what do satellites do? Newton and gravity orbiting the Earth Goddard:rocket pioneer how do rockets work? getting into orbit the race into space human satellites

how do rockets work?

 Join us on   Check out our new iSun|trek blog There’s lots to discover on Sun|trek, so dive in and start exploring here.   We can’t do your home work for you, but if you have a question about the Sun you can always ask the Sun|trek team Check out our Images & Movies gallery
 Rockets work by accelerating gas to very high speeds inside and then letting the gas escape from the back of the rocket.

 Sir Isaac Newton discovered that an object can only be accelerated if a force is applied to it. He came up with a simple equation to describe this:   Force = mass x acceleration
 We need to know one more piece of 'rocket science' to make a rocket work. Newton described that too. He realised that if an object (let's call it A) applies a force to another object (called B), then object (B) automatically applies the same force to object (A). Even though it's true, it's often difficult to accept because, in our everyday lives, other effects (like friction) usually complicate things. It's only at times when we can get rid of most friction (for example by skating on an ice rink) that we perhaps start to appreciate what a smart guy Newton was!

What's that got to do with rockets? In the case of rockets, Newton is saying that

 force on the gas = force on the rocket (mass x acceleration) of gas = (mass x acceleration) of rocket

Ready to launch a rocket? Let's try it out with a few numbers.

Let's pretend we have a rocket with a mass of 1000 kg and that its engine can accelerate the exhaust gas at 500 m/s2. Sir Isaac Newton's equation tells us that

(mass x 500 m/s2) of gas = (1000 kg x acceleration) of rocket

How quickly will the rocket accelerate?
We don't know until we know how much gas (mass of gas) is being pushed out in the exhaust each second. Here's a rollover table of values which shows how the acceleration of the rocket changes as more and more gas is accelerated out into the exhaust.

How does the upward acceleration differ depending on the amount of exhaust gas pushed out?

Rollover the amounts and compare the results.

The big problem with getting rockets from Earth into space is GRAVITY. Gravity near the Earth's surface produces a force which accelerates everything downwards at a rate of 10 m/s2. From the rollover can you see how much fuel will have to be used each second in order to beat gravity and so make the rocket to begin to move upwards?

Goddard was also the first person to suggest the interesting idea of multi-stage rockets. If all the rocket fuel is held in one big container, that container has to be carried very high into space. However what if the rocket were made of smaller compartments fitted together? Once the fuel in the first compartment is finished, that compartment can be thrown away. The remaining rocket doesn't weigh so much and so less fuel is needed for it to carry on its journey. Modern rockets generally have 2 or 3 stages (as the containers are called) to make use of this idea.

Find out more about the rocket pioneer Robert Goddard, the first person to make a rocket engine that used liquid fuel rather than explosives.

Find out more about satellites and rockets in:

 What do satellites do? Newton and gravity Orbiting the Earth Goddard: rocket pioneer Race into space Getting into orbit