You may have seen NASA’s Artemis I take off recently, which ignites the hope of bringing us one step closer to human exploration of space. It took astronauts and engineers nearly 10 years to design, build and launch the spacecraft, and all the hard work of a decade came down to the launch – the first test for the success of a space mission.
So, let’s look at what exactly goes on in a launch and what are the different stages of a rocket.
The space agencies that launch rockets into space need more than one engine or propellant and the process needs precision as it is very complicated. Unlike the rockets you see at Diwali, these rockets require a lot more firepower – which means multiple engines, parts and stages. Once the rocket is built and is ready to be launched, it is held vertically in place on the launch pad. The launch pad is usually a huge piece of land designed to have safe access points to the craft as well as different structures to hold the craft and for people working on it to be able to access it.
While the launch of a rocket is very complex and has many steps to it, it can be broadly divided into three stages:
In this first stage, the first engine is engaged when a rocket is launched. It gives the rocket the thrust and momentum it needs to launch vertically into the atmosphere. The first engine is usually gigantic and most powerful since it demands enough power to carry the rocket, its engines, other parts and itself into the air. This engine is usually on the bottom-most level and propels the rocket until it runs out of fuel. Once that happens, it detaches itself and falls away from the rocket. The amount of fuel and time taken varies depending on the rocket.
Once the primary stage finishes its job and falls away, the secondary engine is activated and takes over. By this time, the rocket is travelling at a very high speed and is past the atmosphere. Hence, the second stage doesn’t need equivalent effort as the primary stage. The engine will fall off once it runs out of fuel and has made the rocket reach outer space, just like in the previous stage. In longer space flights or missions, there are sometimes more engines used in the rocket resulting in more stages that follow a similar process.
This is the stage where all the external engines have fallen off, and the payload or the main cargo – could be a rocket or a satellite – is launched into orbit. At this stage, there is little to no atmospheric pressure, so the vehicle is very light and doesn’t have to use a lot of power to move. Smaller rockets, which are attached to the payload, are used to propel and guide the payload to where it needs to be. These rockets are returned with the payload to Earth and can be reused in future missions.
Now that you know how a rocket launches, would you ever consider sitting in a rocket yourself? Let us know in the comments.
Learn more about rockets and space with ‘Did You Know?’:
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