Liquid and Gas Phase Chemistry of Hypergolic Reactions between MMH and NTO or RFNA

Ariel Black, Purdue University


Hypergolic systems rely on fuel and oxidizer propellant combinations that spontaneously ignite upon contact. Monomethylhydrazine (MMH) fuel and nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) - based oxidizers embody the state of the art for hypergolic propellants, although the health and safety hazards associated with these propellants demand investigation into less-toxic, high performance alternatives. In order to replicate the combustion characteristics of these highly reactive propellants, a detailed understanding of the full reaction process is necessary. Current reaction mechanisms and hypergolic ignition models generally assume that gas-phase chemistry dominates the interaction since the liquid-phase reactions occur on the order of microseconds. However, condensed-phase reactions produce intermediates integral to gas-phase initiation and development. Additional insight into the physical and chemical processes that dictate this liquid-phase chemistry is therefore essential. Concurrently, further examination of the gas-phase reactions leading to and immediately following ignition is also needed. A method devoted to the determination of the liquid phase hypergolic reaction mechanism and kinematic rate parameters for MMH-NTO and MMH-red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) is presented in this study. MMH-RFNA reaction chemistry is better understood and documented in literature than MMH-NTO and is examined for comparison and validation. Drop on pool experiments at a range of temperatures were initially undertaken using MMH and RFNA and then modified to accommodate the high vapor pressure of NTO. Using a temperature and atmosphere controlled droplet contact chamber, the liquid phases of MMH-RFNA and MMH-NTO were studied by capturing impacts at frame rates from 100,000 to 500,000 fps. This footage allowed for the identification of time delays between droplet contact and initial gas formation, enabling calibration of the Arrhenius pre-exponential factors and activation energies for a global, one-step liquid phase chemical reaction model. These defining constants have never before been experimentally determined for MMH-NTO and can be employed to improve the accuracy of CFD combustion simulations. Induction delay times for MMH-RFNA ranged from 30 to 100 microseconds, agreeing with previously reported data, while MMH-NTO delays varied from 10 to 100 microseconds. Advanced ultraviolet and visible (UV-Vis) spectroscopic techniques were applied to conventional drop test analysis in order to study the emitting species in MMH-NTO and MMH-RFNA combustion reactions. A streak camera coupled with a spectrometer provided temporally resolved spectra for species emitting wavelengths from 250 to 950 nm within a one millimeter diameter point of interest above the reaction. The spectra were compared to known MMH-RFNA gas-phase reaction mechanisms and spectroscopic data reported in literature in an attempt to partially validate the proposed full and reduced MMH-RFNA reaction mechanisms and derive a connection to elementary reactions of MMH-NTO. MMH-NTO consistently produced brighter flames than MMH-RFNA and as such generally generated higher intensity signals for a given spectrometer setting. Both propellant combinations revealed conclusive evidence of OH and NH radicals and probable evidence of CN and/or CH radicals. In most tests OH* yielded the highest intensity signals with both RFNA and NTO. MMH-NTO revealed greater NH* intensity than MMH-RFNA. Additionally, species appeared later but peaked sooner relative to ignition for MMH-RFNA than for MMH-NTO. Efforts to draw correlations between these experimental results and existing reaction mechanisms proved to be challenging and are ongoing. A dominant, high intensity signal characteristic of sodium was an unexpected, but apparently not uncommon, observation, with varying opinions as to its origin.




Pourpoint, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Chemistry|Physical chemistry|Aerospace engineering

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