History of Rocketry
Ancient Rockets
Early - Mid 20th Century
Rockets for Warfare
Space Race Rockets
Reference Information
Rockets as Inventions
Future Rockets
Ancient Rockets - 100 B.C. to 17th Century
The Dream to Fly
Ever since humans first saw birds soar through the
sky, they have wanted to fly. The ancient Greeks
and Romans pictured many of their gods with
winged feet, and imagined mythological winged
animals. According to the legend of Daedalus and
Icarus, the father and son escaped prison by
attaching wings made of wax and feathers to their
bodies. Unfortunately, Icarus flew too near the sun,
and the heat caused the wax and feathers to melt.
The feathers fell off, and Icarus plummeted to the
sea. Daedalus landed safely in Sicily.
Hero’s Engine
About 100 BC, a Greek inventor known as Hero of Alexandria came up
with a new invention that depended on the mechanical interaction of
heat and water. He invented a rocket-like device called an aeolipile. It
used steam for propulsion. Hero mounted a sphere on top of a water
kettle. A fire below the kettle turned the water into steam, and the gas
traveled through the pipes to the sphere. Two L-shaped tubes on
opposite sides of the sphere allowed the gas to escape, giving a thrust
to the sphere, causing it to rotate.
Ancient Rockets - 100 B.C. to 17th Century
Chinese Launch Fire Arrow
The Chinese began experimenting with the
gunpowder-filled tubes. At some point, they attached
bamboo tubes to arrows and launched them with
bows. Soon they discovered that these gunpowder
tubes could launch themselves just by the power
produced from the escaping gas. The true rocket
was born. The “Fire Arrow” sounded more like
fireworks but the Chinese used the rockets as
weapons in battle.
Chinese Repulse Mongols
In 1232 AD, the Chinese used rockets against the
Mongols who were besieging the city of Kai-fungfu. An arrow with a tube of gunpowder produced an
arrow of flying fire.
Credit: TRW Inc. and Western Reserve Historical
Society, Cleveland, Ohio
Ancient Rockets - 100 B.C. to 17th Century
Wan-Hu and His Space Vehicle
According to one ancient legend, a Chinese official named WanHoo attempted a flight to the moon using a large wicker chair
with 47 large rockets with fastened to it. Forty seven assistants,
each armed with torches, rushed forward to light the fuses.
There was a tremendous roar accompanied by billowing clouds
of smoke. When the smoke cleared, the flying chair and Wan-Hu
were gone.
Credit: United States Civil Air Patrol
Drawing of Staged Rocket
Kazimierz Siemienowicz, a Polish artillery expert,
published “The Complete Art of Artillery” in 1650. The
book became the authority on military and recreational
pyrotechnics for well over a century. It contained a large
chapter on caliber, construction, production and
properties of rockets including multistage rockets
(shown to the left in the drawing), batteries of rockets,
and rockets with delta wing stabilizers (instead of the
commonly used guiding rods).
Credit: Artist Larry Toschik and Motorola Inc.
Rockets for Warfare – 18th through 19th Century
Woodcut of Rocketry
During the early introduction of rockets to Europe, they were
used only as weapons. Enemy troops in India repulsed the
British with rockets. Later in Britain, Sir William Congreve
developed a rocket that could fire to about 9,000 feet. The
British fired Congreve rockets against the United States in the
War of 1812.
Indian Troops Rout British
The English confrontation with Indian rockets came in
1780 at the Battle of Guntur. The closely massed,
normally unflinching, British troops broke and ran when
the Indian Army laid down a rocket barrage in their
Credit: TRW Inc. and Western Reserve Historical
Society, Cleveland, Ohio
Early Rockets for Warfare - 18th to 19th Century
Congreve’s Incendiary Rockets -1806
William Congreve's incendiary rocket used black
powder, an iron case, and a 16-foot guide stick.
The British used Congreve rockets in 1806 to
attack Napoleon's headquarters in France. In 1807,
Congreve directed a rocket attack against
Copenhagen; approximately 25,000 rockets were
Credit: TRW Inc. and Western Reserve Historical
Society, Cleveland, Ohio
The Rockets’ Red Glare
Francis Scott Key coined the phrase the "rocket's
red glare" after the British fired Congreve rockets
against the United States in the War of 1812.
