LeoGlossary: Rocket

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A rocket is a vehicle that is propelled by the release of hot gases produced by the combustion of fuel. The hot gases are directed out of the back of the rocket, creating a high-speed exhaust that generates a powerful thrust, which propels the rocket forward.

These are commonly used in space exploration and are a crucial part of many space missions, including launching satellites, crewed spacecraft, and interplanetary probes. They are also used in military applications, such as missile systems. In scientific research, atmospheric reentry tests and astronomical observations are done.

The basic components of a rocket include:

  1. Fuel: The energy source that powers the rocket. Common fuels include liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, as well as solid fuels like ammonium perchlorate.
  2. Oxidizer: A substance that helps the fuel burn more efficiently. In a liquid-fueled rocket, the oxidizer is typically liquid oxygen. In a solid-fueled rocket, the oxidizer is typically a component of the fuel itself.
  3. Combustion chamber: The container where the fuel and oxidizer are burned to produce hot gas.
  4. Nozzle: The part of the rocket that directs the hot gas out of the back of the rocket, creating thrust.
  5. Control system: The electronic or mechanical system that regulates the direction and attitude of the rocket.

There are different types of rockets, including:

  1. Chemical rockets: These are the most common type of rocket and use a chemical reaction to produce thrust.
  2. Electric rockets: These use electricity to ionize and accelerate propellant, rather than a chemical reaction.
  3. Nuclear rockets: These use nuclear reactions to produce thrust.
  4. Solid-fueled rockets: These use a solid fuel and oxidizer, which are cast together and ignited to produce thrust.
  5. Liquid-fueled rockets: These use a liquid fuel and oxidizer, which are pumped into the combustion chamber and ignited to produce thrust.


  • Space exploration: Launching satellites, spacecraft, and probes to explore the solar system and beyond.
  • Launch vehicles: Delivering payloads like satellites and astronauts into Earth's orbit or beyond.
  • Military: Ballistic missiles for long-range attacks and rockets for launching satellites and probes for military purposes.
  • Weather research: Launching weather balloons and rockets to gather data on the atmosphere.

The future of rockets:

  • Reusable rockets: Reducing launch costs and environmental impact by recovering and reusing rocket engines and components.
  • Advanced propulsion technologies: Exploring new forms of propulsion like nuclear engines, antimatter rockets, and fusion-powered rockets for faster and more efficient space travel.

Rocket Companies

The world of rocket manufacturers and launch providers is a diverse and exciting one, with both established players and innovative newcomers pushing the boundaries of space exploration. Here are some key companies to know:

Traditional Powerhouses:

  • SpaceX: Founded by Elon Musk, SpaceX has disrupted the industry with its reusable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, aiming to reduce launch costs and revolutionize space access.
  • Boeing: A longstanding aerospace giant, Boeing offers the Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy rockets, known for their reliability and long track record of successful missions.
  • United Launch Alliance (ULA): A joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, ULA provides the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, primarily supporting US government launches.
  • Roscosmos: The Russian space agency operates the workhorse Soyuz rocket, responsible for countless astronaut deliveries to the International Space Station.
  • China National Space Administration (CNSA): China's space program utilizes various rockets, including the Long March series, known for their affordability and increasing capabilities.

Emerging Challengers:

  • Blue Origin: Founded by Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin focuses on suborbital tourism flights with its New Shepard rocket and aims to develop orbital launch capabilities in the future.
  • Rocket Lab: This New Zealand company offers the Electron rocket, designed for small satellite launches and known for its rapid production and flexibility.
  • Virgin Galactic: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo vehicle carries passengers on suborbital space tourism flights, offering a unique experience of spaceflight.
  • Astra: This American company focuses on affordable and frequent small satellite launches with its innovative Electron rocket.
  • Firefly Aerospace: Another US startup, Firefly aims to provide dedicated and rideshare launch services for small satellites with its Alpha rocket.

Beyond National Boundaries:

  • European Space Agency (ESA): While not directly a launch provider, ESA collaborates with Arianespace to offer the Ariane 5 and Vega rockets for European and international launches.
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI): This Japanese company produces the H-IIA and H-III rockets, primarily used for government and commercial launches within Japan.
  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO): India's space program utilizes the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for domestic and international satellite launches.


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