Posted on

Calculating the Ideal Size of a Rocket Engine and the Decision to Combine Multiple Engines

Designing a rocket requires careful consideration of a number of variables, including the size and number of engines. So, how does one calculate the ideal size of a rocket engine and when does it make sense to combine several engines? Let’s delve into these fascinating aspects of rocket design.

Calculating the Ideal Size of a Rocket Engine

The performance of a rocket engine is typically evaluated by its thrust. Calculating the thrust of a rocket engine involves several variables including the mass flow rate through the engine, the exit velocity of the exhaust, and the pressure at the nozzle exit. The mass flow rate, in particular, is determined by the throat area of the nozzle, the smallest cross-sectional area of the nozzle.

The mass flow rate (m dot) is given by the formula

m . = A * p t T t γ R ( γ + 1 2 ) γ + 1 2 ( γ 1 )

The area ratio from the throat to the exit (Ae) sets the exit Mach number. The formula for the area ratio is

A e A * = ( γ + 1 2 ) γ + 1 2 ( γ 1 ) ( 1 + γ 1 2 M e 2 ) M e γ + 1 2 ( γ 1 )

Once we have the exit Mach number, we can calculate the exit pressure (pe) and exit temperature (Te) using the isentropic relations at the nozzle exit. The formulas for the exit pressure and temperature are

p e p t = ( 1 + γ 1 2 M e 2 ) 1 T e T t = ( 1 + γ 1 2 M e 2 ) γ γ 1

Knowing the exit temperature, we can calculate the exit velocity (Ve) using the equation for the speed of sound and the definition of the Mach number. The formula for the exit velocity is

V e = M e γ R T e

Finally, we can calculate the thrust (F) of the rocket using the generalized thrust equation, which accounts for the fact that the exit pressure is only equal to free stream pressure at some design condition. The formula for the thrust is

F = m . V e + ( p e p 0 ) A e

When to Combine Multiple Engines

Adding more engines or scaling up the size of existing engines are both valid ways of increasing thrust. However, the decision to use one approach over the other involves a careful balancing act.

On one hand, using a single large engine can lead to unstable exhausts where the combustion products ‘stick’ to one side of the nozzle, to a first degree of approximation similar to how a shower head when not turned on fully will run in a single stream rather than many small jets. The Rocketdyne F-1 engine used on the Saturn V is often considered the biggest practical size of engine. The Saturn V used 5 such engines, which meant that if one were to fail, there’d be very little in the way of backup.

On the other hand, using many smaller engines, while solving the problem of having a backup, presents its own set of challenges. The more engines you have, the higher the chances that having one fail catastrophically will result in the destruction of the entire craft. The plumbing alone can be a logistical nightmare to solve, as demonstrated by the N-1 rocket, which used 30 smaller engines in its first stage and flew four times, exploding on each occasion.

Moreover, it’s important to note that thrust is close to but not quite additive when multiple engines are involved. Plume-plume interactions can result in total thrust being slightly less than the sum of the thrusts from the individual engines.

Additionally, when multiple engines are used, the engines’ thrust can be vectored in different directions. However, the thrust available for acceleration of the spacecraft is reduced by the factor cos(θ), commonly referred to as “cosine losses”. This effect is due to the thrust not being aligned with the spacecraft’s center of mass, leading to a slight loss of linear acceleration.


Designing a rocket engine involves complex mathematical calculations and engineering considerations. Choosing the right size and number of engines is a balancing act, involving trade-offs between thrust, stability, complexity, and risk of catastrophic failure. The ideal solution often lies somewhere in between the extremes of a single large engine and many smaller ones.

Posted on

The Final Frontiers: Parallels Between Deep-Sea Exploration and Space Travel Amidst Recent Events

Humanity has always been driven by an insatiable curiosity to explore the unknown, from the vast expanse of the cosmos to the deep, mysterious depths of our oceans. While these environments could not be more different, the methods and technologies we use to explore them share striking similarities. Both space and deep-sea exploration take us into hostile environments that humans cannot naturally survive, necessitating the use of advanced technology and strict safety protocols. Recent events, such as the catastrophic implosion of the Titan submersible near the Titanic wreck, have highlighted the importance of safety and quality assurance in these endeavors.

