A propellant is a material that is used to move ("propel") an object. This will often involve a chemical reaction. It may be a gas, liquid, plasma, or, before the chemical reaction, a solid.

Common chemical propellants consist of a fuel, like gasoline, jet fuel and rocket fuel, and an oxidizer.

Aerosol sprays

In aerosol spray cans, the propellant is simply a pressurized gas in equilibrium with its liquid (at its saturated vapour pressure). As some gas escapes to expel the payload, more liquid evaporates, maintaining an even pressure. (See aerosol spray propellant for more information.)

Solid propellant rockets and projectiles

In ballistics and pyrotechnics, a propellant is a generic name for chemicals used for propelling projectiles from guns and other firearms.

Propellants are nearly always chemically different from high explosives as used in shells and mines to produce a blasting effect. However, some explosive substances can be used both as propellants and as bursters, as for example gunpowder, and some of the ingredients of a propellant may be similar, though differently proportioned and combined, to those of an explosive.

A very typical propellant burns rapidly but controllably and "non" explosively, to produce thrust by gas pressure and thus accelerates a projectile or rocket. In this sense, common or well known propellants include, for firearms, artillery and solid propellant rockets:
*Gun propellants, such as:
**Gunpowder (black powder)
**Nitrocellulose-based powders
**Smokeless powders
*Composite propellants made from a solid oxidizer such as ammonium perchlorate or ammonium nitrate, a rubber such as HTPB or PBAN, and usually a powdered metal fuel such as aluminum.
*Some amateur propellants use potassium nitrate, combined with sugar, epoxy, or other fuels / binder compounds.
*Potassium perchlorate has been used as an oxidizer, paired with asphalt, epoxy, and other binders.

Propellants that explode in operation are of little practical use currently, although there have been experiments with Pulse Detonation Engines.

Aircraft and rockets

Technically, the word propellant is the general name for chemicals used to create thrust. The term propellant refers only to chemicals that are stored within the vehicle prior to use, and excludes atmospheric gas or other material that may be collected in operation.

Amongst the English-speaking lay public, used to having fuels propel vehicles on Earth, the word fuel is inappropriately used. In Germany, the word "Treibstoff"—literally "drive-stuff"—is used; in France, the word "ergols" is used; it has the same Greek roots as hypergolic, a term used in English for propellants which combine spontaneously and do not have to be set ablaze by auxiliary ignition system.

In rockets the most common combinations are "bipropellants", which use two chemicals, a fuel and an oxidiser. There is the possibility of a tripropellant combination, which takes advantage of the ability of substances with smaller atoms to attain a greater exhaust velocity, and hence propulsive efficiency, at a given temperature.

Although not used in practice, the most developed tripropellant systems involves adding a third propellant tank containing liquid hydrogen to do this.

Common propellant combinations used for liquid propellant rockets include:
*RFNA and kerosene or RP-1
*Dinitrogen tetroxide and UDMH, MMH and/or Hydrazine
*Liquid oxygen and kerosene or RP-1
*Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen
*Hydrogen Peroxide and alcohol or RP-1
*Chlorine pentafluoride & Hydrazine

ources and references


ee also

*Spacecraft propulsion
*Specific impulse

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • propellant — propellant, propellent The noun propellant, meaning ‘a thing that propels’ (especially a rocket fuel or the agent in aerosol sprays), is the more familiar word. Propellent is an adjective meaning ‘capable of driving or pushing forward’ …   Modern English usage

  • propellant — index impetus Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • propellant — fuel for a rocket engine, 1919, from PROPEL (Cf. propel) + ANT (Cf. ant) …   Etymology dictionary

  • propellant — ► NOUN 1) a compressed fluid in which the active contents of an aerosol are dispersed. 2) an explosive that fires bullets from a firearm. 3) a substance used to provide thrust in a rocket engine. ► ADJECTIVE (also propellent) ▪ capable of… …   English terms dictionary

  • propellant — [prə pel′ənt, prōpel′ənt] n. a person or thing that propels; specif., a) the explosive charge that propels a projectile from a gun ☆ b) the fuel and oxidizer used to propel a rocket …   English World dictionary

  • propellant — [[t]prəpe̱lənt[/t]] propellants 1) N MASS Propellant is a substance that causes something to move forwards. enormous amount of propellant. ...a propellant for nuclear rockets. 2) N MASS Propellant is a gas that is used in spray cans to… …   English dictionary

  • propellant — /preuh pel euhnt/, n. 1. a propelling agent. 2. the charge of explosive used to propel the projectile from a gun. 3. a substance, usually a mixture of fuel and oxidizer, for propelling a rocket. 4. a compressed inert gas that serves to dispense… …   Universalium

  • propellant — UK [prəˈpelənt] / US noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms propellant : singular propellant plural propellants 1) a substance used for making something move forwards, for example fuel for sending a rocket into space 2) a gas used for forcing a… …   English dictionary

  • propellant — raketinis kuras statusas T sritis chemija apibrėžtis Raketiniuose varikliuose naudojamas medžiagų mišinys. atitikmenys: angl. propellant; rocket propellant rus. ракетное топливо …   Chemijos terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • propellant — pro|pel|lant [prəˈpelənt] n [U and C] 1.) an explosive for firing a bullet or ↑rocket 2.) gas which is used in an ↑aerosol to ↑spray out a liquid >propellant adj …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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