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NASA ~ffi~~

AN EDUCATIONAL PUBLICATION OF THE


NATIONAL AER ONAU TIC S AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION

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N6B -16054
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Rockel propulSion
Transportation systems are dependent upon
engines for locomotion. This is true whether the
cargo is a pebble to be delivered by a man-powered
slingshot, or the Apollo spacecraft to be pro-
pelled to the moon by the giant Saturn V launch
vehicle.
Somewhere along the engine power development
cycle , oxygen is , or has been , required to give the
motor life. In the case of the combustion engine ,
oxygen is, of course, required to make fuel burn .
The slingshot is not an exception-its power is
supplied by a man, or boy, who breathes oxygen
in the air. Here on the earth the supply of that
vital ingredient is virtually inexhaustible. The rocket
combustion engine differs from other transportation
power systems . It must carry its own oxygen to
burn fuel because it is designed to operate mostly
beyond the ocean of air surrounding earth.
Today, power for rocket engines is provided by
chemicals which , when combined, generate gases
that produce the force or thrust necessary for flight.
The push which the rocket vehicle receives from
gases expanding out of the engine's nozzle is ex-
plained in Newton's third law of motion: "For every
action there is an equal and opposite reaction ."
This can be illustrated by envisioning a skater
standing upright with a bowling ball held near his
body. He pushes the ball away. The ball goes fly -
ing one way and he will go flying the other way. The
faster he pushes the ball away , the harder he will
be pushed in the opposite direction. All rockets
work on this principle.
This law also explains why a rocket engine is as
effective in a vacuum as it is in the atmosphere.
The forward motion of the rocket is simply the
result of expelling gases in the opposite direction .
A B
As a matter of fact , a rocket engi ne is more efficient
in a vacuum since air gets in the way of the exhaust. A. Thrust is demonstrated by the balloon and rocket as
gas gushes out of the nozzles. The action of the engine
All of our rocket engines are now using chemical forces th e gases out of the nozzle.
fuels to move vehicles beyond the earth's atmos- B. Reaction to the thrust makes the balloon or rocket move.
-- ~

phere . There are several other types of rocket


propulsion systems-theoretically , far more effi·
cient-under development that will probably be _REACTION
used later for long·distance journeys. These in-
clude Nuclear, Solar, Arc , Ionic , and Fusion. Th ese
power systems all require the use of nuclear power
or solar energy for the energy source. By far the
most power, or exhaust velocity, cou ld be obtained
from nuclear fusion. However, its use is still far in
the future .
@
Meanwhile , although chemical propulsion is not
very efficient because of the tremendous amount
of fuel requ ired to deliver the cargo , it is presently
the best means available.
ACTION .
To move more weight into space and to move it
faster, we can either burn more fuel per second ,
burn the fuel for a longer time , or increase the
speed at which the gases flow through the exhaust
nozzle. Th e developers of our space vehicles are
working on all of these methods to increase the
efficiency of chemically fueled rocket engines. upper stage and upper stages of th e Saturn vehi-
Most chem ical rockets used today burn hydro - cles , use high -energy propellants, like liquid hydro-
carbons, such as kerosene , which provide specific gen with liquid oxygen , which provide speci fic im-
impulses of about 300 seconds. Specific impulse pulses above 400 seconds.
is a measurement used to compare the energy avail- It should be remembered , however, that even the
able from various fuels. It represents thrust force best chemical propellants have a fixed energy per
in pounds per second. pound , or heat of combustion . So far, our best
Mathematically, the actual force being generated chemical rockets develop an exhaust veloc ity of
by a rocket engine, or its thrust , can be calculated about 9000 miles per hour (the speed of accelera-
by Newton 's second law of motion: Force equals tion of the propellant, not the final speed the vehi-
propellant mass flow rate times exhaust velocity cle attains). To obtain higher exhaust velocit ies
(italicized words ours). Mass flow rate is primarily for more ambitious space missions , scientists are
a matter of the size of the rocket engine. The ex- working to develop more advanced systems, such as
haust velocity is limited by the chemical energy, or nuclear and electric propulsion.
hea t of combustion of the propellants . Exhaust There are two types of chemical rocket engines
velocity divided by "g" (force of gravity) is called used widely today. One burns liquid propellants
specific impulse. The state it simply, specific im- and the second burns a solid propellant.
pulse is the miles-per-ga llon figure for a rocket In a liquid rocket , the fuel and oxidizer are car-
engine. ried in separate tanks and burned in the combus -
More advanced rockets, such as the Centaur tion chamber of the rocket engine. Hydrocarbons ,
"~---V--l

..
ACTION
bleed system to drive the turbine, a flow-control
system, propellant injectors, and a cooled combus-
tion chamber and rocket nozzle.
Th e simplest way to force propellants into the
OXIDIZER PUMP --=:::::::::j:~ combustion chamber is to pressurize the propellaht
~ FUEL PUMP tanks. Another way is to use turbine·driven pumps
TURBINE .......---
EXHAUST powered by hot gases obtained in one of several
ways: from a gas generator especially for the
TURBINE purpose; by bleeding off propellant heated by the
engine; or by tapping off combustion chamber
"Tl
C
gases. By regulating the flow rate of propellants to
'"r the combustion chamber, the liquid engine can
COOLING PASSAGES operate at different thrust levels.
IN NOZZLE - -
Solid rocket motors have been used primarily for
sounding and military rockets so far. However,
technology has been advancing rapidly and solid

