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The How and Why of Rockets’ Staging

17 Feb 2018, 15:57 UTC
The How and Why of Rockets’ Staging
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Apollo 11 staging; that’s the first stage falling away before the second stage lit. NASA.
When we talk about spaceflight — modern or vintage, manned or unmanned, orbital or deep space — launch vehicles all serve the same purpose: overcome gravity and get the payload off the Earth. Whatever the mission, it starts with a rocket launch. Even, because I can hear you asking about it, payloads that were launched from the payload bay of the space shuttle; that payload got to orbit via a shuttle launch. And because all rockets harness the same technology, they all share one common element. Whether they’re big or small, they all go through staging.

Every rocket that has ever put anything into space has been a multistage rocket. Every payload has needed an extra kick of thrust to overcome the weight of the rocket and payload to get it into space. It’s a tricky balancing act. It’s not just the payload that has mass we need to cancel out with thrust against the downward force of gravity. The rocket’s body has mass as well, as does the fuel on board. The payload is typically the smallest portion of mass on a launch. ...

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