Congreve had used a 16-foot guide stick to help
stabilize his rocket. William Hale, another British
inventor, invented the stickless rocket in 1846. The
U.S. army used the Hale rocket more than 100
years ago in the war with Mexico. Rockets were
also used to a limited extent in the Civil War.
Credit: TRW Inc. and Western Reserve Historical
Society, Cleveland, Ohio.
Rockets as Inventions - Late 19th Century
Small Animals Launched
During the 19th century, rocket enthusiasts and
inventors began to appear in almost every country.
Some people thought these early rocket pioneers were
geniuses, and others thought they were crazy. Claude
Ruggieri, an Italian living in Paris, apparently rocketed
small animals into the sky as early as 1806. The
payloads were recovered by parachute. As depicted
here by artist Larry Toschik, French authorities were not
always impressed with rocket research. They halted
Ruggieri's plans to launch a small boy using a rocket
Credit: Artist Larry Toschik and Motorola Inc.
Whaling Rocket
As far back as 1821, sailors hunted whales using
rocket-propelled harpoons. These rocket harpoons
were launched from a shoulder-held tube equipped
with a circular blast shield.
Credit: Artist Larry Toschik and Motorola Inc.
Rockets as Inventions - Late 19th Century
Space Theorist Tsiolkovsky
By the end of the 19th century, soldiers, sailors, practical and not
so practical inventors had developed a stake in rocketry. Skillful
theorists, like Russian Konstantian Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), were
examining the fundamental scientific theories behind rocketry. They
were beginning to consider the possibility of space travel.
In 1892, he began publishing science fiction stories including his
speculations on spaceflight. In 1895, he published “Dreams of the
Earth and Sky” envisioning artificial satellites, space stations and
colonies, artificial gravity, interstellar travel and the possibility of
extraterrestrial life.
Rocket Designs by Tsiolkovsky
In 1898 Tsiolkovsky, a schoolteacher, proposed
the idea of space exploration by rocket. In a report
he published in 1903, Tsiolkovsky suggested the
use of liquid propellants for rockets in order to
achieve greater range. Tsiolkovsky also stated
that the speed and range of a rocket were limited
only by the exhaust velocity of escaping gases.
For his ideas, careful research, and great vision,
Tsiolkovsky has been called the father of modern
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid 20th Century
Robert Goddard
Dr. Robert Goddard (1882-1945) has been recognized as the father
of American rocketry and as one of the pioneers in the theoretical
exploration of space. He was a theoretical scientist as well as a
practical engineer. His dream was the conquest of the upper
atmosphere and ultimately space through the use of rocket
propulsion. In the 1950's, American rocket scientists discovered that
it was virtually impossible to construct a rocket or launch a satellite
without acknowledging the work of Dr. Goddard. More than 200
patents, many of which were issued after his death, covered this
great legacy.
First Flight of Liquid
Propellant Rocket
Dr. Goddard is shown with the first liquid propellant rocket in the
frame it was launched from on March 16, 1926, at Auburn, MA.
Fueled by liquid oxygen and gasoline, the rocket flew for only 2.5
seconds, climbed 41 ft, and landed 184 ft away. From 1930 to
1941, Dr. Goddard made substantial progress in the development
of progressively larger rockets that attained altitudes of 7,874 ft.
He refined his equipment for guidance and control, his techniques
of welding, and his insulation, pumps and other associated
In many respects, he laid the essential foundations of practical
rocket technology. He is considered one of the fathers of rocketry
along with Konstantin Tsiolovsky and Hermann Oberth.
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid 20th Century
Goddard Rocket in Roswell, New Mexico
Dr. Goddard (far left) adjusts pressure lines. Rocket with turbo-pumps that inject propellants into
the combustion chamber is shown on its assembly frame without its casing at the Goddard
workshop in Roswell, New Mexico in 1940. In 1930, he shifted his entire rocket operation to
Roswell to escape publicity. The new location also provided wide-open spaces and excellent
climate for testing.
