A NOBOSS stands in contrast to compressed- gas and cryogenic air-supply systems. Compressed-gas systems necessarily include massive tanks that can hold only relatively small amounts of gases. Alternatively, gases can be stored compactly in greater quantities and at low pressures when they are liquefied, but then cryogenic equipment is needed to maintain them in liquid form. Overcoming the disadvantages of both compressed-gas and cryogenic systems, the NOBOSS exploits the fact that N2O can be stored in liquid form at room temperature and moderate pressure. The mass of N2O that can be stored in a tank of a given mass is about 20 times the mass of compressed air that can be stored in a tank of equal mass.

In a NOBOSS, N2O is exothermically dissociated to N2 and O2 in a main catalytic reactor. In order to ensure the dissociation of N2O to the maximum possible extent, the temperature of the reactor must be kept above 400 °C. At the same time, to minimize concentrations of nitrogen oxides (which are toxic), it is necessary to keep the reactor temperature at or below 540 °C. To keep the temperature within the required range throughout the reactor and, in particular, to prevent the formation of hot spots that would be generated by local concentrations of the exothermic dissociation reaction, the N2O is introduced into the reactor through an injector tube that features carefully spaced holes to distribute the input flow of N2O widely throughout the reactor.

A NOBOSS includes one or more “destroyer” subsystems for removing any nitrogen oxides that remain downstream of the main N2O-dissociation reactor. A destroyer includes a carbon bed in series with a catalytic reactor, and is in thermal contact with the main N2O-dissociation reactor. The gas mixture that leaves the main reactor first goes through a carbon bed, which adsorbs all of the trace NO and most of the trace NO2. The gas mixture then goes through the destroyer catalytic reactor, wherein most or all of the remaining NO2 is dissociated.

A NOBOSS can be designed to regulate its reactor temperature across a range of flow rates. One such system includes three destroyer loops; these loops act, in combination with a heat sink, to remove heat from the main N2O-dissociation reactor. In this system, the N2O and product gases play an additional role as coolants; thus, as needed, the coolant flow increases in proportion to the rate of generation of heat, helping to keep the main-reactor temperature below 540 °C.

This work was done by Robert Zubrin and Brian Frankie of Pioneer Astronautics for Johnson Space Center.

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:


Pioneer Astronautics
11111 W. 8th Ave., Unit A
Lakewood, CO 80215
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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This article first appeared in the March, 2006 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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