Student Seminar

The Fundamentals of Rocketry: How Physical Laws Dictate Design

Chris Kallio, SFU Physics
Location: C9000

Friday, 17 March 2023 01:30PM PDT


Since Yuri Gagarin flew atop Vostok 1, becoming the first man in space, humanity has continued to explore beyond our planet by iterating on the traditional rocket design. In the intervening years, rockets have grown substantially in both size and complexity, but their general form has remained almost completely unchanged. Just as airplanes possess wings which exploit fluid dynamics in order to achieve flight, rockets too are designed in accordance with physical principles which imply certain shared characteristics. While this should come as no surprise, the precise manner by which these principles dictate our design choices is not so obvious. For instance, why are engine nozzles shaped the way they are? Why can‘t we have space planes which can achieve orbit in a single stage? While these questions may seem more befitting of an aerospace engineer, at their core they can be answered with simple formulae as detailed by physicists like Bernoulli and Tsiolkovsky. This seminar will explore the anatomy of a rocket and explain the physical principles behind each major design consideration. We will discuss the macrostructure of an orbit-capable vehicle, the properties of various propellants, and the procedure by which an engine generates thrust.