Deep-Sea Exploration: A Journey into the Abyss

Deep-sea exploration involves the use of specialized submersibles to dive below thousands of meters, far beyond the reach of divers. The environment at these depths is harsh, with crushing pressures, low temperatures, and complete darkness. These conditions pose significant technical and operational challenges, requiring specialized equipment and safety measures to protect the crew and the integrity of the submersible.

Just as with astronauts, crews of deep-sea submersibles undergo extensive training to prepare for their missions. They must understand how to operate the submersible, manage onboard systems, and respond to emergencies. This training ensures that they can effectively carry out their mission while minimizing risks.

The recent implosion of the Titan submersible underscores the inherent risks and technical challenges of deep-sea exploration. The Titan was designed to withstand pressures at depths of 12,500 feet below the surface, but a catastrophic implosion suggests a potential failure of the pressure vessel. This incident emphasizes the importance of meticulous quality assurance and rigorous safety measures in deep-sea exploration.

Space Exploration: A Voyage Into the Cosmos

Space exploration is humanity’s quest to expand our knowledge beyond the confines of our planet. Like deep-sea exploration, space exploration involves tremendous challenges. The vacuum of space, extreme temperatures, and cosmic radiation are significant threats that require advanced technology and stringent safety measures.

Astronauts, like deep-sea explorers, undergo rigorous training to prepare for their missions. This training involves mastering spacecraft operations, learning to conduct scientific experiments in a microgravity environment, and preparing for potential emergencies during launch, in orbit, or upon re-entry.

The Unseen Depths and the Final Frontier: Parallels

Despite being vastly different, the worlds of deep-sea and space exploration share several striking parallels. Both environments are inherently hostile to humans, requiring the use of advanced technology and specialized equipment to protect explorers from extreme conditions.

  1. Hostile Environments: Both deep-sea and space are inhospitable to humans. Space is a vacuum with extreme temperatures and cosmic radiation, while the deep sea presents bone-crushing pressure, near-freezing temperatures, and total darkness. Both environments necessitate the use of pressurized vessels to protect explorers and allow for scientific investigation.
  2. Technological Requirements: Both types of exploration require state-of-the-art technology. Space missions need spacecraft capable of withstanding the rigors of launch, the vacuum of space, and the heat of re-entry, along with the challenges of docking with a space station or landing on other celestial bodies. Deep-sea exploration requires submersibles designed to withstand immense pressures and low temperatures, equipped with lighting and camera equipment to illuminate and document the sunless depths.
  3. Training and Skills: Both astronauts and deep-sea explorers undergo rigorous training. Astronauts need to learn how to live and work in a microgravity environment, operate their spacecraft, conduct scientific research, and manage potential emergencies. Deep-sea explorers also need to master the operation of their submersibles, understand the unique challenges posed by the deep-sea environment, and prepare to respond to emergencies that could arise during a dive.
  4. Quality Assurance and Safety Measures: The recent Titan submersible implosion has reminded us of the importance of quality assurance and safety measures in both domains. Every piece of equipment, whether it’s a submersible diving to the ocean floor or a rocket bound for space, must be thoroughly tested and retested to ensure it can withstand the extreme conditions it will encounter. Safety measures, including backup systems and emergency protocols, are critically important to protect the lives of those onboard.
  5. Scientific Discovery: Both deep-sea and space exploration contribute significantly to scientific discovery. From understanding the effects of microgravity on human health in space, to discovering new species and ecosystems in the deep sea, these explorations expand our knowledge of the universe and our place within it.


Whether we’re looking to the stars or diving into the depths of our oceans, our desire to explore and understand drives us forward. The environments of space and the deep sea are vastly different, yet our approach to exploring them shares many commonalities. Both require the use of advanced technology, rigorous training, and stringent safety measures.