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid 20th Century
Hermann Oberth
Dr. Hermann Oberth (1894-1989) was the foremost authority on rocketry
outside the United States. A Hungarian-born German, he is considered to
be one of the top three pioneers in modern rocketry - Konstantin
Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard are the other two. Oberth was the only
one out of the three to see human spaceflight come to fruition. Oberth
was a guest at the Apollo 11 moon landing launch on July 1969 as well as
at the launch of the STS-51J, Space Shuttle Atlantis mission. He is
credited with suggesting that space stations would be essential if humans
wished to travel to other planets. He was inspired by the tales of Jules
Verne in From the Earth to the Moon and Travel to the Moon.
Oberth’s Liquid Fueled Rocket Team
In 1923, Oberth (right of his rocket) published a
book about rocket travel into outer space. Because
of his important writings, many small rocket
societies sprang up around the world. In the spring
of 1930, an eighteen year old Wernher von Braun
(second from the right) assisted Oberth in his early
experiments in testing a liquid fueled rocket with a
thrust of about 15 pounds.
After the three pioneers, rocketry required large
teams of experts; a small team could not keep pace
with the advancing technologies.
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid-20th Century
V-2 Rocket
The Germans, under the technical direction of Wernher von Braun,
developed the V-2 at their Peenemuende Research Facility in
Germany. The V-2 became one of the best known of all early
missiles. The 46.9 ft rocket used alcohol and liquid oxygen as
propellant and could carry a 1,650 pound warhead 225 miles. It
had a takeoff weight of 28,229 lbs and a thrust of 59,500 lbs for 68
seconds. Some historians have estimated that by the end of World
War II, the Germans had fired nearly 3,000 V-2 weapons against
England and other targets.
First Launch into Space
On October 3, 1942, the V-2 was the first rocket to be launched
into space. It attained a 125 mile range and came within 2.5 miles
of its target, reaching a top speed of 3,300 miles per hour and a
peak altitude of 60 miles, or the fringes of space. The first two
launches, on June 13 and August 16, 1942, were failures.
The photograph to the right measures 8 x 10 inches and includes
the signatures of Wernher von Braun, and Konrad Dannenberg
and Raketen Gruppe, members of Von Braun's team.
Credit: V-2 Rocket.Com
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid 20th Century
V-2 Rocket Major Components
Control Gyros
Guide Beam and
Radio Command
Alcohol - Water
Mixture Tank
Liquid Oxygen
HydrogenPeroxide Tank
Credit: V-2 Rocket.Com
Main Liquid
Oxygen Valve
Main Fuel
Aero Rudder
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid 20th Century
Von Braun Team Moved to the U.S.
As the war ended, the United States
developed an interest in the technical
capability of the Germans. A team of
American scientists was dispatched to Europe
to collect information and equipment related
to German rocket progress. "Project
Paperclip" enabled the German rocket
specialists to come to the United States to
advance American rocketry.
V-2 at White Sands
The German team of specialists was initially assigned to Fort Bliss, TX
where they reassembled and tested V-2 rockets brought to America
from Germany.
Later, they were re-assigned to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville,
Alabama. In Huntsville, the German team, as well as an increasing
number of American-born members, would develop plans for exploring
space and would build the rockets that would serve as the foundation
for the American space program for years to come.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Soviets Launch First Satellite and
First Human into Space
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 German workers were sent home. A
new series of engines using liquid oxygen and
kerosene as propellant were built by Valentin Glushko
and based on inventions of Aleksei Mihailovich Isaev.
This formed the basis for the first intercontinental
ballistic missile (ICBM), the R-7.
Korolev was aware that a ICBM also had the
capability to launch satellites and humans into orbit
around the Earth. The R-7 launched Sputnik and then
Yuri Gagarin into Earth orbit. It was the biggest leap in
rocketry since the German V-2. Derivatives of the R-7
are still in use today.
The R-7 that launched the Sputnik-2 spacecraft
carrying the dog, Laika, the first living creature to orbit
Earth on November 3, 1957, is shown.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
First American Satellite
Two months after Sputnik was launched, the United States
suffered disappointment when a Navy Vanguard rocket, with its
satellite payload, failed to develop sufficient thrust and toppled
over on the launch pad. The Von Braun team was ready when the
United States turned to the Huntsville group to launch America's
first satellite. On January 31, 1958, a modified Army Redstone
rocket lifted the first American satellite into orbit just 3 months
after the Von Braun team received the go-ahead. This modified
Redstone rocket was known as Jupiter-C. Its satellite payload
was Explorer I.
