AskDefine | Define rocket

Dictionary Definition



1 any vehicle propelled by a rocket engine
2 a jet engine containing its own propellant and driven by reaction propulsion [syn: rocket engine]
3 erect European annual often grown as a salad crop to be harvested when young and tender [syn: roquette, garden rocket, rocket salad, arugula, Eruca sativa, Eruca vesicaria sativa]
4 propels bright light high in the sky, or used to propel a lifesaving line or harpoon [syn: skyrocket]
5 sends a firework display high into the sky [syn: skyrocket]


1 shoot up abruptly, like a rocket; "prices skyrocketed" [syn: skyrocket]
2 propel with a rocket

User Contributed Dictionary



  • IPA: /'rɔkit/

Etymology 1

Italian rocchetta, diminutive of rocca


  1. a rocket engine
  2. non-guided missile
  3. vehicle propelled by an engine which makes use of Newton's Third Law of Motion by expelling burned fuel as exhaust at a high rate
  4. a projectile firework
  5. An ace (the playing card)
a rocket engine
non-guided missile
a vehicle
a projectile firework



  1. To accelerate swiftly and powerfully
  2. To fly vertically
  3. To rise or soar rapidly
  4. To carry something in a rocket
  5. To attack something with rockets
To accelerate
To fly
To rise or soar
To carry
To attack

Etymology 2

French roquette, Italian ruchetta, diminutive of ruca, Latin eruca.


  1. A leaf vegetable (Am. Engl. arugula)
Related terms

Extensive Definition

According to the writings of the Roman Aulus Gellius, in c. 400 BC, a Greek Pythagorean named Archytas propelled a wooden bird using steam. However, the only knowledge that exists of it is in Aulus's writings, which dates from 5 centuries later. No diagrams survive, and whether it was truly propelled by rocket power is unknown.
The availability of black powder (gunpowder) to propel projectiles was a precursor to the development of the first solid rocket. Ninth Century Chinese Taoist alchemists discovered black powder while searching for the Elixir of life; this accidental discovery led to experiments in the form of weapons like bombs, cannon, incendiary fire arrows and rocket-propelled fire arrows.
Exactly when the first flights of rockets occurred is contested. Some say that the first recorded use of a rocket in battle was by the Chinese in 1232 against the Mongol hordes. There were reports of fire arrows and 'iron pots' that could be heard for 5 leagues (15 miles) when they exploded upon impact, causing devastation for a radius of 2,000 feet, apparently due to shrapnel. The lowering of the iron pots may have been a way for a besieged army to blow up invaders. The fire arrows were either arrows with explosives attached, or arrows propelled by gunpowder, such as the Korean Hwacha.
Less controversially, one of the earliest devices recorded that used internal-combustion rocket propulsion was the 'ground-rat,' a type of firework, recorded in 1264 as having frightened the Empress-Mother Kung Sheng at a feast held in her honor by her son the Emperor Lizong.
Subsequently, one of the earliest texts to mention the use of rockets was the Huolongjing, written by the Chinese artillery officer Jiao Yu in the mid-14th century. This text also mentioned the use of the first known multistage rocket, the 'fire-dragon issuing from the water' (huo long chu shui), used mostly by the Chinese navy. Frank H. Winter proposed in The Proceedings of the Twentieth and Twenty-First History Symposia of the International Academy of Astronautics that southern China and the Laotian community rocket festivals might have been key in the subsequent spread of rocketry in the Orient.

