How Rockets Work: A Complete Guide

Rockets have been used by humans for hundreds of years to launch things into space.

They have been used to fire off fireworks, signal flares, weapons of war, and now they’ve become a tool for sending spaceships into orbit.

How Rockets Work: A Complete Guide

But how exactly do they work? The science behind it can seem tricky, and leaves many of us unsure how they work, after all, it’s called rocket science for a reason! 

Well, no more! This article will explain everything from the stages of a rocket launch to the different types of rockets used.

How Do Rockets Work?

Rockets use momentum to move forward. If no external forces are acting on them, the rocket’s momentum will stay constant over time.

A fast-moving rocket will go farther than a slow-moving one. Rockets are made out of metal and burn fuel.

Their exhaust carries away their heat, and they move in the opposite direction of their exhaust.

Rockets need to carry their oxidizers, so they don’t take in air.

Rockets also need to be strong enough to withstand the force of gravity, so they’re usually built to fly into orbit. 

The amount of thrust produced by a rocket is measured in Newtons (N).

Thrust is measured at the top of the rocket and is equal to mass times velocity.

For example, if you weigh 100 pounds and your rocket has a speed of 50 miles per hour, then its thrust would be 10 pounds.

What Are The Different Parts Of A Rocket?

There are two main parts to every rocket: the engine and the nozzle.

The engine produces thrust, while the nozzle directs it where it needs to go.

When a rocket launches, the engine ignites and provides all the thrust needed to get the rocket moving. 

Once the rocket leaves Earth’s atmosphere, the nozzle opens up and allows the rocket to continue flying freely through space.

There are three main types of engines that can power a rocket: solid propellant, liquid propellant, and gas turbine. 

Solid propellants are the most common type of engine.

They consist of a solid block of material like aluminum or rubber that burns when exposed to oxygen. Liquid propellants are similar to gasoline.

Gas turbines are powered by burning methane or other gasses.

The next part of a rocket is called the payload. Payloads are anything that goes inside the nose cone of the rocket.

Some examples include satellites, scientific experiments, and people. Satellites are launched into orbit around Earth. 

Scientific experiments are sent into outer space to study what happens to matter in space. People are sent into orbit as well.

Human beings have been going into orbit since 1961 with the Mercury program.

The final part of a rocket is the nose cone. It protects the payload during launch. After the rocket leaves Earth’s surface, the nose cone is jettisoned.

Without the nose cone, the rocket becomes more aerodynamic and flies faster.

What Makes A Rocket Go Up?

How Rockets Work: A Complete Guide

When a rocket is fired, it creates an explosion of hot gasses. These gasses push against the sides of the rocket.

As the gasses expand, they create pressure. The pressure pushes back on the rocket, causing it to accelerate upwards.

The higher the altitude, the greater the pressure pushing against the rocket. 

Eventually, the rocket reaches escape velocity. Escape velocity is the minimum speed required to leave Earth’s gravitational pull.

At this point, the rocket is no longer under the influence of gravity and continues to travel upward.

What Are The Different Stages Of A Launch?

Rockets use two or more stages to reach orbit. The first stage uses nine engines, while the second stage uses just one engine.

The first stage lifts the whole rocket and the payload into space. Then, the second stage carries the payload further into space.

Rockets get stressed when they’re going fast. The fastest rockets get the most stress because they encounter the least amount of air resistance.

After the first stage does its job, the rocket lets go of its fairing – or protective cover. Then the second stage burns up the rest of the fuel.

Most of the discarded parts from a rocket are thrown away. However, some parts are collected and used again.

In the 1980s, NASA started designing rocket parts that could be retrieved after launch. Now private companies are doing the same thing. These reusable parts can reduce the cost of launching rockets.

What Are Rocket Launch Pads And How Are They Used?

How Rockets Work: A Complete Guide

Launchpads are platforms from which rockets are launched.

They consist of a pad and a mount, a metal structure supporting the rocket before launch.

They help protect the rocket from lightning strikes, and they supply the rocket with fuel, liquid oxygen, and other fluids.

An umbilical cable connects the rocket to the launch mount.

The US space agency has many ways to put rockets on launch pads.

The Russian space program uses horizontal transport to get rockets to the launch pad.

The US space agency uses vertical transport to move rockets to the launch pad, while the 

Russians use an entirely different method. There are many safety measures taken when launching rockets.

Water sprays down on the launchpad to cool off the fire, as well as trenches below the pad to direct the rocket’s exhaust.

Different Types Of Rockets

Rockets come in various sizes, but they all share the same basic shape. Their job depends on how big they are.

Rockets range from small satellites weighing less than 100 pounds to giant rockets carrying over 2 million pounds.

Here are the main categories:

Small Satellite Rockets 

These are smaller than 3 feet long. They weigh less than 1,000 pounds. Most of these rockets have only one stage. Some have two stages.

They don’t carry much weight, so their engines don’t need to be very powerful.

Medium-Sized Rockets

These are larger than 3 feet long. These rockets weigh between 1,000 and 5,000 pounds. They usually have two launch stages.

Large Rockets

These are the largest category of rockets. They weigh between 5,000 and 20,000 pounds. They typically have three or four launch stages.

How Do We Know If A Rocket Is Safe?

Several tests must be done before a rocket can fly. First, engineers test the rocket to make sure it will function properly.

Next, they check for any leaks or damage that might cause problems during flight. And finally, they test the rocket to see if it will survive re-entry.

Extreme Conditions

Engineers design rockets to withstand extreme conditions. For example, the heat from the sun causes the Earth’s atmosphere to expand.

This expansion may crack the outer shell of the rocket. To prevent this, engineers add insulation around the outside of the rocket.

High Temperatures

Engineers also design rockets to withstand high temperatures. A rocket engine produces a lot of heat.

If the temperature gets too hot, the rocket won’t burn properly.

So engineers build special materials into the rocket to keep the inside from getting too hot.

Parachute System

Another important part of making a safe rocket is testing its parachute system. Parachutes slow down a rocket after it leaves the ground.

But sometimes parachutes fail to open correctly. Engineers test parachutes by dropping them from airplanes at speeds up to 500 miles per hour.

Final Thoughts

There are many launch sites around the Earth, but only 3 are currently used for human spaceflight.

The equatorial launch sites are most efficient because the equator moves fastest compared to the Earth’s poles during planetary rotation. 

Rockets have allowed us to advance our knowledge of space, and future technology will make them even more efficient and more capable of deeper space exploration missions.

Gordon Watts