Explorer I Architects
The three men responsible for the success of Explorer 1 are (from
left to right): Dr. William H. Pickering, former director of JPL that
built and operated the satellite; Dr. James A. van Allen, from the
University of Iowa who designed and built the instrument on
Explorer I that discovered the radiation belts circling the Earth; Dr.
Wernher von Braun, leader of the Army's Redstone Arsenal team
that built the first stage Redstone rocket that launched Explorer 1.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Atlas Launches First American into Orbit
The Atlas was the first ICBM deployed by the United
States. Its development goes back to just after World
War II when captured German rocket and missile
technology supported many new missile research
studies. In 1953, Convair completed the initial design
studies. Innovations introduced in the development of
the Atlas included: movable thrust chambers mounted
on gimbals to provide directional control, integral
airframe and tank structure to reduce deadweight and
thus increase range and payload, the use of vernier
engines to obtain precise velocity and attitude
adjustments, and a separable warhead re-entry
vehicle. The fuel tank containing a kerosene mixture
and the oxidizer tank with liquid oxygen was separated
by an intermediate bulkhead. If the tanks were not
pressurized, the entire structure collapsed. The first
silo-stored Atlas F squadron became operational in
November 1962. The Atlas was 75 ft long and its 10 ft
diameter flared to 16 ft at the nacelles.
An Atlas D missile was adapted to carry the manned
Mercury capsule. Astronaut John Glenn became the
first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962
aboard Friendship 7 launched by the Mercury - Atlas
rocket at Cape Canaveral, FL.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Saturn V Launches Man to the Moon
The July 16, 1969 launch of the Saturn V rocket
carrying the crew of Apollo 11 to the moon is
shown. Two Apollo 11 crewmen were the first to
land on the moon. The Saturn V rocket was the
largest rocket ever used by NASA and the only
one able to lift the large masses needed to land
astronauts on the moon and return them safely.
Saturn V rockets launched all of the Apollo moon
missions and several to Earth orbit. The rocket
could place a 285,000 lb payload into Earth orbit
or send 100,000 lbs to the moon.
The three-stage, 363 ft tall Saturn V was the
culmination of years of development. The “V”
stood for the five first stage F-1 rocket engines
delivering a total of 7.65 million lbs at sea level.
The oxidizer was liquid oxygen and the fuel was
RP-1 (kerosene). The second stage was
powered by five J-2 engines generating a total
thrust of 1.0 million lbs. The third stage was a
single J-2 engine yielding 200,000 lbs of thrust
(later up-graded to 230,000 lbs). The J-2 engines
used liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as the
oxidizer and fuel, respectively.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
First Re-useable Rocket Plane Launch
The space shuttle concept originated in the
1920s and 1930s when Hermann Oberth
External Tank exchanged words with Austrian researcher Max
Valier. Valier insisted that re-useable
Solid Rocket spacecrafts were superior to expendable
rockets. Eugen Sanger, an Austrian
aeronautical engineer, believed that such a
space plane could be used for the construction,
transport, and supply of a space station.
Space Shuttle
Main Engines
The space shuttle orbiters were the first
spacecraft capable of routinely launching into
orbit like rockets and then returning to Earth as
gliders. The orbiters were part of the Space
Transportation System used for scientific
research and space applications.
The first space shuttle, the orbiter named
Colombia, was launched April 12, 1981 at the
Kennedy Space Center, FL. The Earth orbital
mission lasted 54 hours and ended with an unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base,
CA. The space shuttle was retired in July 2011
after flying 135 missions.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Space Shuttle Main Engines
Liquid oxygen (LO2) oxidizer, at -298 OF, from the External Tank entered the orbiter at the
umbilical disconnect and flowed to the orbiter's LO2 feed line. The line then branched into three
parallel paths, one to each engine.
Liquid hydrogen (LH2) fuel, at -423 OF, from the External Tank flowed into the orbiter at the liquid
LH2 feed line disconnect valve. It then entered the orbiter LH2 feed line manifold and branched
out into three parallel paths to each engine.
Space Shuttle
Main Engines
Tank LO2
Feed Line
Flight Deck
Mid Deck
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Solid Rocket Booster
(3 Places)
(4 Places)
The two SRBs provided the main thrust to lift the space shuttle off
the pad to an altitude of about 28 miles. They were the largest solidpropellant motors ever flown and the first designed for reuse. Prior
to launch, the SRBs carried the entire weight of the external tank
and orbiter through their structure to the mobile launcher platform.
