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How Does a Rocket Work? An Explanation of Rocket Science

Jagatheesh is a Mechanical Engineer and interested in writing on science and technology in our life.

This article will simplify rocket science and the technology involved in rocketry

This article will simplify rocket science and the technology involved in rocketry

The science of developing and building rockets is known as rocket science. It is a method of lifting objects using rocket power. Have you ever seen a launch of a rocket? You'll typically see a cloud of smoke over the entire region, along with a deafening boom. It's the launch of a rocket, and Newton's laws of motion are the bedrock of rocketry.

Rocket science is a synthesis of numerous engineering disciplines, as well as physics and chemistry. This article will teach the principles of rocket science, which produced a tremendous change in the modern world of science.

History of Rocket Science

A historical record of rocketry goes as far back as the 4th century BC. The Greeks devised wooden birds, a concept like modern-day rockets. After 300 years, The Greeks proposed the idea of Aeolipile, which was used as power toys. The Chinese were the first people to use gun powder-propelled rockets in their war against the Mongols in the 13th century. Later, Mongols spread the science of rockets to the European nations.

The discovery of gun powder was an accident in a Chinese lab. The first rockets made of iron were used by the kingdom of Mysore against the British forces. Later, Colonel William Congreve developed the next stage of Mysorean rockets.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the father of modern astronautics, proposed the idea of space exploration by rockets. In the early 20th century, Robert Goddard conducted various experiments and made a successful test flight of the first-ever liquid-propelled rocket. Germany's V5 is another milestone in the history of rocket science.

The Cold War benefitted the scientific community to bring rocket science to new heights. The advent of NASA and various space organizations across many nations made a remarkable change in rocket science for space research. In the 21st century, the entry of various corporations is taking rocket science to the next level.

“We can build rockets to explore outer space and enhance the quality of life on Earth, or we can use them to destroy other nations.”

— Jacque Fresco, The Best That Money Can't Buy: Beyond Politics, Poverty & War

Newton's Laws and Rocketry

Newton's laws of motion are the basic working principle behind rockets. The third law is the main governing principle, and the other two laws also have their role in successful rocketry.

First Law

If a body is at rest or moving in a straight line at a constant speed, it will stay at rest or continue to move in a straight path at a constant speed unless it is acted on by force.
Forces will always be balanced and unbalanced in rocket science. This law aids in the preservation of equilibrium throughout the launch and change of direction.

Second Law

The acceleration of an object depends on the mass of the object and the amount of force applied. The force will be equal to the mass times the acceleration.

The greater the mass of rocket fuel burned, the faster the gas produced can escape the engine, the greater the thrust of the rocket. It is useful in building efficient rockets.

Third Law

For every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction. This is the primary law for rocketry.

A rocket can lift off from the launchpad only when it expels the gas out of its engine. The rocket pushes on the gas, and the gas, in turn, pushes on the rocket.

It was a single Apple from this tree that changed the direction of the world. Newton laid the foundation for modern science.

It was a single Apple from this tree that changed the direction of the world. Newton laid the foundation for modern science.

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Basic Architecture of a Rocket

A rocket is a complex assembly of several elements connected in a sophisticated way. Based on their functions, the portions are divided into four major systems.

1. The Structural Part

The structural system is a rocket's primary framework. It necessitates intricate engineering and precise calculations. The architecture of the rocket has strong and lightweight materials like aluminum and titanium. Numerous stringers are joined with hoops and assembled to form a stable rocket structure. The skin contains a thermal coating that helps the rocket to resist heat caused by air friction.

Thermal coating maintains the temperature of the liquid fuel and oxidizer. Fins are essential in construction as they keep the rockets stable.

2. The Payload System

The Payload system defines the mission of a rocket. In terms of weight, it determines a rocket's carrying capability. A satellite, a space probe, or a spacecraft carrying personnel could be the payload. A rocket's ability to launch the cargo without any problems defines its success. A pyrotechnic rocket will carry black powder, and a ballistic missile will carry nuclear warheads. The principle of operation is the same for all rockets.

3. A Guidance System

It is a combination of several systems to control the rocket. A guidance system includes sophisticated sensors, radars, onboard computers, and communication equipment to maneuver successful rocket operations.

The guidance system maintains the stability of the rocket and controls the maneuvers. It calculates the flight's direction in real-time.

4. The Propulsion System

The rocket engines, tank pumps, powerhead, and rocket nozzle are all part of the propulsion system. Their primary purpose is to generate thrust. A working fluid is accelerated by the system, and the reaction produces a force on the system.