Spread of rocket technology

Rocket technology first became known to Europeans following their use by the Mongols Genghis Khan and Ögedei Khan when they conquered parts of Russia, Eastern, and Central Europe. The Mongolians had acquired the Chinese technology by conquest of the northern part of China and also by the subsequent employment of Chinese rocketry experts as mercenaries for the Mongol military. Reports of the Battle of Sejo in the year 1241 describe the use of rocket-like weapons by the Mongols against the Magyars. Rocket technology also spread to Korea, with the 15th century wheeled hwacha that would launch singijeon rockets. These first Korean rockets had an amazingly long range at the time, and were designed and built by Byun Eee-Joong. They were just like arrows but had small explosives attached to the back, and were fired in swarms.
Additionally, the spread of rockets into Europe was also influenced by the Ottomans at the siege of Constantinople in 1453, although it is very likely that the Ottomans themselves were influenced by the Mongol invasions of the previous few centuries. They appear in literature describing the capture of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols.
The name Rocket comes from the Italian Rocchetta (i.e. little fuse), a name of a small firecracker created by the Italian artificer Muratori in 1379.
"Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima" ("Great Art of Artillery, the First Part", also known as "The Complete Art of Artillery"), first printed in Amsterdam in 1650, was translated to French in 1651, German in 1676, English and Dutch in 1729 and Polish in 1963. For over two centuries, this work of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth nobleman Kazimierz Siemienowicz was used in Europe as a basic artillery manual. The book provided the standard designs for creating rockets, fireballs, and other pyrotechnic devices. It contained a large chapter on caliber, construction, production and properties of rockets (for both military and civil purposes), including multi-stage rockets, batteries of rockets, and rockets with delta wing stabilizers (instead of the common guiding rods).
In 1792, iron-cased rockets were successfully used militarily by Tipu Sultan, Ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India against the larger British East India Company forces during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. The British then took an active interest in the technology and developed it further during the 19th century. The major figure in the field at this time was William Congreve. From there, the use of military rockets spread throughout Europe. At the Battle of Baltimore in 1814, the rockets fired on Fort McHenry by the rocket vessel HMS Erebus were the source of the rockets' red glare described by Francis Scott Key in The Star-Spangled Banner. Rockets were also used in the Battle of Waterloo.

Accuracy of early rockets

Early rockets were very inaccurate. Without the use of spinning or any gimballing of the thrust, they had a strong tendency to veer sharply off course. The early British Congreve rockets
The accuracy problem was mostly solved in 1844 when William Hale modified the rocket design so that thrust was slightly vectored, causing the rocket to spin along its axis of travel like a bullet. The Hale rocket removed the need for a rocket stick, travelled further due to reduced air resistance, and was far more accurate.

Early manned rocketry

According to legend, a manned rocket sled with 47 gunpowder-filled rockets was attempted in China by Wan Hu in the 16th Century. The alleged flight is said to have been interrupted by an explosion at the start, and the pilot did not seem to have survived (he was never found). There are no known Chinese sources for this event, and the earliest known account is an unsourced reference in a book by an American, Herbert S. Zim in 1945 The flight was accomplished as a part of celebrations performed for the birth of Ottoman Emperor Murat IV's daughter and was rewarded by the sultan. The device was composed of a large winged cage with a conical top with 7 rockets filled with 70 kg of gunpowder. The flight was estimated to have lasted about 200 seconds and the maximum height reached around 300 metres.

Theories of interplanetary rocketry

In 1903, high school mathematics teacher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935) published Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами (The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices), the first serious scientific work on space travel. The Tsiolkovsky rocket equation—the principle that governs rocket propulsion—is named in his honor (although it had been discovered previously). His work was essentially unknown outside the Soviet Union, where it inspired further research, experimentation and the formation of the Cosmonautics Society.
In 1920, Robert Goddard published A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, the first serious work on using rockets in space travel after Tsiolkovsky. The work attracted worldwide attention and was both praised and ridiculed, particularly because of its suggestion that a rocket theoretically could reach the Moon. A New York Times editorial famously expressed disbelief that it was possible at all as it stated that: "after the rocket quits our air and really starts on its longer journey it will neither be accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then might have left" and suggested that Professor Goddard actually: "does not know of the relation of action to reaction, and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react" and talked of "such things as intentional mistakes or oversights."
Goddard, the Times declared, apparently suggesting bad faith, "only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
After these and other scathing criticisms, Goddard began working in isolation, and avoided publicity.
Nevertheless, in Russia, Tsiolkovsky's work was republished in the 1920s in response to Russian interest raised by the work of Robert Goddard. Among other ideas, Tsiolkovsky accurately proposed to use liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as a nearly optimal propellant pair and determined that building staged and clustered rockets to increase the overall mass efficiency would dramatically increase range.
In 1923, Hermann Oberth (1894-1989) published Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen ("The Rocket into Planetary Space"), a version of his doctoral thesis, after the University of Munich rejected it.