Seventy-five seconds after SRB separation, SRB apogee occurred
at an altitude of 41 miles; parachutes were deployed and impact
occurred in the ocean approximately 141 miles downrange. The
SRBs were recovered and processed to be used again.
Each booster had a thrust of approximately 3,300,000 lbs at launch
providing 71.4 % of the thrust at lift-off. The SRBs were ignited after
the three Space Shuttle Main Engines' thrust level was verified.
Each was 149.16 ft long and 12.17 ft in diameter and was
comprised of four segments. The propellant mixture in each SRB
motor consisted of an ammonium perchlorate (oxidizer, 69.6% by
weight), aluminum (fuel, 16%), iron oxide (catalyst, 0.4%), a polymer
(binder that holds the mixture together, 12.04%), and an epoxy
curing agent (1.96%).
The cone-shaped aft skirt reacted the loads between the SRB and
the mobile launcher platform. Four separation motors mounted on
the skirt released the shuttle from the mobile launch platform. The
nozzle was a convergent-divergent design using a gimbal
Motors (4 Places) mechanism to help steer the shuttle.
Aft Skirt
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Largest Rocket Ever Launches
Military Payload
The Energia rocket was designed as a heavy-lift expendable
launch system as well as a booster for the Buran Space
Shuttle. It had the capacity to place up to 110 tons in low Earth
orbit. It could be configured for heavier payloads comparable
to, or even greater than, the Saturn V. On May 15, 1987, it
initially launched Polyus (shown to the left atop the rocket), a
military test-bed put together on a crash basis as an answer to
America's Star Wars program. Polyus failed to reach orbit, but
if it had succeeded, it would have been the core module of a
new Mir-2 space station. Its mere presence could have
decisively changed the shape of the Cold War in its final
Soviet Shuttle Launched
On November 15, 1988, Energia launched an unmanned
Buran re-usable shuttle. After two orbits, Buran landed at
an airfield. The Soviet re-usable spacecraft program Buran
(snowstorm or blizzard) began in 1976 as a response to
the NASA Space Shuttle. The objectives were similar to
those of the U.S. program except Buran would re-supply
the Mir space station. Buran did not fly a manned mission.
Production of Energia rockets ended with the fall of the
Soviet Union and the end of the Buran shuttle project.
Future Rockets - Human Space Exploration Program
Crew Configuration
NASA is beginning a new era in space exploration focusing on
sending astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. The Orion
Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will serve as the primary crew
vehicle for missions beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). The MPCV will be
capable of conducting regular in-space operations such as
rendezvous, docking and extravehicular activity, in conjunction with
payloads delivered by the Space Launch System (SLS) or other
vehicles in preparation for missions beyond LEO.
NASA has selected a 27.5 ft diameter space shuttle-derived vehicle
with two existing stages and two strap-on boosters for the initial lift
version shown to the left launching the Orion MPVC. The SLS will be
able to initially lift 154,000 - 220,000 lbs (70 - 100 metric-tons) to
LEO, and evolvable to 286,000 lbs (130 metric-tons) or more.
Orion Asteroid Mission
This artist's rendering represents a concept of the Orion spacecraft
with an astronaut investigating a near Earth asteroid (NEA).
Asteroids have gained significant attention recently especially with
President Obama’s announcement in April 2010 that a human
mission to an asteroid no later than 2025 would be one of NASA’s
new exploration goals.
Near Earth Asteroids (NEA) come close enough to Earth that the
proximity of some NEAs makes them ideal destinations for human
exploration missions.
Future Rockets - Human Space Exploration Program
Cargo Configuration
400 ft
(5 Places)
Credit: NASA
The 320 ft tall initial lift SLS (70 - 100 metric-tons) will use a
liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system
equipped with three RS-25D/E shuttle main engines. The
evolved lift capability (130 metric ton) SLS is an upgraded
version with five RS-25D/E engines that will have a liftoff
thrust of 9 million pounds and be able to launch more than
286,000 lbs of cargo into low Earth orbit. Keeping the 27.5
ft core booster's diameter the same as the shuttle's external
tank permits the use of existing ground equipment and
Stage with sharing components between the first and second stages.
