CNES Searches for the Rocket Propellant of the Future

Ariane Ultimate (Credits: CNES)

PARIS (CNES PR) — With a view to preparing for the future, the development of new dense and energetic propellants (HEDM) is one of the avenues to be explored to optimize the performance of launchers.

The goal seems distant, but it is being prepared today. By 2040, several technological breakthroughs should make it possible to develop radically different launchers with strong ambitions in terms of cost, performance and use. CNES, in particular through the Ariane Ultimate initiative , is involved in the emergence of these future innovations which will concern both the structures of launchers and the engines and propellants that power them. 

On this last point, the reflection on the advanced concept of HEDM propellants (high energy density material) arouses particular interest. These molecules, which do not exist to date, would have the advantage of being more energetic (high energy) and denser (density material), and therefore at ISO performance of having smaller reservoirs. Another interest, obtaining a reaction of decomposition of the propellant rather than of combustion would make it possible to use a single propellant instead of the combinations of liquid oxygen and hydrogen used today. 

 If we manage to develop HEDMs, we will be able to design more compact single-propellant launchers, with a single tank per stage and simplified engines equipped with a single turbopump, therefore less expensive. This is a real break.

— Yann Guelou, engineer at CNES


The objectives having been set, it remains to invent this new propellant, which must also meet a certain number of physicochemical characteristics: non-toxicity, stability, liquid at atmospheric temperature. This is the mission of the Hydrazine and PolyNitrogenous Energetic Compounds laboratory, jointly created by CNES, ArianeGroup, CNRS and the University of Lyon, which has been working for ten years on the design of a molecule based on a nitrogenous skeleton.

“The development of a new molecule is a slow process, but research has progressed enough to be able to estimate that the target molecules are not a figment of the mind. Their stabilities have moreover been demonstrated by calculations”, explains Yann Guelou. 

The project partners have just signed a new agreement for 5 years and have decided to allocate more material and human resources to achieve this. With the result, the realization of a major technological brick with a view to the design of single-stage launchers of the SSTO (single stage to orbit) type.

Did You Know?

Ariane Ultimate is an initiative led by CNES which aims to  prepare a new generation of launchers for after 2040. It consists of developing breakthrough technologies, which do not exist today or are in their infancy, which will make it possible to design  a carbon-neutral, fully reusable and inexpensive launcher. To achieve this, CNES is implementing major Research & Technology programs, carried out jointly with leading laboratories in their field and industrial partners.

Launcher Series

Whether we call them launchers or rockets, this CNES activity – which contributes to guaranteeing independent access to the space of France and Europe – is constantly evolving. We invite you to discover its news via a series of articles . There, you will read all the details on the new Ariane 6 launcher and its launch base and familiarize yourself with the innovations and technological breakthroughs that will feed future programs up to 2030.