Modern rocketry

Pre-World War II

Modern rockets were born when Goddard attached a supersonic (de Laval) nozzle to a liquid fuelled rocket engine's combustion chamber. These nozzles turn the hot gas from the combustion chamber into a cooler, hypersonic, highly directed jet of gas, more than doubling the thrust and raising the engine efficiency from 2% to 64%. Early rockets had been grossly inefficient because of the thermal energy that was wasted in the exhaust gases. In 1926, Robert Goddard launched the world's first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts.
During the 1920s, a number of rocket research organizations appeared in America, Austria, Britain, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia. In the mid-1920s, German scientists had begun experimenting with rockets which used liquid propellants capable of reaching relatively high altitudes and distances. 1927 the German car manufacturer Opel began to research with rockets together with Mark Valier and the rocket builder Friedrich Wilhelm Sander. In 1928, Fritz von Opel drove with a rocket car, the Opel RAK1 on the Opel raceway in Rüsselsheim, Germany. In 1929 von Opel started at the Frankfurt-Rebstock airport with the Opel-Sander RAK 1-airplane. This was maybe the first flight with a manned rocket-aircraft. In 1927 and also in Germany, a team of amateur rocket engineers had formed the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (German Rocket Society, or VfR), and in 1931 launched a liquid propellant rocket (using oxygen and gasoline).
From 1931 to 1937, the most extensive scientific work on rocket engine design occurred in Leningrad, at the Gas Dynamics Laboratory. Well-funded and staffed, over 100 experimental engines were built under the direction of Valentin Glushko. The work included regenerative cooling, hypergolic propellant ignition, and fuel injector designs that included swirling and bi-propellant mixing injectors. However, the work was curtailed by Glushko's arrest during Stalinist purges in 1938. Similar work was also done by the Austrian professor Eugen Sänger who worked on rocket powered spaceplanes such as Silbervogel (sometimes called the 'antipodal' bomber.)
On November 12, 1932 at a farm in Stockton NJ, the American Interplanetary Society's attempt to static fire their first rocket (based on German Rocket Society designs) fails in a fire.
In 1932, the Reichswehr (which in 1935 became the Wehrmacht) began to take an interest in rocketry. Artillery restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles limited Germany's access to long distance weaponry. Seeing the possibility of using rockets as long-range artillery fire, the Wehrmacht initially funded the VfR team, but seeing that their focus was strictly scientific, created its own research team, with Hermann Oberth as a senior member. At the behest of military leaders, Wernher von Braun, at the time a young aspiring rocket scientist, joined the military (followed by two former VfR members) and developed long-range weapons for use in World War II by Nazi Germany, notably the A-series of rockets, which led to the infamous V-2 rocket (initially called A4).

World War II

In 1943, production of the V-2 rocket began. The V-2 had an operational range of 300 km (185 miles) and carried a 1000 kg (2204 lb) warhead, with an amatol explosive charge. Highest point of altitude of its flight trajectory is 90 km. The vehicle was only different in details from most modern rockets, with turbopumps, inertial guidance and many other features. Thousands were fired at various Allied nations, mainly England, as well as Belgium and France. While they could not be intercepted, their guidance system design and single conventional warhead meant that the V-2 was insufficiently accurate against military targets. The later versions however, were more accurate, sometimes within metres, and could be devastating. 2,754 people in England were killed, and 6,523 were wounded before the launch campaign was terminated. While the V-2 did not significantly affect the course of the war, it provided a lethal demonstration of the potential for guided rockets as weapons.
Under Projekt Amerika Nazi Germany also tried to develop and use the first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs) and the first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) A9/A10 Amerika-Raketen to bomb New York and other American cities. The tests of SLBM-variants of the A4 rocket was achieved with U-boat submarines towing launch platforms. The second stage of the A9/A10 rocket was tested a few times in January, February and March 1945.
In parallel with the guided missile programme in Nazi Germany, rockets were also being used for aircraft, either for rapid horizontal take-off (JATO) or for powering the aircraft (Me 163,etc) and for vertical take-off (Bachem Ba 349 "Natter").