The Mobile Launch Platform hardware developed for the
Ares program will then be able to be used for the SLS.
The upper stage will be powered by the J-2X engine
developed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.
The J2X is based on the upper stage engine for the Saturn
V moon rocket.
Solid or
The twin boosters would either be propelled by solid-fuel or
liquid-fuel. A competition will determine the solid-fuel or
Booster liquid-fuel booster needed to allow the vehicle to evolve to
(2 Places) the 130 metric-ton capability that Congress ordered in the
2010 NASA reauthorization legislation. Development of a
kerosene-fueled engine will be considered.
Reference Information - Sheet 1
Rockets into Space by Craig Frank H. Winter, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA,
1990 - history of rocketry.
SM-65D Missile Weapon System Handbook, T.O.21-SM65D-1-4, United States Air Force,
March 1, 1960 - provides Atlas D technical information.
The Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual, Kerry Mark Joels, Random House, 1982 - space shuttle
general information.
Stepping Stones: Exploring a Series of Increasingly Challenging Destinations on the Way to
Mars from Lockheed Martin, Denver, CO - Orion missions are discussed.
History of Liquid Propellant Engines by George P. Sutton, American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics, Inc., Reston, VA, 2006 - illustrated history of the liquid propellant engine.
The Rocket into Planetary Space by Hermann Oberth, R. Rodenbourg, Munch, 1923 (in
German) - outlines the basic principles of space flight and directly inspired many subsequent
spaceflight pioneers.
Saturn V Flight Manual, MSFC-MAN-506, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, 1969 - provides
Saturn V technical information.
Text and Images:
Reference Information - Sheet 2
Text and Images (Continued):
History of Rocketry
A rocket or rocket vehicle is a missile, aircraft or other vehicle
that obtains thrust by the reaction of the rocket to the ejection of
fast moving fluid exhaust from a rocket engine. Chemical
rockets create their exhaust by the combustion of rocket
propellant. The action of the exhaust against the inside of
combustion chambers and expansion nozzles accelerates the
gas to extremely high speed and exerts a large reactive thrust
on the rocket.
Today's rockets are remarkable collections of human ingenuity
that have their roots in the science and technology of the past.
They are natural outgrowths of literally thousands of years of
experimentation and research on rockets and rocket propulsion.
How it Works
A balloon provides a simple example of how a rocket engine works. After
the balloon is blown-up and tied, the balloon is in equilibrium; it does not
move by itself. When the balloon is untied, the air trapped inside the
balloon pushes out the open end, causing the balloon to move forward.
The force of the air escaping is the "action;” the movement of the balloon
forward is the "reaction" predicted by Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law of
Motion stating that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal
and opposite reaction.
Rockets as Inventions - Late 19th Century
Tsiolkovsky’s Rocket Concepts
The big breakthrough in rocket technology was the use of
liquid propellants that Konstantin Tsiolkovsky advocated at the
turn of the 19th Century. The liquids are stored in separate
tanks and fed into the combustion chamber either under the
pressure of a stored gas or by means of pumps. The thrust
can be controlled by valves. Later, the rocket pioneers quickly
discovered that combustion chambers and nozzles can burn
through if they are not properly designed. Some of the first
motors were provided with water-cooling jackets. Soon,
regenerative cooling was introduced that used part of the fuel,
after circulating in the jacket, and then entered the chamber
for combustion with the oxidant.
 Concept 1 - The first spaceship design in 1903 envisioned
the use of liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LO2). It
incorporated a pressure cabin and exhaust vanes for thrust
vector control (TVC).
 Concept 2 - The 1914 design was a development of the
1903 design in which the passenger lay supine. It featured
double-walled construction, including the pressure cabin and
TVC, and was remarkable in that combustion took place in an
offset chamber that exhausted into a curved tube that would
have greatly impaired performance.
 Concept 3 - The 1915 design is taken from the jacket of the
book Lunar Travel On the Moon (Moscow, 1935). Internal
detail now shows inlet valves for LO2 and LH2.
