I've read an article about EU lifting sanctions against Russia related to rocket fuel components. As far as I understand (correct me, if I'm wrong), Russia can now continue to export rocket fuel components to the EU.

Another article in Russian says that one of the affected components is hydrazine (and its derivatives), used in the Russian Proton and French Ariane rockets.

Since that fuel is imported from Russia, I conclude that its production is non-trivial (i. e. the EU won't or can't produce it herself). Why? What's so hard about creating hydrazine?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Couldn't it simply be cheaper? Russia must be the largest consumer of hydrazine for rocket fuel and can have economies of scale in its production. Russia often have lower costs in most of what it produces (which is raw materials and advanced weapon/aerospace/nuclear systems, but little consumer or industrial goods in between). $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Oct 17 '15 at 7:01

@LocalFluff's comment that production scale may have something to do with it has merit. Hydrazine propellant use in Europe is around 20 tonnes/year at the moment, which may be too little to justify investment in production facilities. But good luck finding direct evidence of that. So I looked for other factors that might play a role.

World production of hydrazine is around 120,000 tonnes per year. A large fraction of that is produced in Europe. Now most of this is hydrazine hydrate, converting that to the anhydrous hydrazine you need for propellant is reasonably complex.
I found one European supplier of rocket-grade hydrazines, Arch Lonza in Switzerland.

EU Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 - REACH (which regulates health and safety for chemical processes) threatens to make working with hydrazine illegal in the EU.

In 2012, the European space industry produced a position paper arguing for an exemption to REACH for hydrazine used as a propellant. The paper also states that annual use of hydrazine propellants amounts to less than 20 tonnes/year.

From this presentation:

  • Space companies use chemicals in small to minute volumes
  • REACH authorisation process applies regardless of volume
  • Space industry is a minor market for many suppliers
  • Limited control of supply chain
  • Have to rely on registration by upstream manufacturer/importer and authorisation for upstream uses (e.g. formulation)
  • Risk of sudden obsolescence of Space-qualified materials and processes due to REACH-induced alterations of materials and processes upstream
  • Re-qualification and industrialisation of alternative materials and processes is a long- term and cost intensive undertaking – need to decide as early as possible on the items to include in planning

Hydrazine isn't difficult to make, and most of it is made in Europe and India. Russia imports hydrazine from Spain, UK, Holland, and Germany. France also imports hydrazine from Germany for fueling its Ariane space rockets. The biggest market for hydrazine is the plastics industry.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy