From what I know, it seems good, so why does no one use butane as a rocket fuel?

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    $\begingroup$ I think it can be chalked up to the intense conservativeness of the aerospace industry. All hydrocarbons end up being somewhat similar to each other. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ It would seem to me that, for full-scale rockets, using a fuel which is not liquid at room temperature and pressure is an unnecessary complication. Yes, LOX is used as an oxidizer, but that's because there's no other choice (and LOX is not terribly dangerous to handle unpressurized). I don't doubt that hobbyists somewhere have at one time used butane as a fuel, though. $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 21:58

1 Answer 1


Hydrocarbons are largely interchangeable when it comes to performance, and as long as no single one beats kerosene with a large enough margin, the hassle of changing infrastructure is generally not worth it.

Compared to RP-1, butane has slightly (very slightly) higher specific impulse, and somewhat lower density, largely cancelling each other out.

Butane comes up short, since if sacrificing some density for Isp is beneficial, why not go all the way with methane? And if sacrificing density is unacceptable, more highly refined compounds like syntin gives you the same Isp boost, with even a little higher density as an added bonus.


Hydrocarbon plots from user Proponent on nasaspaceflight

  • $\begingroup$ Butane also has a boiling point of around 0°C. So while not cryogenic, it's a cold liquid that will require refrigeration, insulated storage, and handling of boiloff, giving it much the same complexity of a cryogenic fluid compared to one like RP-1. Despite that, it's not really cold enough to be a much more effective coolant (unless you subcool it, at which point you're even closer to methane). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ Or pressurization except propane does that Better. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ I am seeing a pattern here as there are questions discussing about incompatibility of lower hydrocarbons as rocket fuel: propane; ethene and now butane. Are there any reasons/rules for not using lower hydrocarbons as rocket fuel? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @NilayGhosh: I suspect we'll run out of non-duplicate questions soon enough. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Joshua: I hope so, since the number of possible compounds this question could be asked about explodes rapidly once you start adding more carbons. :) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 18:48

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