Occasionally one reads about a spacecraft "dumping fuel". It may mean expelling the propellant(s) as a liquid, or depleting them by burning them up. Although usually only fuel is mentioned, often the oxidizer is also eliminated at the same time. In any case, the propellants are eliminated from the spacecraft.

How does one do this without affecting the attitude or trajectory of the spacecraft?

Related, but about health/safety of a fuel dump: Any risk from Soyuz 22-ton fuel dump?


2 Answers 2


In many cases, propellant is only dumped when the spacecraft’s mission is complete, so any minor changes to trajectory caused by the dump are unimportant.

If you must avoid any trajectory or attitude change due to a propellant dump, the most straightforward way is to have multiple vents pointing in opposite directions, so the propulsive forces cancel out.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Another approach I've seen done for launch vehicle upper stages (say, for blowdown of the main propulsion system through the engines themselves) is to set the vehicle up in an end-over-end tumble, so that the resulting thrust from the venting cancels out over time. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 13:30

It will depend on many factors, but so long as you are NOT using a mono-propellant, then you can simply allow your fuel to run through the system normally (but without lighting it/mixing with oxidiser). This will still result in a slight thrust, but several orders of magnitude less than a 'proper' burn.

If this is done through thruster nozzles, it should be trivial to 'balance' them (even if you are forced to 'light' the fuel, as you would with a hypergolic fuel) so that the net effect is zero.

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    $\begingroup$ This sounds very plausible theoretically, but do you know any actual engines that allow for this? $\endgroup$ Commented May 28, 2019 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ Good point @Hohmannfan. Since the pumps are typically powered by combustion I'd imagine you couldn't pump the contents out actively. You'd have to just open the valves and let it outgas. $\endgroup$
    – Ingolifs
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Hohmannfan, the J-2 engine used by the Saturn V third stage. Venting was sufficiently propulsive to turn a lunar free-return trajectory into either a lunar impact or a gravity assist into heliocentric orbit. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ The shuttle dumped residual LOX through its engines. The LH2 took a different path. There was a significant propulsive effect. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2019 at 1:55

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