Liquid oxygen was the earliest, cheapest, safest, and eventually the preferred oxidiser for large space launchers. Its main drawback is that it is moderately cryogenic, and therefore not suitable for military uses where storage of the fuelled missile and quick launch are required. Liquid oxygen, as normally supplied, is of 99.5 percent purity and is covered in the United States by Military Specification MIL-P-25508. High purity liquid oxygen has a light blue colour and is transparent. It has no characteristic odour. Liquid oxygen does not burn, but will support combustion vigorously. The liquid is stable; however, mixtures of fuel and liquid oxygen are shock-sensitive. Gaseous oxygen can form mixtures with fuel vapours that can be exploded by static electricity, electric spark, or flame. Liquid oxygen is obtained from air by fractional distillation. The 1959 United. States production of high-purity oxygen was estimated at nearly 2 million tonnes. The cost of liquid oxygen, at that time, ex-works, was $ 0.04 per kg. By the 1980's NASA was paying $ 0.08 per kg.
In January 1953 Rocketdyne commenced the REAP program to develop a number of improvements to the engines being developed for the Navaho and Atlas missiles. Among these was development of a special grade of kerosene suitable for rocket engines. Prior to that any number of rocket propellants derived from petroleum had been used. Goddard had begun with gasoline, and there were experimental engines powered by kerosene, diesel oil, paint thinner, or jet fuel kerosene JP-4 or JP-5. The wide variance in physical properties among fuels of the same class led to the identification of narrow-range petroleum fractions, embodied in 1954 in the standard US kerosene rocket fuel RP-1, covered by Military Specification MIL-R-25576. In Russia, similar specifications were developed for kerosene under the specifications T-1 and RG-1. The Russians also developed a compound of unknown formulation in the 1980's known as 'Sintin', or synthetic kerosene. Rocket propellant RP-1 is a straight-run kerosene fraction, which is subjected to further treatment, i.e., acid washing, sulphur dioxide extraction. Thus, unsaturated substances which polymerise in storage are removed, as are sulphur-containing hydrocarbons. Furthermore, in order to meet specification requirements of density, heat of combustion, and aromatic content, the kerosene must be obtained from crudes with a high naphthene content. RP-1 is an excellent solvent for many organic materials. The flash point is above 43 deg C. Above that temperature RP-1 will form explosive mixtures with air. The temperature range for explosive mixtures (rich limit) is 79 to 85 deg C. RP-1 is not so toxic as the JP series of fuels because of its lower aromatic content. In the United States, suitable kerosene fractions in 1960 were limited almost exclusively to the West Coast. The estimated 1956 United States production was 7700 tonnes, and the price was $0.05 per kg. By the 1980's it was typically $ 0.20 per kg. Russian formulations have typical densities of 0.82 to 0.85 g/cc, and even higher densities were achieved in the N1 and Soyuz 11A511U rockets by superchilling the fuel prior to loading.