AskDefine | Define propellants

Extensive Definition

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 vapour in equilibrium with its liquid. 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. 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. Propellants are nearly always chemically different from explosives as used in shells and mines to produce a blasting effect.
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:
Propellants that explode in operation are of little practical use currently, although there have been experiments with Pulse Detonation Engines.

Liquid propellant rockets

Technically, the word propellants is used for the chemicals combined in a rocket engine to make it move by reactive force. However, 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.
Most common are bipropellant combinations, 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 theory involves adding a third propellant tank containing liquid hydrogen to do this. In practice, a hydrogen-oxygen engine can take advantage of this by simply adding more hydrogen than would obtain at the stoichiometric ratio.

Sources and references

(incomplete)
propellants in German: Treibladung
propellants in Spanish: Propergol
propellants in French: Propergol
propellants in Indonesian: Bahan pendorong
propellants in Japanese: プロペラント
propellants in Portuguese: Propelente
propellants in Finnish: Ajoaine
propellants in Swedish: Drivämne
propellants in Vietnamese: Thuốc phóng
propellants in Italian: Propellente solido
propellants in Chinese: 裝藥
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