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It deals with the performance of rocket-propelled vehicles such as ,missiles, spacecraft, space launch vehicles, or projectiles.




provide forces to a flight vehicle and

cause it to accelerate (or decelerate),

overcome drag forces, or change

flight direction.

They are usually applied to several different flight regimes:

(1)Flight within the atmosphere (air to surface missiles or sounding rockets)

(2)Near-space environment (earth satellites) (3)Lunar and planetary flights (4)Sun escape








M is the instantaneous mass of the rocket, u is the velocity of the rocket, v is the velocity of the exhaust from the rocket, A is the area of the exhaust nozzle, p is the exhaust pressure and p0 is the atmospheric pressure. During a small amount of time dt a small amount of mass dm is exhausted from the rocket. This changes the mass of the rocket and the velocity of the rocket and we can evaluate the change in momentum of the rocket as

change in rocket momentum =

M (u + du) - M u = M du

We can also determine the change in momentum of the small mass dm that is exhausted at velocity v as

change in exhaust

momentum =

dm (u - v) - dm u = - dm v

So the total change in momentum

of the system (rocket + exhaust) is

change in system momentum


M du - dm v










forces; weight, thrust, and the aerodynamic forces, lift and drag.

The magnitude of the WEIGHT depends on the mass of all of the parts of the rocket. The weight force is always directed towards the center of the earth and acts through the center of gravity.

The magnitude of the THRUST depends on the mass flow rate through the engine and the velocity and pressure at the exit of the nozzle. The thrust force normally acts along the longitudinal axis of the rocket and therefore acts through the center of gravity. Some full scale rockets can move, or gimbal, their nozzles to produce a force which is not aligned with the center of gravity.

animation of the motion of the rocket as the nozzle is gimbaled:

The resulting

torque about the center


gravity can be used to maneuver the rocket. The













velocity of the rocket and on properties of the

atmosphere. The aerodynamic forces act through the center of pressure.

Although the same four forces act on a rocket as on an airplane, there are some important differences in the application of the forces:

1. On an airplane, the lift force (the aerodynamic force perpendicular to the flight direction) is used to overcome the weight. On a rocket, thrust is used in opposition to weight. On many rockets, lift is used to stabilize and control the direction of flight

2. On an airplane, most of the aerodynamic forces are generated by the wings and the tail surfaces. For a rocket, the aerodynamic forces are generated by the fins, nose cone, and body tube. For both airplane and rocket, the aerodynamic forces act through the center of pressure while the weight acts through the center of gravity.


While most airplanes have a high lift to

drag ratio, the drag of a rocket is usually much greater than the lift.

  • 4. While the magnitude and direction of the forces remain fairly constant for an airplane, the magnitude and direction of the forces acting on a rocket change dramatically during a typical flight.



Thrust is the force which moves the rocket

through the air, and through space. Thrust is generated by the propulsion system of the rocket through the application of Newton's third law of motion; For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action. In the propulsion system, an engine does work on a gas or liquid, called a WORKING FLUID and accelerates the working fluid through the propulsion system. The re- action to the acceleration of the working fluid produces the thrust force on the engine. The working fluid is

expelled from the engine in one direction and the thrust

force is applied to the engine in the opposite direction.



Weight is the force generated by the

gravitational attraction on the rocket. We are more familiar with weight than with the other forces acting on a rocket, because each of us have our own weight

which we can measure every morning on the bathroom

scale. We know when one thing is heavy and when

another thing is light. But weight, the gravitational force, is fundamentally different from the other forces

acting on a rocket in flight.

The aerodynamic forces,

lift and drag, and the thrust force are mechanical forces. The rocket must be in physical contact with the

gases which generates these forces. The gravitational

force is a field force and the rocket does not have to be in contact with the source of this force.




Aerodynamic forces are

generated and act on a rocket as it flies through the air. Forces are vector quantities having both a magnitude and a direction. The magnitude of the aerodynamic forces depends on the shape, size and velocity of the rocket and some properties of the air through which it flies. By convention, the single aerodynamic force is broken into two components: the drag force which is opposed to the direction of motion, and the lift force which acts perpendicular to the direction of motion. The lift and drag act through the center of pressure which is the average location of the aerodynamic forces on an object.





A two-stage rocket carries a

propellant and one or more rocket engines in each stage.

The first stage launches the

rocket. After burning its supply of propellant, the first stage falls away from the rest of the rocket. The second stage then

ignites and carries the payload

into earth orbit or even farther

into space. A balloon and a rocket work in much the same

way. Gas flowing from the

nozzle creates unequal pressure that lifts the balloon or the rocket off the ground. Image

credit: World Book diagram

Launch vehicles used by European nations include the European Space Agency's Ariane 5 rocket and Russia's A class and Proton rockets. These vehicles carry space probes and artificial satellites into outer space. The A Class rocket has also carried people into space, and the Proton rocket has carried International Space Station modules. Image credit: World Book illustrations by Oxford Illustrators Limited

Launch vehicles used by

European nations include the European Space Agency's Ariane 5 rocket

and Russia's A class and

Proton rockets. These vehicles carry space probes and artificial satellites into

outer space. The A Class

rocket has also carried people into space, and the Proton rocket has carried

International Space Station

modules. Image credit:

World Book illustrations by

Oxford Illustrators Limited

The vehicles shown here helped the United States and the Soviet Union achieve milestones in the

exploration of space. The United

States no longer builds these rockets, but Russia continues to use the Soviet A Class design in the Soyuz rocket.