In rocket engines, the fuel and oxidizer mix is exploded in the combustion chamber. The combustion produces hot exhaust, which is directed through the nozzle. The hot exhaust is the working fluid of the rocket. As there is no air in space, the rocket always carries an oxidizer for combustion.

Solid propellants and liquid propellants are the two types of propulsion systems. Solid-propulsion rockets use a mixture of fuel and oxidizers. Fuel and oxidizer are stored in separate chambers in liquid form in liquid propellant systems.


How Does a Rocket Work?

The thrust created in the combustion chamber powers the rockets. The combustion exhaust gas is directed at a high rate to the nozzle, creating a lot of momentum. The exhaust, according to Newton's third law, will raise the rocket.

Modern rockets use Convergent-Divergent nozzles. The nozzle design determines the mass flow rate through the engine, as well as the flow exit velocity and pressure. The CD nozzles will increase the thrust.

Consider yourself standing on a skateboard, a basketball in your hand. Rockets work in the same way that throwing a basketball in one direction causes you and your skateboard to go in the opposite direction.

Modern rockets use multiple stages. It consists of two or more stages, each with its own set of engines and propellants. The rocket drops the first stage and ignites the second after it has completed its task. The falling back sections are fixed and reused since the 1980s.

How Does a Rocket Maintain Its Stability?

The stability of a rocket is the ability to fly in the right direction without any tumbling. Precision engineering is required to achieve a stable flight. The structural part of the rocket determines the stability of the rocket. For a stable rocket, the following four concepts are vital.

  • Center of Mass: It is the point at which the entire mass of the rocket acts. A rocket will be perfectly balanced at this point.
  • Center of Pressure: The aerodynamic pressure of the rocket is concentrated at this point. The surface area on both sides of this point will be the same.
  • The Nose cone and Fins shape: The nose cone and the fins are specially designed to minimize drag and increase stability and control. The shape of the nose cone determines the air resistance faced by the rocket during its flight. The fins are specially designed to control the air resistance and the center of pressure. The distance between the center of mass and the center of pressure determines the stability of a rocket. The fins are designed to maintain the center of pressure below the center of mass.
  • Gimbaled thrust: The exhaust nozzle of the rocket will be swiveled from side to side. It produces a torque that changes the direction of thrust relative to the center of gravity. The navigation of modern rockets follows this mechanism.

Gimbaled Thrust Mechanism

Gimbaled Thrust Mechanism

Why Is Rocket Science Hard?

Rocket Science is often considered the toughest subject around the world. It combines so many engineering disciples along with Physics. The truth is rocket science is an easy concept, but rocket engineering makes it complicated. The design and construction of a rocket must be of the highest standards. A small glitch can destroy the millions spend in a minute.

The basic fact is that we will not be able to go back and correct any minor errors after the launch. As a result, you must be meticulous with your checklist. Against the forces of nature, a rocket is launched. It must defy gravity, overcome atmospheric resistance, and align with the earth's motion. It entails a lot of calculation, and even a minor error can bring the expedition to a halt.

The high cost of failure complicates rocket research. It's not difficult to grasp the fundamentals of rocket science. However, you must study physics, material science, astrodynamics, and aerodynamics to become a rocket scientist. As a result, it is up to a person and his or her curiosity to deduce the intricacy of rocket science.

The Importance of Rocket Science

Rocketry is a part of our everyday lives. Every individual on the earth has used a cell phone or watched television at some point in their life. This is thanks to the earth's communication satellites. The satellites orbiting our planet provide us with daily weather reports. Millions of people, notably farmers, benefit from them. Thanks to improvements in rocket science, artificial satellites may now be launched for a variety of reasons.

Our celebrations are incomplete without fireworks, and the bright sky crackers are the result of rocket science. Various space experts are looking into the possibility of colonizing other planets as an alternative to our own. Space exploration necessitates rocket science.

Citizens from many countries around the world are living peaceful lives. Each nation is responsible for defending its citizens from intruders. Modern weapons' rocketry is critical to providing a strong defense. As a result, rocket science plays a significant role in our daily lives, even if we are unaware of it. Let us applaud the upheaval and the tireless efforts of rocket scientists to make our lives easier.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jagatheesh Aruchami


Jagatheesh Aruchami (author) from Coimbatore, India on June 26, 2021:

Liz Westwood

Thanks for the read and the comment. I'm glad that the article conveys the information in a user-friendly format.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 26, 2021:

This is a well-structured article that gives an interesting explanation and useful information in a user-friendly format.

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