Hypergolic propellant

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A rocket propellant combination used in a rocket engine is called hypergolic when the propellants spontaneously ignite when they come into contact. Strictly speaking it is the combination that is hypergolic, but in less precise usage the individual propellants are also referred to as hypergolic.[citation needed] The two propellant components usually consist of a fuel and an oxidizer. Although hypergolic propellants tend to be difficult to handle because of their extreme toxicity and/or corrosiveness, a hypergolic engine is relatively easy to ignite reliably.

In common usage, the terms "hypergol" or "hypergolic propellant" are often used to mean the most common such propellant combination, hydrazine plus dinitrogen tetroxide, or their relatives.

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History

Soviet rocket engine researcher Valentin Glushko experimented with hypergolic fuel as early as 1931. It was initially used for "chemical ignition" of engines, starting kerosene/nitric acid engines with an initial charge of phosphorus dissolved in carbon disulfide. German professor Otto Lutz independently discovered the principle again in 1935. The Wac Corporal rocket developed in the USA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1944 used nitric acid with aniline fuel.

In Germany from the mid 1930s through World War II, rocket propellants were broadly classed as monergols, hypergols, non-hypergols and lithergols. The ending ergol is a combination of Greek ergon or work, and Latin oleum or oil, later influenced by the chemical suffix -ol from alcohol. Monergols were monopropellants, while non-hypergols were bipropellants which required external ignition, and Lithergols were solid/liquid hybrids. Hypergolic propellants (or at least hypergolic ignition) were far less prone to hard starts than electric or pyrotechnic ignition. The "hypergole" terminology was coined by Dr. Wolfgang Nöggerath, at the Technical University of Brunswick, Germany.[1]

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