"Latvia" Former Soviet Union Military Bases
Appendix V
Nitric Acid/UDMH
Drawing on the German World War II Wasserfall Rocket, nitric acid (HNO3) became the early storable oxidizer of choice for missiles and upper stages of the 1950's. To overcome various problems with its use, it was necessary to combine the nitric acid with N2O4 and passivation compounds. These formulae were considered extremely secret at the time. By the late 1950's it was apparent that N2O4 by itself was a better oxidizer. Therefore nitric acid was almost entirely replaced by pure N2O4 in storable liquid fuel rocket engines developed after 1960. Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine ((CH3)2NNH2) became the storable liquid fuel of choice by the mid-1950's. Development of UDMH in the Soviet Union began in 1949. It is used in virtually all storable liquid rocket engines except for some orbital maneuvering engines in the United States, where MMH has been preferred due to a slightly higher density and performance.
The propellant combinations WFNA/ JP-4 and later IRFNA/JP-4 were the first storable systems given serious consideration in the United States. Problems which caused the abandoning of these propellants were the absence of reliable hypergolic ignition and unstable combustion. IRFNA/UDMH and IRFNA/JP-X finally did prove satisfactory.
The composition of propellant-grade nitric acids is covered by Military Specification MIL-N-7254. The nitric acids are fuming liquids which vary from colorless to brown, depending on the amount of dissolved N2O4. The vapors from these acids have a characteristic pungent odor. They are highly corrosive, toxic, oxidizing agents and attack most metals. They react with most organic materials violently enough to cause fire. The acids are soluble in water in all proportions, with an accompanying evolution of heat. They cannot be made to explode. Approximately 90 per cent of the nitric acid is made by the catalytic oxidation of ammonia with air or oxygen to yield nitric oxide "NO". The latter is oxidized to N2O4 which, when treated with water, yields nitric acid "HNO3" and may be concentrated by distillation with sulphuric acid. Red fuming nitric acids may be produced by passing gaseous N2O4 into nitric acid, a slight modification of the above process. Production of nitric acid was estimated at 3 million tons in 1959. The price of RFNA was $ 0.20 per kg in drum lots; IRFNA was slightly higher. The varieties of nitric acid propellants include:
  • WFNA - White fuming nitric acid is based on anhydrous nitric acid "HNO3", a colorless corrosive liquid which fumes in moist air. They contain a maximum of 2 per cent water and 0.5 per cent nitrogen dioxide, and decompose to yield amounts of water, nitrogen dioxide, and oxygen which are in chemical equilibrium.
  • IWFNA - Inhibited white fuming nitric acid. Since container materials are attacked by WFNA and equilibrium products, 0.6 per cent HF is added for passivation by deposition of a protective metallic fluoride coating.
  • RFNA - Red fuming nitric acid. Since WFNA or IWFNA exhibit excessive equilibrium decomposition pressures, reaching 75 bar at 700 deg C. To suppress the high pressure through a mass-action effect, some 13 per cent N2O4 and 3 per cent H20 are added, in order to reduce equilibrium pressures to 2 bar at 700 deg C. The color of the resulting red fuming nitric acid is imparted by N204.
  • IRFNA - Inhibited red fuming nitric acid. Addition of 0.6 per cent HF to RFNA produces inhibited RFNA (IRFNA). The IRFNA specification was published in 1954 and thereafter Russian rocket engines using the same fuel appeared.
  • AK20 - Russian formulation consisting of 80% nitric acid + 20% N2O4 "AK = Azotna Kislota = Nitric Acid"
  • AK20F - Russian formulation consisting of 80% nitric acid + 20% N2O4 + fluorine passivant
  • AK20I - Russian formulation consisting of 80% nitric acid + 20% N2O4 + iodine passivant
  • AK20K - Russian formulation consisting of 80% nitric acid + 20% N2O4 + unknown additive
  • AK27I - Russian formulation consisting of 73% nitric acid + 27% N2O4 + iodine passivant
  • AK-27P - Russian formulation consisting of 73% nitric acid + 27% N2O4 + unknown additive
Unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine "UDMH" is 98 to 99 per cent pure and is described by Military Specification MIL-D-25604. The normally expected impurities are dimethylamine and water. UDMH is a clear, hygroscopic liquid which yellows on exposure to air. It absorbs oxygen and carbon dioxide. UDMH is a toxic volatile liquid. It exhibits the sharp ammoniacal or fishy odor which is characteristic of organic amines. It is completely miscible with water, ethanol, and most petroleum fuels. It is not shock sensitive. The vapors are flammable in air over 2.5 to 95 per cent concentration range. UDMH can be produced commercially by nitrosation of dimethylamine, to N-nitro-sodimethylrtmine, followed by reduction of the intermediate to UDMH and subsequent purification. UDMH can be prepared, also, by a modification of the Raschig process, in which the chloramine intermediate is with dimethylamine rather than with ammonia. The price in 1959 for tank-car quantities was under $ 1.00 per kg. Engineering studies indicated a price of $ 1.00 per kg with large scale sustained production. But due to its toxic nature, production and transport costs soared in response to environmental regulations. By the 1980's NASA was paying $ 24.00 per kg.
  • Oxidizer: Nitric acid.
  • Fuel: UDMH.
  • Propellant Formulation: IRFNA/UDMH.
  • Optimum Oxidizer to Fuel Ratio: 3.
  • Temperature of Combustion: 3,225 deg K.
  • Ratio of Specific Heats: 1.23.
  • Density: 1.25 g/cc.
  • Characteristic velocity c: 1,675 m/s (5,495 ft/sec).
  • Isp Shifting: 277 sec.
  • Isp Frozen: 268 sec.
  • Mol: 22.00 M (72.00 ft).
  • Oxidizer Density: 1.510 g/cc.
  • Oxidizer Freezing Point: -42 deg C.
  • Oxidizer Boiling Point: 86 deg C.
  • Fuel Density: 0.793 g/cc.
  • Fuel Freezing Point: -57 deg C.
  • Fuel Boiling Point: 63 deg C.
Location: 1675.
Specific impulse: 323 s.
Specific impulse sea level: 276 s.
Revised: 01/27/2013 – 07:12:29