Post World War II

At the end of World War II, competing Russian, British, and U.S. military and scientific crews raced to capture technology and trained personnel from the German rocket program at Peenemünde. Russia and Britain had some success, but the United States benefited the most. The US captured a large number of German rocket scientists (many of whom were members of the Nazi Party, including von Braun) and brought them to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip. In America, the same rockets that were designed to rain down on Britain were used instead by scientists as research vehicles for developing the new technology further. The V-2 evolved into the American Redstone rocket, used in the early space program.
After the war, rockets were used to study high-altitude conditions, by radio telemetry of temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, detection of cosmic rays, and further research; notably for the Bell X-1 to break the sound barrier. This continued in the U.S. under von Braun and the others, who were destined to become part of the U.S. scientific complex.
Independently, research continued in the Soviet Union under the leadership of the chief designer Sergei Korolev. With the help of German technicians, the V-2 was duplicated and improved as the R-1, R-2 and R-5 missiles. German designs were abandoned in the late 1940s, and the foreign workers were sent home. A new series of engines built by Glushko and based on inventions of Aleksei Mihailovich Isaev formed the basis of the first ICBM, the R-7. The R-7 launched the first satellite, and Yuri Gagarin, the first man into space and the first lunar and planetary probes, and is still in use today. These events attracted the attention of top politicians, along with more money for further research.
Rockets became extremely important militarily in the form of modern intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) when it was realised that nuclear weapons carried on a rocket vehicle were essentially not defensible against once launched, and ICBM/Launch vehicles such as the R-7, Atlas and Titan became the delivery platform of choice for these weapons.
Fueled partly by the Cold War, the 1960s became the decade of rapid development of rocket technology particularly in the Soviet Union (Vostok, Soyuz, Proton) and in the United States (e.g. the X-15 and X-20 Dyna-Soar aircraft). There was also significant research in other countries, such as Britain, Japan, Australia, etc. and their growing use for Space exploration, with pictures returned from the far side of the Moon and unmanned flights for Mars exploration.
In America the manned programmes, Project Mercury, Project Gemini and later the Apollo programme culminated in 1969 with the first manned landing on the moon via the Saturn V, causing the New York Times to retract their earlier editorial implying that spaceflight couldn't work:
"Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error."
In the 1970s America made further lunar landings, before abandoning the Apollo launch vehicle. The replacement vehicle, the partially reusable 'Space Shuttle' was intended to be cheaper, but this large reduction in costs was largely not achieved. Meanwhile in 1973, the expendable Ariane programme was begun, a launcher that by the year 2000 would capture much of the geosat market.

Current day

Rockets remain a popular military weapon. The use of large battlefield rockets of the V-2 type has given way to guided missiles. However rockets are often used by helicopters and light aircraft for ground attack, being more powerful than machine guns, but without the recoil of a heavy cannon. In the 1950s there was a brief vogue for air-to-air rockets, ending with the AIR-2 'Genie' nuclear rocket, but by the early 1960s these had largely been abandoned in favor of air-to-air missiles.
Economically, rocketry is the enabler of all space technologies particularly satellites, many of which impact people's everyday lives in almost countless ways, satellite navigation, communications satellites and even things as simple as weather satellites.
Scientifically, rocketry has opened a window on our universe, allowing the launch of space probes to explore our solar system, satellites to view the Earth itself, and space-based telescopes to obtain a clearer view of the rest of the universe.
However, in the minds of much of the public, the most important use of rockets is perhaps manned spaceflight. Vehicles such as the Space Shuttle for scientific research, the Soyuz for orbital tourism and SpaceShipOne for suborbital tourism may show a trend towards greater commercialisation of manned rocketry, away from government funding, and towards more widespread access to space.