As we continue to push the boundaries of our knowledge and capabilities, the exploration of these final frontiers will undoubtedly continue to mirror each other. Each successful mission brings not just new discoveries, but also invaluable lessons about how to better equip and prepare ourselves for the next journey into the unknown. The tragic event of the Titan implosion serves as a stark reminder of the risks involved and underscores the critical importance of safety measures and quality assurance in our quest to explore the final frontiers.

Posted on

Principles of NASA’s Mission Operations: A Guide to Everyday Excellence

When we think of NASA, we often imagine complex spacecraft, breathtaking space explorations, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries. What we might not immediately consider is the set of fundamental principles that guide the organization’s mission operations. Rooted in discipline, competence, confidence, responsibility, toughness, teamwork, and vigilance, these principles are not just applicable to space missions; they can also be integrated into our everyday lives to help us reach our goals, big or small.

Discipline: Master Yourself, Master Your Task

Discipline, at its core, involves self-control and self-mastery. It is the ability to follow as well as to lead, recognizing that mastering ourselves is the first step to mastering our tasks. In everyday life, discipline can manifest in many ways, from sticking to a daily exercise routine, maintaining a balanced diet, to managing our time effectively. It’s about setting personal rules and adhering to them, even when no one is watching.

Competence: Preparation and Dedication

Competence comes from total preparation and complete dedication. It leaves no room for carelessness or indifference, for the consequences can be severe, especially when dealing with space missions. In our lives, competence can be achieved through continuous learning, skill enhancement, and unwavering dedication to our work or hobbies. Whether you’re a student preparing for an exam, a professional working on a project, or a musician practicing an instrument, competence is key to success.

Confidence: Overcoming Fear and Hesitation

Confidence is about believing in ourselves and others. It requires mastering fear and hesitation, which can otherwise limit our potential and achievements. In our day-to-day life, confidence can be cultivated by celebrating our strengths, learning from our failures, and embracing challenges. It’s about standing up for a presentation, asking that important question, or taking on a leadership role in a community project.

Responsibility: Accountability for Our Actions

Responsibility means accepting that our actions, and the consequences they bring, cannot be shifted to others. Each of us must answer for what we do or fail to do. This principle reminds us to take ownership of our actions, whether it’s apologizing when we’re wrong, making amends, or stepping up to make difficult decisions. It’s about keeping promises, meeting deadlines, and upholding our commitments.

Toughness: Resilience in the Face of Challenges

Toughness is about taking a stand when necessary, and the willingness to try again and again, even if it means following a more difficult path. In our personal lives, toughness can be seen in the way we deal with setbacks, disappointments, and failures. It’s about bouncing back from a job loss, navigating through a difficult relationship, or persisting in the face of rejection.

Teamwork: Success through Collective Effort

Teamwork involves respecting and utilizing the abilities of others, realizing that success depends on the efforts of all. It’s about working toward a common goal and understanding that everyone’s contribution is valuable. In our daily interactions, teamwork can manifest in a group project at school, collaborating with colleagues at work, or organizing a community event. It’s about acknowledging others’ ideas, promoting open communication, and appreciating diverse perspectives.

Vigilance: The Importance of Constant Alertness

Vigilance means being always attentive to potential dangers and never accepting success as a substitute for rigor in everything we do. This principle can be applied to various aspects of our lives, from staying informed about current events, being aware of our surroundings for safety

reasons, to double-checking our work for errors. It’s about maintaining a healthy skepticism, asking critical questions, and never resting on our laurels.

In conclusion, NASA’s Foundations of Mission Operations provide a powerful framework for achieving excellence, not just in space missions, but in everyday life. Each of these principles – discipline, competence, confidence, responsibility, toughness, teamwork, and vigilance – offers valuable insights into how we can navigate our personal and professional journeys. It reminds us that, like a successful space mission, our life’s journey also requires self-mastery, dedication, confidence, accountability, resilience, collaboration, and constant alertness.

These principles aren’t just for astronauts – they’re for anyone aspiring to reach their own ‘stars,’ whatever those might be. As we integrate these principles into our daily lives, we might just find ourselves reaching new heights of personal and professional success. After all, as they say at NASA, “The sky is not the limit.”