A Class (Vostok), Soviet. Carried Yuri Gagarin, the first person to orbit the earth, in 1961. 126 feet (38 meters) Saturn 5, U.S. Launched Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon, in 1969. 363 feet (111 meters) Image credit: WORLD BOOK illustrations by Oxford Illustrators Limited


People use rockets for high-speed, high-

power transportation




atmosphere and in space. Rockets are

especially valuable for

(1) military use,

(2) atmospheric research, (3) launching probes and satellites, and (4) space travel.



Rockets used by the military vary in

size from small rockets used on the battlefield to giant guided missiles that can fly across oceans. The

bazooka is a small rocket launcher carried by soldiers

for use against armored vehicles. A person using a bazooka has as much striking power as a small tank. Armies use larger rockets to fire explosives far behind

enemy lines and to shoot down enemy aircraft. Fighter airplanes carry rocket-powered guided missiles to attack other planes and ground targets. Navy ships use

guided missiles to attack other ships, land targets, and planes.



Scientists use rockets to explore Earth's atmosphere. Sounding rockets, also called meteorological rockets, carry such equipment as

barometers, cameras, and thermometers high into the

atmosphere. These instruments collect information about the atmosphere and send it by radio to receiving equipment on the ground.

Rockets also provide the power for experimental research airplanes. Engineers use these planes in the development of spacecraft. By studying the flights of such planes as the rocket-powered X-1 and X-15, engineers learned how to control vehicles flying many times as fast as the speed of sound.

Launching probes and satellites

Rockets carry crewless spacecraft called

space probes on long voyages to explore the solar system. Probes have explored the sun, the moon, and

all the planets in our solar system except Pluto. They

carry scientific instruments that gather information

about the planets and transmit data back to Earth.




Venus, and Mars.







Rockets that launch satellites and probes are called launch vehicles. Most of these rockets have from

two to four stages. The stages lift the satellite to its

proper altitude

and give

it enough speed

-- about

17,000 miles (27,000 kilometers) per hour -- to stay in


A space probe's speed must reach about 25,000

miles (40,000 kilometers) per hour to escape Earth's gravity and continue on its voyage.

Engineers created the first launch vehicles by

altering military rockets or sounding rockets to carry spacecraft. For example, they added stages to some of

these rockets to increase their speed. Today, engineers

sometimes attach smaller rockets to a launch vehicle. These rockets, called boosters, provide additional thrust to launch heavier spacecraft.



Rockets launch spacecraft carrying

astronauts that orbit Earth and travel into space. These rockets, like the ones used to launch probes and

satellites, are called launch vehicles.

The Saturn 5 rocket, which carried astronauts to the moon, was the most powerful launch vehicle ever

built by the United States. Before launch, it weighed

more than 6 million pounds (2.7 million kilograms). It could send a spacecraft weighing more than 100,000 pounds (45,000 kilograms) to the moon. The Saturn 5

used 11 rocket engines to propel three stages.

The Flight of the Model Rocket



Launch: technically, this is the time that the rocket is travelling up the

launch rod. It is not yet moving fast enough for the fins to stabilize the flight

aerodynamically. The engine ramps up to

full thrust, briefly exceeding the average thrust in order to get the rocket up to speed

(about 30 mph) before it reaches the end of

the launch rod.




Powered Flight: flight

time after the rocket has left the launch

rod, while the engine is still burning.

During this time the rocket is a "free

body", with

three forces acting on it: the

thrust of the rocket, gravity (the weight of

the rocket), and wind resistance. Of the three forces, though, the rocket thrust is

by far the dominant one.



Burn-out: the engine runs out

of propellant and the rocket is no longer under thrust. Since it has just gotten the entire "push" from the engine, though, the

rocket is now moving at its highest speed

- as much as 300 miles per hour. It's

going to keep going up for a while.




Coasting Flight: the flight

time of the rocket after the motor has burned

out. During this time the rocket remains a

"free body" with two forces acting on it: gravity

and wind resistance. Because the rocket is,

by design, very light, the wind resistance is

large in comparison to the weight (it can easily be three times the weight of the rocket

at peak velocity) and plays a major role in the

performance of the rocket.



Ejection: during coasting flight a

delay fuse is burning in the rocket engine for

a pre-determined time that is specified for the

motor. When this delay time is up, the

ejection charge fires, forcing the nose off the

end of the rocket and pushing the parachute

(or other recovery device) out. The delay time is chosen to give the rocket just enough time

to slow to a stop and reach its peak altitude

before deployment of the parachute.




with the parachute

deployed, the rocket is returned gently to

the ground so it can be recovered intact

and flown again.




We live in a world that is defined by three

spatial dimensions and one time dimension. Objects move within this domain in two ways. An object translates, or changes location, from one point to another. And an object rotates, or changes its attitude. In general, the motion of any object involves both translation and rotation.

The translations are in direct response to

external forces. The rotations




(twisting forces).





or moments

The motion of a rocket is particularly complex because the rotations and translations are coupled together; a rotation affects the magnitude and direction of the forces which affect translations. To understand

and describe the motion of a rocket, we usually try to

break down the complex problem into a series of easier problems. We can, for instance, assume that the rocket translates from one point to another as if all the mass of the rocket were collected into a single point called the center of gravity. We can describe the motion of the center of gravity by using Newton's laws of motion. In general, there are four forces acting on the rocket; the weight, thrust, drag and lift.