While many believe that the rocket is a product of a modern world, the technology actually dates back to 11th century China, where early chemists at the time were discovering the power of gun powder.
Over the years, many scientists around the world have taken the technology and refined to the point where rockets are able to generate enough thrust to not only lift off of the ground, but to propel themselves out of the planet’s orbit.
Rockets come in many shapes and sizes, but in terms of thrust, we currently have four main types of propulsion: solid-fuel, liquid-fuel, ion, and plasma rockets.
As the oldest and simplest of the rockets, solid-fuel propulsion systems have been around since gun powder was first discovered. This type is also known as monopropellant, which means that there are several solid chemicals that re combined into a single mixture, which is then placed tint a combustion chamber before it’s ignited, providing enough thrust to push the rocket off of the ground into space.
One of the main disadvantages of this kind of fuel is that there is no way to disengage the thrust, meaning that the rocket will burn through all of its fuel before it stops. Along with this, some of the ingredients used are extremely volatile, such as nitro-glycerine, making it among the more dangerous of the types of thrust.
As the name suggests, these types of rockets instead make use of liquid propellants to create thrust. Robert H Goddard, who many view as the father of modern rocketry, pioneered the liquid-fuel rocket design and his design was successfully tested in 1926.
Liquid-fuel rockets were also the types that were used during the space race, and sent Sputnik, and eventually the Apollo 11 into orbit with the Saturn V rocket. Liquid-fuel rockets can be both monopropellant and bipropellant, with the main difference being that the bipropellant system consists of fuel and oxidiser.
Much more efficiently than conventional types of rocket propulsion, ion rockets makes use of electrical energy stored in solar cells to provide thrust. The ion rocket shots a jet of xenon ions whose negative electrons are stripped by the rocket’s electron gun, and because there is no nozzle that limits the amount of thrust that it can achieve, ion rockets can generally generate more thrust while using less fuel and being less dangerous.
He first ion rocket was tested on November 10th 1998 and again in September 2003 with the SMART 1. These might be the rockets used for commercial tourist operations, providing an efficient and cheap means of travel that allows the passengers to sit back with a game of the best online pokies Australia as they ascend.
Plasma rockets are still in their development stages at the moment, but they show great promise. Known as the VASIMR, or the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, it works by accelerating plasma, which is created by stripping negative electrons from hydrogen atoms and propelling them out of the engine.
Developers are hoping that plasma rockets will be able to take humans to Mars within a couple of months per trip.