“You can do it. This ain’t rocket science!” Well, it is this week! But what is rocket science?
Contrary to popular belief, the concept behind basic rocketry is quite simple. Stuff is burned in a tube and hot gas shoots out the back producing thrust to make you go-go-go! Getting your rocket to move where you want, when you want, and not explode unless you want, gets a whole lot trickier. None the less, boiled down to its core, you need look no father than Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion to have a fundamental idea of how rocket engines work.
In this first part of the Weekend Watchlist’s tribute to rockets we’ll be exploring the history and weapons of these burning tubes of wonder.
As with many of mankind’s great discoveries, rockets are a byproduct of researching weapons. Chinese alchemists accidentally discovered gunpowder in the ninth century leading to the creation of bombs, cannons, and rocket-propelled fire arrows.
Rocketry became known across Europe in the worst possible way. Reports from the Battle of Mohi in 1241 describe Genghis Khan’s army using rocket powered weapons captured in the Mongol conquest of northern China. Similarly, Arab historians reported being attacked by Mongol rocket-based weapons in the 1258 battle of Baghdad. Europeans would get another taste of rocketry when the Arabs used what they learned from the Mongols during the siege of Constantinople in 1453.
Do not adjust your volume! The following vid has no audio, just awesome.
The same basic principals that powered those ancient Chinese weapons are still in use today, like the United States’ MLRS, Multi-Launch Rocket System.
One of the most famous multi-rocket weapons is the Russian Katyusha. Originally appearing in World War II, many variants of the Katyusha rocket artillery would see action throughout the world. The latest use of Katyushas were reported just last year during the 2011 Libyan civil war.
The design of the Chinese “Bees’ Nest” also remains with us today in the more familiar (and less chaotic) form of the modern RPG, or Rocket Propelled Grenade. For a less deadly take on this battlefield basic, we turn to YouTuber nrmering who built a handheld launcher for model rockets.
There were many great pioneers throughout the centuries. The modern incarnation of rocket engines really kicked off in the 1920s. One of the most famous was Robert Goddard who invented a new nozzle that focused the raw gasses of rocket engines into a directed hypersonic jet of gas. The new nozzle would double the thrust of rocket engines of the era. What follows is footage of Goddard launching the world’s first liquid fuel powered rocket in 1929.
Wait… Liquid rockets? Yep. Solid rocket engines burn solids, like gunpowder. Or in the case of the Ares I solid rocket motor below, solid rocket fuel.
Liquid rocket engines burn liquids, like liquid oxygen. And, in this case, video cameras.
Hybrid rocket engines burn two things: Gas and either a solid or liquid. Ben Krasnow, a hardware engineer for Valve Software, built one in his garage that burns oxygen and clear acrylic plastic, creating this beautiful transparent hybrid rocket motor.
Join us next week on the Weekend Watchlist as we conclude our tribute to rocket science (now online here). We’ll be taking a look at all kinds of amazing rocket powered vehicles, past and present, on land, sea, in the air, and in space.