There are many different types of rockets, and a comprehensive list of the basic engine types can be found in rocket engine — the vehicles themselves range in size from tiny models such as water rockets or small solid rockets that can be purchased at a hobby store, to the enormous Saturn V used for the Apollo program, and in many different vehicle types such as rocket cars and rocket planes.
Most current rockets are chemically powered rockets (usually internal combustion engines, but some employ a decomposing monopropellant) that emit a hot exhaust gas. A chemical rocket engine can use gas propellant, solid propellant, liquid propellant, or a hybrid mixture of both solid and liquid. With combustive propellants a chemical reaction is initiated between the fuel and the oxidizer in the combustion chamber, and the resultant hot gases accelerate out of a nozzle (or nozzles) at the rearward-facing end of the rocket. The acceleration of these gases through the engine exerts force ("thrust") on the combustion chamber and nozzle, propelling the vehicle (in accordance with Newton's Third Law). See rocket engine for details.
Rockets in which the heat is supplied from a source other than a propellant, such as solar thermal rockets, can be classed as external combustion engines. Other examples of external combustion rocket engines include most designs for nuclear powered rocket engines. Use of hydrogen as the propellant for such engines gives very high exhaust velocities (around 6-10 km/s).


In many military weapons, rockets are used to propel payloads to their targets. A rocket and its payload together are generally referred to as a missile, especially when the weapon has a guidance system.


Sounding rockets are commonly used to carry instruments that take readings from to above the surface of the Earth, the altitudes between those reachable by weather balloons and satellites.


Due to their high exhaust velocity (Mach ~10+), rockets are particularly useful when very high speeds are required, such as orbital speed (Mach 25+). Indeed, rockets remain the only way to launch spacecraft into orbit. They are also used to rapidly accelerate spacecraft when they change orbits or de-orbit for landing. Also, a rocket may be used to soften a hard parachute landing immediately before touchdown (see Soyuz spacecraft). Spacecraft delivered into orbital trajectories become artificial satellites.

Hobby, sport and entertainment

Hobbyists build and fly Model rockets of various types and rockets are used to launch both commercially available fireworks and professional fireworks displays.
Hydrogen peroxide rockets are used to power jet packs, and have been used to power cars and a rocket car holds the all time drag racing record.

Components of a rocket

Rockets at minimum have a place to put propellant (such as a propellant tank), one or more rocket engines and nozzle, directional stabilization device(s) (such as fins, attitude jets or engine gimbals) and a structure (typically monocoque) to hold these components together. Rockets intended for high speed atmospheric use also have an aerodynamic fairing such as a nose cone.
As well as these components, rockets can have any number of other components, such as wings (rocketplanes), wheels (rocket cars), even, in a sense, a person (rocket belt).


For all but the very smallest sizes, rocket exhaust compared to other engines is generally very noisy. As the hypersonic exhaust mixes with the ambient air, shock waves are formed. The sound intensity from these shock waves depends on the size of the rocket. The sound intensity of large rockets could potentially kill at close range.
The Space Shuttle generates over 200 dB(A) of noise around its base. A Saturn V launch was detectable on seismometers a considerable distance from the launch site.
Generally speaking, noise is most intense when a rocket is close to the ground, since the noise from the engines radiates up away from the plume, as well as reflecting off the ground. This noise can be reduced somewhat by flame trenches with roofs, by water injection around the plume and by deflecting the plume at an angle. Rocket thrust is due to the rocket engine, which propels the rocket forwards by exhausting the propellant rearwards at extreme high speed.
In a closed chamber, the pressures are equal in each direction and no acceleration occurs. If an opening is provided at the bottom of the chamber then the pressure is no longer acting on that side. The remaining pressures give a resultant thrust on the side opposite the opening; as well as permitting exhaust to escape. Using a nozzle increases the forces further, in fact multiplies the thrust as a function of the area ratio of the nozzle, since the pressures also act on the nozzle. As a side effect the pressures act on the exhaust in the opposite direction and accelerate this to very high speeds (in accordance with Newton's Third Law).
In addition, the inertia/centrifugal pseudo-force can be significant due to the path of the rocket around the center of a celestial body; when high enough speeds in the right direction and altitude are achieved a stable orbit or escape velocity is obtained.
During a rocket launch, there is a point of maximum aerodynamic drag called Max Q. This determines the minimum aerodynamic strength of the vehicle.
These forces, with a stabilizing tail present will, unless deliberate control efforts are made, to naturally cause the vehicle to follow a trajectory termed a gravity turn, and this trajectory is often used at least during the initial part of a launch. This means that the vehicle can maintain low or even zero angle of attack. This minimizes transverse stress on the launch vehicle; allowing for a weaker, and thus lighter, launch vehicle.

