# Liquid Rocket Engine

## Schematic

On this page, we show a schematic of a liquid rocket engine. Liquid rocket engines are used on the Space Shuttle to place humans in orbit, on many un-manned missiles to place satellites in orbit, and on several high-speed research aircraft following World War II. In a liquid rocket, stored fuel and stored oxidizer are pumped into a combustion chamber where they are mixed and burned. The combustion produces great amounts of exhaust gas at high temperature and pressure. The hot exhaust is passed through a nozzle which accelerates the flow. **Thrust** is produced according to Newton’s third law of motion.

## Determining Thrust

The amount of thrust produced by the rocket depends on the mass flow rate through the engine, the exit velocity of the exhaust, and the pressure at the nozzle exit. All of these variables depend on the design of the nozzle. The smallest cross-sectional area of the nozzle is called the **throat** of the nozzle. The hot exhaust flow is **choked** at the throat, which means that the Mach number is equal to 1.0 in the throat and the mass flow rate \(\bf\dot{m}\) is determined by the throat area. The area ratio from the throat to the exit **A _{e}** sets the exit velocity

**V**and the exit pressure

_{e}**p**. You can explore the design and operation of a rocket nozzle with our interactive thrust simulator program which runs on your browser.

_{e}The exit pressure is only equal to free stream pressure at some design condition. We must, therefore, use the longer version of the generalized thrust equation to describe the thrust of the system. If the free stream pressure is given by **p _{0}**, the thrust

**F**equation becomes:

\(\LARGE F=\dot{m}V_{e}+A_{e}(p_{e}-p_{0})\)

## Rockets in Space

Notice that there is no free stream mass times free stream velocity term in the thrust equation because no external air is brought on board. Since the oxidizer is carried on board the rocket, rockets can generate thrust in a vacuum where there is no other source of oxygen. That’s why a rocket will work in space, where there is no surrounding air, and a gas turbine or propeller will not work. Turbine engines and propellers rely on the atmosphere to provide air as the working fluid for propulsion and oxygen in the air as oxidizer for combustion.

The thrust equation shown above works for both liquid and solid rocket engines. There is also an efficiency parameter called the specific impulse which works for both types of rockets and greatly simplifies the performance analysis for rockets.

The details of how to mix and burn the fuel and oxidizer, without blowing out the flame, are very complex. It DOES take a rocket scientist to figure it out!