Before your visit to 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 has a mass of about 2,000,000 kg, most of which is rocket fuel. 
  • The Space Shuttle weighs about 78,000 kg and can carry an extra 24,000 kg as payload. It costs about $22,000 to launch each 1 kg of mass into space.
  • The large orange external fuel tank supplies hydrogen and oxygen for the engines for the first eight minutes of flight.
  • The two white Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) provide the extra force required at launch. The SRB’s run out of fuel after about 2 minutes and are jettisoned back to Earth. 
In order to escape Earth’s gravity and achieve orbit, a rocket must accelerate (basically, go faster) until it reaches escape velocity at 40, 250 kmh. Remember the rocket on the Launchpad is travelling at 0 kmh.  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 (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 (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 (third law). 

A rocket converts the chemical energy stored in fuel into heat energy (and also into sound energy - rocket launches are very loud). 

The engines convert the heat energy into kinetic energy, and as the rocket leaves the launchpad and ascends it also gains potential energy (of gravity). 

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 travelling fast enough to achieve escape velocity, it will eventually reach maximum potential energy and begin to fall back to earth.

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.