Before your
Rocket image
visit by the Victorian Space Science Education Centre you'll need to undertake some research about ROCKET SCIENCE.
The basic principles of rocketry can be explained using NEWTON'S 3 LAWS OF MOTION and the LAW OF CONSERVATION OF ENERGY. Click on the links, and use library and internet resources to research and create a Foldable project.


In their simplest form, all rockets consist of a chamber enclosing a gas under pressure, with a small opening at one end of the chamber that allows the gas to escape.

ROCKET SCIENCE - Background Briefing

  • On the launchpad the Space Shuttle had a mass of about 2,000,000 kg, most of which was rocket fuel. 
  • The Space Shuttle weighed about 78,000 kg and could carry an extra 24,000 kg as payload. It cost about $22,000 to launch each 1 kg of mass into space.
  • The large orange external fuel tank supplied hydrogen and oxygen for the engines for the first eight minutes of flight.
  • The two white Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) provided the extra force required at launch. The SRB’s ran out of fuel after about 2 minutes and were jettisoned back to Earth. 
In order to rise against Earth’s gravity and achieve orbit, a rocket must accelerate (go faster) until it reaches a velocity of about 28,000 km/h. To completely escape from Earth's gravity it must reach "escape velocity" of 40,250 km/h. Remember the rocket on the Launchpad is travelling at 0 km/h.  Let's consider a rocket launch in terms of Newton's 3 Laws of Motion.
  • A rocket sitting on a Launchpad is at rest, as the forces acting on it are balanced. An unbalanced force must be exerted for a rocket to lift off from a launch pad or for a craft in space to change speed or direction (Newton's first law). 
  • The amount of thrust (force) produced by a rocket engine will be determined by the mass of rocket fuel that is burned and how fast the gas escapes the rocket (Newton's second law). 
  • The reaction, or motion, of the rocket is equal to and in the opposite direction of the action, or thrust, from the engine (Newton's third law). 

Now consider the launch in terms of the Conservation of Energy
  • A rocket converts the chemical energy stored in fuel into heat energy by burning the fuel, (and also into sound energy - rocket launches are very loud). (Conservation of Energy)
  • The engines convert the heat energy into kinetic energy by directing the hot gases backwards through nozzles. As the rocket leaves the launchpad and ascends it also gains potential energy (of gravity). (Conservation of Energy)
  • At the same time the rocket's total mass decreases as the fuel is used up and the tank is jettisoned. Unless the rocket is traveling fast enough to achieve orbital velocity, it will eventually reach maximum potential energy and begin to fall back to earth, losing potential energy and gaining kinetic energy as it falls. (Conservation of Energy)

This lovely photo of a rocket's trajectory was taken in Norway. The rocket carried instruments 320 kms into the atmosphere to observe the aurora.