A concept was evaluated of using nitrous oxide as (1) a monopropellant in thrusters for space suits and spacecraft and (2) a source of breathable gas inside space suits and spacecraft, both by exploiting the controlled decomposition of N2O into N2 and O2. Relative to one prior monopropellant hydrazine, N2O is much less toxic, yet offers comparable performance. N2O can be stored safely as a liquid at room temperature and unlike another prior monopropellant hydrogen peroxide does not decompose spontaneously. A prototype N2O-based thruster has been demonstrated. It has also been proposed to harness N2O-based thrusters for generating electric power and to use the N2 + O2 decomposition product as a breathable gas. Because of the high performance, safety, and ease of handling of N2O, it can be expected to be economically attractive to equip future spacecraft and space suits with N2O-based thrusters and breathable-gas systems.
This work was done by Robert Zubrin, Greg Mungas, and K. Mark Caviezel of Pioneer Astronautics for Johnson Space Center. For further information, contact the JSC Innovation Partnerships Office at (281) 483-3809.
In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:
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Refer to MSC-23707-1, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.