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid 20th Century
Goddard’s 1926 Design
The diagram shows the first liquid-propellant (liquid
oxygen/gasoline) rocket to fly. An alcohol burner between the
tanks was used to increase vaporizing of the liquid oxygen. A
Oxidant starting hose (pulled free as the rocket began to rise) fed
oxygen from a ground supply cylinder through the oxygen gas
pressure line. Cork float valves prevented the liquid propellants
De Laval
Laval from spilling into the pipes while still allowing the gas to flow.
The supply of fuel/oxidant to the igniter that contained match
heads and black gunpowder provided the initial explosion.
De Laval Nozzle
Low Velocity
High Velocity
In 1915, Robert Goddard found that rockets of the time were not very efficient. Only 2% of the
energy released was used to accelerate the exhaust. Since a faster exhaust means more power,
he looked for effective ways to channel the exhaust. Gustav De Laval, a Swedish engineer, had
invented a nozzle while working on steam engines. De Laval found that the most effective way to
generate a high speed jet was with a nozzle that alternately converged and diverged.
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid 20th Century
Oberth’s Cone Motor
Oberth’s Modell B Rocket
Oberth's “Kegelduese,” cone motor, of 1929
set the pattern for the VfR's (the German
Society for Space Travel) early rocket engine
experiments. The liquid oxygen/gasoline
motor was comprised of two halves secured
by bolts. It was made of steel and heavily
copper plated on the inside. The lower half
included the nozzle. In 1930, the cone motor
performed for 90 seconds delivering a
constant thrust.
Oberth's three stage rocket concept is a
design for a sounding rocket. Although the
rocket was never built, it is considered the
predecessor of the modern multi-stage
rocket incorporating stabilizing fins. In the
first stage, fueled by alcohol/water and liquid
oxygen, the alcohol/water also functioned as
a cooling agent around the thrust chamber
and nozzle throat. The second and third
stage propellants were liquid oxygen and
liquid hydrogen. The third stage was needed
to propel it to an altitude of 18,000 ft where it
would separate.
20th Century Rockets - Early to Mid-20th Century
V-2 Rocket Major Components
 At launch, the V-2 propelled itself for up to 65 seconds on its own power; a program motor
controlled the pitch to the specified angle at engine shutdown; then the rocket continued on a
free-fall (ballistic) trajectory. The rocket reached a height of 50 miles before the engine shutdown.
 The fuel and oxidizer turbo-pumps were steam turbines, and the steam was produced by
concentrated hydrogen peroxide with a potassium permanganate catalyst. The alcohol-water fuel
was pumped along the double wall of the main combustion burner. This cooled the chamber and
heated the fuel. The fuel was then pumped into the main burner chamber through 1,224 nozzles,
assuring the correct mixture of alcohol and oxygen. Small holes also permitted some alcohol to
escape directly into the combustion chamber, forming a cooled boundary layer that further
protected the wall of the chamber, especially at the throat where the chamber was narrowest. The
boundary layer alcohol ignited in contact with the atmosphere, accounting for the long, diffuse
exhaust plume.
 The V-2 was guided by four external rudders on the tail fins and four internal graphite vanes at
the exit of the motor. The guidance system consisted of two free gyroscopes (a horizon and a
vertical) for lateral stabilization, and a gyroscopic accelerometer connected to an electrolytic
integrator (engine cut-off occurred when a thin coating of silver was electrochemically eroded off a
poorly conducting base). Some later V-2s used "guide beams" (radio signals transmitted from the
ground) to navigate towards the target, but the first models used a simple analog computer that
adjusted the azimuth for the rocket, and the flying distance was controlled by the timing of the
engine cut-off, ground controlled by a Doppler system or by different types of on-board integrating
accelerometers. The rocket stopped accelerating and soon reached the top of the (approximately
parabolic) flight curve.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
R-7 Rocket
The problem in building the first nuclear ICBM in the
1950s was rockets still had relatively low thrust, whereas
first-generation thermonuclear weapons were extremely
(4 Places)
Sergei Korolev's solution was a "cluster of clusters." The
R-7s central or "sustainer" engine was a single RD-108.
Surrounding the rocket were four RD-107s serving as
boosters that were jettisoned after use. Igniting the
sustainer and booster engines on the launch pad resolved
the concern whether stage engines could be ignited in the
space environment.