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motors as large as 260 inches in diameter have
REACTION
been fired and have produced more than three
million pounds of thrust.
In a solid rocket, the propellant, consisting of a
By regulating the flow of propellants to the combustion solid mass of mixed fuel and oxidizer, is bonded to ,
chamber, liquid engines can operate at d ifferent thrust
levels. or supported by, the inside of the motor case. The
slug of propellant , called a grain , usually has a hole
such as kerosene, are the most common fuels gen- running through its center. Burning takes place
erally used in rocket boosters such as Atlas, Delta , along the exposed surface of the grain , progresses
and Saturn. The Titan II vehicle uses a mixture of radially toward the case , and produces combustion ·
unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) and products which flow from the nozzle . The shape
hydrazine. Common oxidizers are liquid oxygen, in- of the hole determines the amount of burning sur-
hibited red fuming nitric acid, and nitrogen tetrox - face of the grain at any time . The propellant itself
ide. In recent years, however, the development of thus usually protects the motor case walls from the
high-energy propellant technology has led to the hot gases inside the motor. The larger the burning
use of higher specific impulse fuels such as liquid area, the faster the propellant is burned , and the
hydrogen. And even higher energy is available when higher the thrust .
liquid hydrogen and liquid fluorine are combined. Control of th e solid·propellant rocket is more
The latter propellant combination is only in the difficult than control of liquid propulsion systems ;
experimental stage. it is not as easily throttled and the usual way of
Liquid rocket engines are more complex than terminating its thrust is to open vents in the cham -
solid motors. A liquid propulsion system consists ber walls , which causes the pressure in the motor
of the propellant tanks , fuel and oxidizer pumps , to drop, extinguishing the flame .
a turbine to drive them , a gas gel'lerater or gas- The usual vacuum specific impulse of solid pro -
-~r

I PITCH MOTOR (SOLID) ] ,000 LBS THRUST


o
TOWER JETTISON MOTOR (SOLID) 40,000 LBS THRUST

r -- LAUNCH ESCAPE SYSTEM

pellant rockets is about 240 sec ·


I onds ; some propellants can per·
100 GAL IIIQNO.ll!.ETHYlHYORAIIHE (REACTIOH COtoITROL
1
60 GAL ~'TROCe,., TETROXIOE (RF.A.CTlOI'I CONTROL SYSTEM)
I 2,SOOGAL NITROGEN TETROXIDE form as high as 350 seconds .
2, 11)..; GAL H Y~R "ZI"'E UHSYMMETRICAL
QUIETHYL HYDRAZIHE I P 22K S (L10UID ) 21 ,900 lBS THRUST
In the drawing at left you will
LUNAR m"U" L<-"" Ani TUDE CONTROL ENGINES (LIQUID) 100 POUHOS THRUST EACH see the various liquid propellant
1
1,000 GAL HITRoc.elll TETROXIDE
(LUNAR ~OouLE ASCENT DECE"'T STAGE)
ASCENT EI'IGI/'IE ILIOUID) l ,SOO LBS THRUn and solid rockets used in the
1,200 GAL HYDRAIIHE (~:::::~~~I~~S~~:~T~~~E~~H;T ;";::"0;;'.;) ·-fj~q.~L_
DEsceNT ENGINE (LIQUID) I ,Osa TO 10,500 LBS THRUST
(VARIABLE )
Apollo / Saturn V space vehicle
which will send three astronauts
to the moon, and return them to
STAGE
I.' 900 CAL LlOUID HYOI'OOI'H -~-U_ earth. You will see that enormous
ATTITUDE CONTROL eNClt-IES (L10U10 ) 147 LSS THRUST EACH
amounts of fuel are used to propel
the vehicle. The chart explains the
2 ULLAGE ENGINES ( LIQUID) 72 lBS THRUST eACH
thrust and use of the engines. This
RETRO,lolOTORS (SOUD) ]S.700 LSS THRUST EACH
one rocket has a total of 91 en-
J· 2 ENGINE (LIOUID) 200.000 LBS THRUST
gines, both liquid and solid.
267.700 CAL LlOUID HYDROGEN _ _ _ +-_

QUESTIONS:
1. Why is it necessary for space
STAGE
363 vehicles to use liquid oxygen in-
87.400 GAL UOUID OXYO.H - __ I¥--J:k
stead of gaseous oxygen for space
flight?
ULLAGE ""OTORS (SOLID) 22 700 LBS THRUST EACH

J· 2 ENGINES (LiOUID) 200.000 LBS THRUST EACH


2. What would be the advantage
of using nuclear or ionic propul-
o
sion for space travel to distant
planets?

-lIi+----FIRST STAGE
REFERENCE:
Thrust into Space, by Maxwell
W. Hunter, II. Holt Library of Sci -
ence, Series III. Holt, Rinehart
and Winston .
2",200 GAL RP· I (KEROSENE )

RETRO ""OTORS (SOLID) 87.900 LBS


THRUST EACH

F 1 ENGII'IES (UOUID ) 1.500.000 LBS THRUST EACH

THE APOLLO/SATURN V

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