Net thrust

The thrust of a rocket is often deliberately varied over a flight, to provide a way to control the airspeed of the vehicle so as to minimize aerodynamic losses but also so as to limit g-forces that would otherwise occur during the flight as the propellant mass decreases, which could damage the vehicle, crew or payload.
Below is an approximate equation for calculating the gross thrust of a rocket:
F_n = \dot\;V_ + A_(P_ - P_)
\dot =\,propellant flow (kg/s or lb/s)
V_ =\,jet velocity at nozzle exit plane (m/s or s)
A_ =\,flow area at nozzle exit plane (m2 or ft2)
P_ =\,static pressure at nozzle exit plane (Pa or lb/ft2)
P_ =\,ambient (or atmospheric) pressure (Pa or lb/ft2)
Since, unlike a jet engine, a conventional rocket motor lacks an air intake, there is no 'ram drag' to deduct from the gross thrust. Consequently the net thrust of a rocket motor is equal to the gross thrust.
The \dotV_\, term represents the momentum thrust, which remains constant at a given throttle setting, whereas the A_(P_ - P_)\, term represents the pressure thrust term. At full throttle, the net thrust of a rocket motor improves slightly with increasing altitude, because the reducing atmospheric pressure increases the pressure thrust term.

Specific impulse

As can be seen from the thrust equation the effective speed of the exhaust, Ve, has a large impact on the amount of thrust produced from a particular quantity of fuel burnt per second. The thrust-seconds (impulse) per unit of propellant is called Specific Impulse (Isp) or effective exhaust velocity and this is one of the most important figures that describes a rocket's performance.
Vacuum Isp
Due to the specific impulse varying with pressure, a quantity that is easy to compare and calculate with is useful. Because rockets choke at the throat, and because the supersonic exhaust prevents external pressure influences travelling upstream, it turns out that the pressure at the exit is ideally exactly proportional to the propellant flow \dot, provided the mixture ratios and combustion efficiencies are maintained. It is thus quite usual to rearrange the above equation slightly:
Fvac = C_f \dot c^*
and so define the vacuum Isp to be:
V_ = C_f c^*
c^* =\, the speed of sound constant at the throat
C_f =\, the thrust coefficient constant of the nozzle (typically between 0.8 and 1.9)
And hence:
F_n = \dot V_ - A_ P_

Delta-v (rocket equation)

The delta-v capacity of a rocket is the theoretical total change in velocity that a rocket can achieve without any external interference (without air drag or gravity or other forces).
The delta-v that a rocket vehicle can provide can be calculated from the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation:
\Delta v\ = v_e \ln \frac
m_0 is the initial total mass, including propellant, in kg (or lb)
m_1 is the final total mass in kg (or lb)
v_e is the effective exhaust velocity in m/s or (ft/s) or V_e = I_ \cdot g_0
\Delta v\ is the delta-v in m/s (or ft/s)
Delta-v can also be calculated for a particular manoeuvre; for example the delta-v to launch from the surface of the Earth to Low earth orbit is about 9.7 km/s, which leaves the vehicle with a sideways speed of about 7.8 km/s at an altitude of around 200 km. In this manoeuvre about 1.9 km/s is lost in air drag, gravity drag and gaining altitude.

