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The element Mercury as a Fuel?

  1. Dec 27, 2003 #1
    Does Mercury have properties that would permit its' use as a Fuel to power Spacecraft? Has this been done before or experimented with? If it is heated to its' vaporization point, what happens? I know it is highly poisonous but I have heard that it has a potential for use as "a" fuel.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2003 #2
    I supposed it could be ionized and spat out an accelorater. As in an ion drive, although I hadn't heard of the recent NASA tests using mercury.
  4. Dec 30, 2003 #3


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    I think the russians used Mercury and the Americans used Xenon.
  5. Jun 23, 2009 #4
    In these examples mercury is not a fuel. In order to vaporize and accelerate the mercury ions you need some other source of energy.
    The role of the mercury in this (ionic motors, I think) is somewhat similar to the role of water in a steam engine. Water is vaporized and the high pressure vapors are used to push the pistons. But the water is not the fuel. (the fuel was coal usually)
  6. Jun 23, 2009 #5


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    I think one means 'propellant' as opposed to 'fuel'. Propellant is the working fluid which provides thrust by virtue of mass flow rate and exhaust velocity, as apposed to fuel which provide energy. In some cases decomposition of a monopropellant or a bipropellant (fuel/oxidizer), the fuel is part of the working fluid.

    Xenon or Cesium is used in preference to mercury.

    Edit: Please note the OP was made Dec27-03.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2009
  7. Oct 24, 2009 #6
    The one property that mercury has over xenon or cesium as an ion-thrust propellant on spacecraft voyages is high density, which makes for easier storage on the spacecraft during long voyages. Mercury has a lower ionization energy than xenon, but higher than cesium. See table:
    Bob S
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