Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Stephen Whitmore


Stephen Whitmore


David Geller


Rees Fullmer


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an inexpensive and readily available non-toxic rocket motor oxidizer. It is the most commonly used oxidizer for hybrid bipropellant rocket systems, and several bipropellant liquid rocket designs have also used nitrous oxide. In liquid form, N2O is highly stable, but in vapor form it has the potential to decompose exothermically, releasing up to 1865 Joules per gram of vapor as it dissociates into nitrogen and oxygen. Consequently, it has long been considered as a potential "green" replacement for existing highly toxic and dangerous monopropellants. This project investigates the feasibility of using the nitrous oxide decomposition reaction as a monopropellant energy source for igniting liquid bipropellant and hybrid rockets that already use nitrous oxide as the primary oxidizer. Because nitrous oxide is such a stable propellant, the energy barrier to dissociation is quite high; normal thermal decomposition of the vapor phase does not occur until temperatures are above 800 C. The use of a ruthenium catalyst decreases the activation energy for this reaction to allow rapid decomposition below 400 C. This research investigates the design for a prototype device that channels the energy of dissociation to ignite a laboratory scale hybrid rocket motor.