Mass ratios

Mass ratio is the ratio between the initial fuelled mass and the mass after the 'burn'. Everything else being equal, a high mass ratio is desirable for good performance, since it indicates that the rocket is lightweight and hence performs better, for essentially the same reasons that low weight is desirable in sports cars.
Rockets as a group have the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of any type of engine; and this helps vehicles achieve high mass ratios, which improves the performance of flights. The higher this ratio, the less engine mass is needed to be carried and permits the carrying of even more propellant, this enormously improves performance.
Achievable mass ratios are highly dependent on many factors such as propellant type, the design of engine the vehicle uses, structural safety margins and construction techniques.


Often, the required velocity (delta-v) for a mission is unattainable by any single rocket because the propellant, tankage, structure, guidance, valves and engines and so on, take a particular minimum percentage of take-off mass.
The mass ratios that can be achieved with a single set of fixed rocket engines and tankage varies depends on acceleration required, construction materials, tank layout, engine type and propellants used, but for example the first stage of the Saturn V, carrying the weight of the upper stages, was able to achieve a mass ratio of about 10.
This problem is frequently solved by staging — the rocket sheds excess weight (usually empty tankage and associated engines) during launch to reduce its weight and effectively increase its mass ratio. Staging is either serial where the rockets light after the previous stage has fallen away, or parallel, where rockets are burning together and then detach when they burn out.
Typically, the acceleration of a rocket increases with time (if the thrust stays the same) as the weight of the rocket decreases as propellant is burned. Discontinuities in acceleration will occur when stages burn out, often starting at a lower acceleration with each new stage firing.

Energy efficiency

Rocket launch vehicles take-off with a great deal of flames, noise and drama, and it might seem obvious that they are grievously inefficient. However while they are far from perfect, their energy efficiency is not as bad as might be supposed.
The energy density of rocket propellant is around 1/3 that of conventional hydrocarbon fuels; the bulk of the mass is in the form of (often relatively inexpensive) oxidiser. Nevertheless, at take-off the rocket has a great deal of energy in the form of fuel and oxidiser stored within the vehicle, and it is of course desirable that as much of the energy stored in the propellant ends up as kinetic or potential energy of the body of the rocket as possible.
Energy from the fuel is lost in air drag and gravity drag and is used to gain altitude. However, much of the lost energy ends up in the exhaust.
And the overall energy efficiency \eta is:
\eta= \eta_p \eta_c
Since the energy ultimately comes from fuel, these joint considerations mean that rockets are mainly useful when a very high speed is required, such as ICBMs or orbital launch, and they are rarely if ever used for general aviation. For example, from the equation, with an \eta_c of 0.7, a rocket flying at Mach 0.85 (which most aircraft cruise at) with an exhaust velocity of Mach 10, would have a predicted overall energy efficiency of 5.9%, whereas a conventional, modern, air breathing jet engine achieves closer to 30% or more efficiency. Thus a rocket would need about 5x more energy; and allowing for the ~3x lower specific energy of rocket propellant than conventional air fuel, roughly 15x more mass of propellant would need to be carried for the same journey.
Thus jet engines which have a better match between speed and jet exhaust speed such as turbofans (in spite of their worse \eta_c) dominate for subsonic and supersonic atmospheric use while rockets work best at hypersonic speeds. On the other hand rockets do also see many short-range relatively low speed military applications where their low-speed inefficiency is outweighed by their extremely high thrust and hence high accelerations.

