That said, Chlorine trifluoride is probably more dangerous, though pentaborane must be a close second. The soviets designed a version of the RD-270 engine to run on pentaborane, and was considered for a prototype of the B-70 bomber.

 

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On 10/11/2015 at 6:40 PM, cryogen said:

Hydrazines / N2O4 (we're still using this... :huh:)

Because they work. Hypergolics with decent Isp, simple and reliable. Exhaust products are nitrogen oxides and water, pretty harmless compared to the kinds of stuff the other fuels spew out the nozzle.

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On 8.10.2015 at 9:12 AM, sgt_flyer said:

Guess what was tested back then in 1967 has the edge in dangerosity... (Though, hopefully, this combination is so difficult to do outside of test benches that it's not really adaptable)

https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1967/1967%20-%200069.html

Tripropellant Lithium - fluoride - hydrogen rocket engine tested in the 60s... - 542 ISP !

...

The danger depends on the amount of fuel you have with you. Just measuring on danger I'd rather use 12 atoms antimatter than 100 t of hydrogen.

The stuff sgt_flyer suggested is also quite dangerous (but it is fluorine and not fluoride). Difficult to store, every two of them go bad in combination and the engine has to insert all three propellants at once. I think it is one of the worst chemical ones. Hydrogen with some fraction of atomic hydrogen in it leads to higher impulse and is even more dangerous, so I would take that combination. Perhaps that works with fluorine as well?

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There was some monopropellant stuff that they planned to use with the ALASA launch vehicle. It constantly exploded during ground tests, so DARPA is evaluating new possibilities for ALASA (or perhaps finding a way to make the propellant less explosive)

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1 hour ago, Delta_8930 said:

There was some monopropellant stuff that they planned to use with the ALASA launch vehicle. It constantly exploded during ground tests, so DARPA is evaluating new possibilities for ALASA (or perhaps finding a way to make the propellant less explosive)

Not as dangerous as flourine. Also, what happened to your rocket trivia threads?

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11 hours ago, Delta_8930 said:

There was some monopropellant stuff that they planned to use with the ALASA launch vehicle. It constantly exploded during ground tests, so DARPA is evaluating new possibilities for ALASA (or perhaps finding a way to make the propellant less explosive)

Was a monopropellant mix of acetylene and nitrous oxide. 

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On 9 October 2015 at 0:34 PM, cantab said:
Jovus said:
I'm gonna have to go with UDMH/HNO3. Are there other, more dangerous fuels on paper? Sure. But tally actual deaths.

If you're counting deaths and injuries then it may well go to black powder, because any idiot can buy a firework and get themselves injured by it.

I'll see your black powder and raise you alcohol. On the deaths, injury and general human misery scale, alcohol is pretty darn dangerous. 

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Just now, KSK said:

I'll see your black powder and raise you alcohol. On the deaths, injury and general human misery scale, alcohol is pretty darn dangerous. 

The combination is very potent, remember me and an friend having an duel on new year celebration. One guy with an van full of firework had fallen asleep so we both took as many rockets we could carry went out to the road. walked 10 steps from each other and started firing at each other. 

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10 hours ago, Kryten said:

Was a monopropellant mix of acetylene and nitrous oxide. 

Wait, that's suicidally stupid

4 hours ago, Vanamonde said:

Please turn the discussion back to the actual topic, and keep in mind that references to "adult content" such as intoxicants are off-topic for this forum (2.2.c). 

Liquid oxygen can just as reliably intoxicate you

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