# Rocketry for Kids. Science Level 4. Newton s Laws

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1 Rocketry for Kids Science Level 4 Newton s Laws

2 Victorian Space Science Education Centre 400 Pascoe Vale Road Strathmore, Vic Some material for this program has been derived from the work of others and is reproduced with the generous permission of the original copyright owners: NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Human Resources and Education, Education Division. 2

3 Newton's Laws of Motion. The treatment here of Newton s Laws is more detailed than you will need to explain rocket motion at primary school level. The information is given to assist primary teachers without tertiary physics education. Newton s Third Law is the critical explanation for years 5 and 6. The example of a skateboard is one which they can grasp readily and is the most useful. 1. Objects at rest will stay at rest and objects in motion will stay in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. 2. Force is equal to mass times acceleration. 3. For every action there is always an opposite and equal reaction. As will be explained shortly, all three laws are really simple statements of how things move. But with them, precise determinations of rocket performance can be made. Newton's First Law This law of motion is just an obvious statement of fact, but to know what it means, it is necessary to understand the terms rest, motion, and unbalanced force. If you hold a ball in your hand and keep it still, the ball is at rest. All the time the ball is held there though, it is being acted upon by forces. The force of gravity is trying to pull the ball downward, while at the same time your hand is pushing against the ball to hold it up. The forces acting on the ball are balanced. Let the ball go, or move your hand upward, and the forces become unbalanced. The ball then changes from a state of rest to a state of motion. In rocket flight, forces become balanced and unbalanced all the time. A rocket on the launch pad is balanced. The surface of the pad pushes the rocket up while gravity tries to pull it down. As the engines are ignited, the thrust from the rocket unbalances the forces, and the rocket travels upward. Later, when the rocket runs out of fuel, it slows down, stops at the highest point of its flight, and then falls back to Earth. Objects in space also react to forces. A spacecraft moving through the solar system is in constant motion. The spacecraft will travel in a straight line if the forces on it are in balance. This happens only when the spacecraft is very far from any large gravity source such as Earth or the other planets and their moons. If the spacecraft 3

4 comes near a large body in space, the gravity of that body will unbalance the forces and curve the path of the spacecraft. The unbalanced gravitational force causes the satellite's path to change to an arc. The arc is a combination of the satellite's fall inward toward the planet's center and its forward motion. When these two motions are just right, the satellite's path returns to the same spot in space and an orbit is produced. Unless another unbalanced force, such as friction with gas molecules in orbit or the firing of a rocket engine in the opposite direction, slows down the spacecraft, it will orbit the planet forever. The combination of a satellite's forward motion and the pull of gravity of the planet bend the satellite's path into an orbit. Newton's Third Law For the time being, we will skip the Second Law and go directly to the Third. This law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you have ever stepped off a small boat that has not been properly tied to a pier, you will know exactly what this law means. A rocket can lift off from a launch pad only when it expels gas out of its engine. The rocket pushes on the gas, and the gas in turn pushes on the rocket. The whole process is very similar to riding a skateboard. Imagine that a skateboard and rider are in a state of rest (not moving). The rider jumps off the skateboard. In the Third Law, the jumping is called an action. The sk ateboard responds to that action by traveling some distance in the opposite direction. The skateboard's opposite motion is called a reaction. With rockets, the action is the expelling of gas out of the engine. The reaction is the movement of the rocket in the opposite direction. To enable a rocket to lift off from the launch pad, the action, or thrust, from the engine must be greater than the weight of the rocket. While on the pad the weight of the rocket is balanced by the force of the ground pushing against it. Small amounts of thrust result in less force required by the ground to keep the rocket balanced. Only when the thrust is greater than the weight of the rocket does the force become unbalanced and the rocket lifts off. In space where unbalanced force is used to maintain the orbit, even tiny thrusts will cause a change in the unbalanced force and result in the rocket changing speed or direction. One of the most commonly asked questions about rockets is how they can work in space where there is no air for them to push against. The answer to this question comes from the Third Law. Imagine the skateboard again. On the ground, the only part air plays in the motions of the rider and the skateboard is to slow them down. 4

5 Moving through the air causes friction, or as scientists reaction. call it, drag. The surrounding air impedes the action As a result rockets actually work better in space than they do in air. As the exhaust gas leaves the rocket engine it must push away the surrounding air; this uses up some of the energy of the rocket. In space, the exhaust gases can escape freely. Newton's Second Law This law of motion is essentially a statement of a mathematical equation. The three parts of the equation are mass (m), acceleration (a), and force (f). Using letters to symbolize each part, the equation can be written as follows: f = ma The equation reads: force equals mass times acceleration. To explain this law, we will use an old style can non as an example. When the cannon is fired, an explosion propels a cannon ball out the open end of the barrel. It flies a kilometer or two to its target. At the same time the cannon itself is pushed backward a meter or two. This is action and reaction at work (Third Law). The force acting on the cannon and the ball is the same. What happens to the cannon and the ball is determined by the Second Law. Look at the two equations below. f = m (cannon) a (cannon) f = m a (ball) (ball) The first equation refers to the cannon and the second to the cannon ball. In the first equation, the mass is the cannon itself and the acceleration is the movement of the cannon. In the second equation the mass is the cannon ball and the acceleration is its movement. Because the force (exploding gun powder) is the same for the two equations, the equations can be combined and rewritten below. m (cannon) a (cannon) = m (ball) a (ball) In order to keep the two sides of the equations equal, the accelerations vary with mass. In other words, the cannon has a large mass and a small acceleration. The cannon ball has a small mass and a large acceleration. Apply this principle to a rocket. Replace the mass of the cannon ball with the mass of the gases being ejected out of the rocket engine. Replace the mass of the cannon with the mass of the rocket moving in the other direction. Force is the pressure created by the controlled explosion taking place inside the rocket's engines. That pressure accelerates the gas one way and the rocket the other. Some interesting things happen with rockets that do not happen with the cannon and ball in this example. With the cannon and cannon ball, the thrust lasts for just a moment. The thrust for the rocket continues as long as its engines are firing. Furthermore, the mass of the rocket changes during flight. Its mass is the sum of all its parts. Rocket parts include: engines, propellant tanks, payload, control system, and propellants. By far, the largest part of the rocket's mass is its propellants. But that amount constantly changes as the engines fire. That means that the rocket's mass gets smaller during flight. In order for the left side of our equation to remain in balance with 5

6 the right side, acceleration of the rocket has to increase as its mass decreases. That is why a rocket starts off moving slowly and goes faster and faster as it climbs into space. Newton's Second Law of Motion is especially useful when designing efficient rockets. To enable a rocket to climb into low Earth orbit, it is necessary to achieve a speed, in excess of 28,000 km per hour. A speed of over 40,250 km per hour, called escape velocity, enables a rocket to leave Earth and travel out into deep space. Attaining space flight speeds requires the rocket engine to achieve the greatest action force possible in the shortest time. In other words, the engine must burn a large mass of fuel and push the resulting gas out of the engine as rapidly as possible. Putting Newton's Laws of Motion Together 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 rate at which the mass of the rocket fuel burns and the speed of the gas escaping 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). 6

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