Safety, reliability and accidents

Rockets are not inherently highly dangerous. In military usage quite adequate reliability is obtained.
Because of the enormous chemical energy in all useful rocket propellants (greater energy per weight than explosives, but lower than gasoline), accidents can and have happened. The number of people injured or killed is usually small because of the great care typically taken, but this record is not perfect.
General rocketry
Recreational rocketry
Recreational pyrotechnic rocketry
  • Bottle rocket - small firework type rocket often launched from bottles
  • Skyrocket - fireworks that typically explode at apogee
Rockets for Research


  • Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon


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rocket in Chinese: 火箭

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

AA target rocket, ABM, ASM, ATS, Asp, Asroc, Atlas, Atlas-Agena, Atlas-Centaur, Bullpup, Cajun, Corporal, Corvus, Crossbow, Dart, Deacon, Delta, Diamant, Dove, Earth insertion, Falcon, Firebee, Genie, Hawk, Holy Moses, Hound Dog, ICBM, Irish confetti, Jupiter, LEM, LM, Lacrosse, Lark, Loki, Loon, Mace, Matador, Navaho, Nike, Nike Ajax, Pershing, Petrel, Polaris, Poseidon, Quail, Ram, Rascal, Redeye, Redstone, Regulus I, Roman candle, SLAM, Saturn, Scout, Sentinel, Sergeant, Shillelagh, Sidewinder, Skybolt, Snark, Spaerobee, Sparrow, Subroc, Super Talos, Talos, Tartar, Terrier, Thor, Thor Able Star, Thor-Agena, Thor-Delta, Tiny Tim, Titan, V-2, Viking, WAC-Corporal, Wagtail, Zuni, aid to navigation, alarm, amber light, anchor rocket, antelope, antiaircraft rocket, antiradar rocket, apogee, arrow, atom-rocket, atomic warhead, attitude-control rocket, balefire, ballistic capsule, barrage rocket, bat bomb, beacon, beacon fire, bell, bell buoy, bird, blinker, blue darter, blue peter, blue streak, bob up, bola, bolt, boomerang, break water, brickbat, buoy, burn, cannonball, capsule, caution light, chemical rocket, climb, countermissile, courser, dart, deep-space ship, demolition rocket, docking, docking maneuver, eagle, electricity, express train, ferry rocket, fin-stabilized rocket, fireworks rocket, flare, flare rocket, flash, float up, fly up, flying tank, fog bell, fog signal, fog whistle, foghorn, fountain, fuel ship, gazelle, glance, go light, gong buoy, greased lightning, green light, greyhound, guided missile, gush, hare, heliograph, high sign, high-altitude rocket, homing rocket, incendiary rocket, injection, insertion, international alphabet flag, international numeral pennant, ion engine, ion rocket, jet, jet plane, jump up, kick, lark, leap up, leer, light, lightning, line-throwing rocket, liquid-fuel rocket, lunar excursion module, lunar module, manned rocket, marker beacon, mercury, missile, module, moon ship, multistage rocket, nod, nuclear warhead, nudge, orbit, parachute flare, parking orbit, payload, perigee, pilot flag, plasma engine, plasma jet, poke, police whistle, pop up, projectile, quarantine flag, quicksilver, radio beacon, ram rocket, red flag, red light, reentry, retro-float light, retro-rocket, rock, rocket engine, rocket motor, rockoon, sailing aid, scared rabbit, semaphore, semaphore flag, semaphore telegraph, shoot up, shot, shuttle rocket, sign, signal, signal beacon, signal bell, signal fire, signal flag, signal gong, signal gun, signal lamp, signal light, signal mast, signal post, signal rocket, signal shot, signal siren, signal tower, skylark, skyrocket, smoke rocket, snake, soar, soft landing, solid-fuel rocket, space capsule, space docking, space rocket, spacecraft, spaceship, spar buoy, spin-stabilized rocket, spinner, spring up, spurt, start up, stone, stop light, streak, streak of lightning, striped snake, supersonic rocket, surface, swallow, take off, the nod, the wink, thermonuclear warhead, thought, throw stick, throwing-stick, thunderbolt, torpedo, torrent, touch, traffic light, traffic signal, trajectory missile, transoceanic rocket, upleap, upshoot, upspear, upspring, upstart, vault up, vernier, vernier rocket, waddy, war rocket, warhead, watch fire, white flag, wigwag, wigwag flag, wind, window rocket, wink, yellow flag, zoom
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