Rocket Facts



  • Rockets work by burning fuel. As fuel burns and swells out behind, the swelling pushes the rocket forward.
  • Solid-fuel rockets are the oldest of all engines, used by the Chinese a thousand years ago.
  • Solid-fuel engines are basically rods of solid, rubbery fuel with a tube down the middle.
  • Solid-fuel rockets are usually only used for model rockets and small booster rockets. But the Space Shuttle has two solid-fuel rocket boosters (SRBs) as well as three main liquid-fuel engines.
  • Most powerful launch rockets use liquid fuel. The Space Shuttle uses hydrogen. Other fuels include kerosene.
  • Liquid fuel only burns with oxygen, so rockets must also carry an oxidizer (a substance that gives oxygen) such as liquid oxygen (LOX) or nitrogen tetroxide.
  • Future rocket drives include nuclear thermal engines that would use a nuclear reactor to heat the gas blasted out.
  • NASA’s Deep Space-1 project is based on xenon ion engines which thrust electrically charged particles called ions, not hot gases, out of the back of the craft.
  • Solar thermal engines of the future would collect the Sun’s rays with a large mirror to heat gases.
  • The Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo mission to the Moon is the most powerful rocket ever built.
  • Rockets provide the huge thrust needed to beat the pull of Earth’s gravity and launch a spacecraft into space. Rockets burn propellant (propel means ‘push’), to produce hot gases that drive the rocket upwards. Rocket propellant comes in two parts – a solid or liquid fuel, and an oxidizer.
  • Solid fuel is a rubbery substance that contains hydrogen, and it is usually used in additional, booster rockets.
  • Liquid fuel is usually liquid hydrogen, and it is typically used on big rockets.
  • There is no oxygen in space, and the oxidizer supplies the oxygen needed to burn fuel. It is usually liquid oxygen (called ‘lox’ for short).
  • The first rockets were made 1000 years ago, in China.
  • Robert Goddard launched the very first liquid-fuel rocket in 1926.
  • The German V2 war rocket, designed by Werner von Braun, was the first rocket capable of reaching space.