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Fuel for thought

Diagram of a RocketDyne F-1 Engine

Diagram of a RocketDyne F-1 Engine

We’ve looked at exactly what happens in the last moments leading up to a rocket launch, but what about how it flies off the pad?

Well, the “how” depends on the specific rocket in question.

Rocket engines currently fall into 2 basic types: Solid Fuel and Liquid Fuel.

A Solid Fuel engine can be started only once, but it’s very simple and reliable, and is tremendously powerful. Engines like this are usually employed to get the rocket off the pad initially.

In contrast, a Liquid Fuel rocket is more complex, but can be stopped and started as often as needed providing there is still fuel in the tanks, much like the engine in your car, but far more powerful.

So which one should you use on a rocket if you were to build one?

This also depends on the rocket. Most model rockets use Solid Fuel engines that exist as a single unit and can be replaced for each launch. Remember, though, that engines like the ones you can buy in a store aren’t designed to be very powerful.

For example, if the engine you have onhand is intended to lift 6 ounces or less, including the weight of the engine itself, it wouldn’t even get an astronaut’s lunch off the ground, let alone something like a Saturn V rocket, which was used to propel the Apollo missions into orbit and on to the Moon.

What kind of engine was used for that?

A company called RocketDyne produced a Liquid Fuel engine called the F-1 for the Saturn V launches, each of which used 5 of these engines which, when working together, produced 7,500,000 lbs. of thrust, which made the Saturn V the most powerful rocket ever made. These engines are so large that each of them burns over 3,300 gallons of fuel every second!

So we’ve gotten a glimpse of the smallest and the largest engines, and there is huge array of selection in between the two.

A 3rd type, a Nuclear Fuel Engine, is currently being researched for use on future missions.

Rockets as we know them now have been around for many decades, but do you think it’s still the best way to launch a rocket?

What ideas do you have to get a vehicle into orbit?

There’s a lot of room for new concepts.

Dream.

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