Rocket Propulsion 101

Course length:

3 Days



Course dates

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This three-day course is based on the popular text Rocket Propulsion Elements by Sutton and Biblarz. The course provides practical knowledge in rocket propulsion engineering and design technology issues. It is designed for those needing a more complete understanding of the complex issues. The objective is to give the engineer or manager the tools needed to understand the available choices in rocket propulsion and/or to manage technical experts with greater in-depth knowledge of rocket systems. Attendees will receive course notes.

Who Should Attend:

  • Engineers of all disciplines supporting rocket design projects
  • Aerospace Industry Managers
  • Spacecraft Designers and Operators
  • Government Regulators, Administrators and sponsors of rocket or missile projects
  • Contractors, customers, and investors involved in rocket propulsion development projects

Course Outline:

  1. Fundamentals and Definitions. Introduction to mass ratios, momentum thrust, pressure balances in rocket engines, specific impulse, energy efficiencies, and performance values. Introduction to cold gas, chemical, thermal, and electrical rocket types.
  2. Nozzle Theory. The acceleration of gasses in a nozzle to exchange chemical/thermal/electrical energy into kinetic energy, pressure, and momentum thrust. Thermodynamic relationships, flow area ratios, and the ratio of specific heats as they pertain to subsonic, sonic, and supersonic flow nozzles. Equations for coefficient of thrust and the effects of under and over expanded nozzles. Examination of cone & bell nozzles, altitude-compensating nozzle types, and nozzle losses.
  3. Performance. Introduction to performance losses due to aerodynamic drag, steering, atmospheric pressure, and gravity. Evaluation of single stage performance in comparison to multi-stage vehicles.   Examination of ascent trajectories, elliptical orbits, transfer orbits, and astrodynamic considerations pertaining to staging.
  4. Propellant Performance and Density Effects. Introduction to thermo-chemical analysis, exhaust species shift with mixture ratio, and the concepts of frozen and shifting equilibrium in nozzle flows. The effects of propellant density on mass properties & performance of rocket systems for vehicle design decisions.
  5. Liquid Propellant Rocket Engines. Characteristics of propulsive liquids and gasses, practical liquid propellant combinations, physical properties, performance, advantages, and disadvantages. Liquid rocket engine fundamentals, including gas pressure vs. pump-fed systems, valves, pipe lines, control mechanisms, and engine supporting structures.
  6. Thrust Chambers. The examination of injectors, combustion chamber and nozzle and other major engine elements is conducted in-depth. The issues of heat transfer, cooling, film cooling, ablative cooling and radiation cooling are explored. Ignition and engine start problems and solutions are examined.
  7. Combustion.  Examination of combustion zones, combustion instability and control of instabilities in the design and analysis of rocket engines.
  8. Turbopumps. Close examination of the issues of turbo-pumps, the gas generation, turbines, and pumps. Characteristics of successful turbo-pump designs.
  9. Solid Rocket Motors. Introduction to propellant grain design, alternative motor configurations and burning rate issues. Burning rates, and the effects of hot or cold motors. Propellant grain configuration with regressive, neutral and progressive burn motors. Issues of motor case, nozzle, and thrust termination design. Solid propellant formulations, binders, fuels and oxidizers.
  10. Hybrid Rockets. The advantages and disadvantages of various hybrid rocket motor systems. Safety attributes, tankage/fuel grain configurations, and combustion characteristics.
  11. Stability and Thrust Vector Control. Discussion of rocket vehicle flight stability, and the need for Thrust Vector Control. TVC mechanisms and strategies, including: hydraulic actuation, gimbals, Solid Rocket Motor flex-bearings, liquid/gas injection, jet vanes, jet tabs, rings, and RCS used for steering.
  12. Rocket System Design. Integration of rocket system design and selection processes with the lessons of rocket propulsion. How to design rocket systems.
  13. Applications and Conclusions. Now that you have an education in rocket propulsion, what else is needed to design rocket systems? A discussion regarding the future of rocket engine and system design.


Daniel Moser


Daniel J. Moser, Founder, President and Chief Technical Officer of an engineering consultant firm has a B.S. in Physics, and M.E. in Mechanical Engineering, University of Utah. Mr. Moser has been an engineer, innovator, and entrepreneur in the aerospace industry for over 35 years. Previously employed by Beal Aerospace Technologies (Director of Engineering), Raytheon-Electronic Systems (Chief Composites Engineer), ALCOA-FiberTek (Project Engineer), and EDO-Fiber Science (Project/Test Engineer), he has also founded and operated two composites-based businesses: Utah Rocketry (1993-1997), and Compositex, Inc. (2000-present). He has extensive experience in designing and developing launch vehicles, liquid rocket propulsion systems, ablatively-cooled thrust chambers/nozzles, filament-wound composite vessels (liquid propellant tanks, high-pressure gas storage vessels, solid rocket motorcases, and crash-worthy external aircraft fuel tanks), wings, control surfaces, fuselages, radomes, spars, missile tail fins, bulkheads, reentry heat shields, and landing gear. Compositex, Inc. customers include NASA-Marshall, NASA-Ames, NASA-Johnson, Air Force Research Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University-Applied Physics Laboratory, Air Launch LLC, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, KT Engineering, Rocketdyne, DARPA, Exxon-Mobil, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin.



Edward L. Keith is a multi-discipline Launch Vehicle System Engineer, specializing in integration of launch vehicle technology, design, modeling and business strategies. He is an independent consultant, writer and teacher of rocket system technology, experienced in launch vehicle operations, design, testing, business analysis, risk reduction, modeling, safety and reliability. Mr. Keith’s experience includes reusable & expendable launch vehicles as well as solid & liquid rocket systems.


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