Heating and burning stability problems were resolved by
using a single turbo-pump to feed four thrust chambers
leading to the four-chambered RD-I07 and RD-I08
engines. As a result, the R-7’s total of 32 large and small
vernier combustion chambers collectively produced more
than 1.1 million pounds of thrust at lift-off. To save weight
and to streamline the rocket, the boosters were placed in
tapered pods with a fin protruding from each. The overall
diameter for the Sputnik version of the R-7 was 33.7 ft, the
length was 95.7 ft, and the estimated loaded weight was
588,735 lbs.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Atlas Propulsion System
Vernier Engine
(2 Places - Only
One Shown)
(2 Places)
Credit: United States Air Force
Each rocket engine consisted of the thrust chamber
(except for the booster engine, which had two), the
pump and valves that controlled the flow of propellants
to the thrust chamber. The engines started on
propellants from the fuel and oxidizer main tanks. The
thrust chambers were cooled by flowing fuel through
tubes in the thrust chamber walls, and gimbaled to allow
movement in any direction. Pyrotechnic devices ignited
the propellants as they flowed into the thrust chambers.
Propellants from the engine tanks also entered and
ignited in gas generators. The hot gases of combustion
drove turbo-pumps that forced propellants from the
tanks into the thrust chambers and gas generators until
the engines were shut down.
The rocket engines started and developed thrust before
the missile was released from the launch pad. When the
vehicle was released, the thrust of the engines lifted the
missile from the pad and accelerated it. At staging, the
booster engines were cut off and the booster sections
separated. The missile continued to accelerate,
propelled by the sustainer and vernier engines. The
sustainer engine was cut off and; after attitude and
direction were corrected, the two vernier engines were
cut off.
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Saturn V S-1C Stage
The S-IC provided the first stage boost of the Saturn V
launch vehicle to an altitude of about 38 miles and
acceleration to increase the vehicle velocity to 7,700 feet
per second. It then separated from the S-II stage and fell
to Earth about 360 miles downrange.
The S-IC stage was a cylindrical booster, 138 feet long
and 33 feet in diameter, powered by five liquid propellant
F-l rocket engines. The stage dry weight was
approximately 293,500 pounds and its total weight at
ground ignition was approximately 5,030,500 pounds. The
primary structural material was aluminum alloy. The major
components were the: forward skirt, oxidizer tank,
intertank section, fuel tank, and thrust structure.
(LO2) Tank
F-1 Engine
(5 Places)
Four hold-down points in the lower ring of the thrust
structure supported the fully loaded Saturn/Apollo (over
6,000,000 pounds) and also restrained the vehicle from
lifting off at full F-I engine thrust. The heat shield provided
thermal shielding for critical engine and structural
components during the flight. Each outboard F-l engine
was protected from aerodynamic loading by a conically
shaped engine fairing. The fairings also enclosed the
Engine engine actuator supports. Four fixed, titanium covered,
stabilizing fins augmented the stability of the Saturn V
& Fin
Space Race Rockets - Mid 20th to Late 20th Century
Space Shuttle Main Engines
The Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs)
were the first rocket engines to be reused
from one mission to the next. They were
throttled during ascent and they moved,
“gimbaled,” to help steer the shuttle. The
SSME burned liquid hydrogen (LH2) and
liquid oxygen (LO2) to produce a rated
thrust of 400,000 lbs at sea level.
Each SSME was designed to operate for a
total of up to 71/2 hours between major
overhauls. At a rate of only 8 minutes per
flight, the engines should have lasted for
fifty-five missions.
The SSME used a two-stage combustion process. LO2 and LH2 were pumped from the External
Tank and burned in two preburners. On the way to the preburner, some super-cold LH2 was
diverted from the mainstream and circulated through tubes in the engine's nozzle and combustion
chamber walls cooling the engine. Eventually, all the H2 found its way to the preburner. The
mixture ratio of O2 to H2 was less than one part O2 to one part H2. A very hot H2-rich steam
resulted from this mixture. The hot gas drove the high-pressure propellant turbopumps before it
was ducted into the main injector, where it mixed with the rest of the O2 and was fed to the
combustion chamber where the second stage of combustion occurred. The expansion of the
gases through the chamber and the nozzle produced thrust. In about 8 minutes, 40 seconds, the
three SSMEs burned over 1.6 million lbs of propellant (approximately 528,000 gallons).