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Hydrazine is a highly toxic and unstable chemical that shares properties similar to that of Ammonia. It is a chemical compound made up of nitrogen and hydrogen. Even though it is very poisonous Hydrazine has many effective applications that are becoming of greater use to scientists and researchers looking for useful sources of energy for space flight and renewable energy every vehicles. This is becoming evident with further research into the processes used to make it and its sister compound.
Hydrazine has two commonly used forms. The first is anhydrous and the second is the hydrate form. The anhydrous form is the most volatile and has to be stored using special procedures to prevent uncontrolled reactions. Most of the time Hydazine is stored in the hydrate form and converted later using chemical reactions. This keeps it ready for use when needed.
The first major use of hydrazine in the field of aeronautics and hydrazine occured with the Germans during World War II. The Germans discovered that Hydrazine had special properties that made it an ideal propellant for liquid propellant rockets granting them more thrust and the added advantage of conrtrol not found with solid chemical rockets. The rocket that used this fuel the most were the infamous V-2 rockets that bombarded France and England. Due to the war time demand for missiles the German developed the first mass production processes for hydrazine.
Hydrazine later became one of the main fuel sources used for launching space craft playing a key role in powering the launches of major space mission such as Mercury and Apollo. Even now NASA space craft use hydrazine to power directional thrusters and orbit correcting thrusters. These can also be found on commerical satellites.
Another interesting use for Hydrazine is as a cheaper alternative to hydrogen as a fuel source for fuel cell vehicles. In the quest for a zero emission fuel source, hydrazine seems a strong candidate. It can be produced at mass consumption levels easily and cheaply and since it is formed from nitrogen and hydrogen will not need as expensive a catylyst to be used in fuel cells. There is also the fact that it produces more energy while still producing water as a byproduct. Toxicity and volatility are the few barriers to its safe use as fuel for the average driver’s vehicle.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Rockets. Listen here, Episode 100: Rockets.