Multistage rockets are capable of attaining escape velocity from Earth and therefore can achieve unlimited maximum altitude. Compared with airbreathing engines, rockets are lightweight and powerful and capable of generating large accelerations. To control their flight, rockets rely on momentum, airfoils, auxiliary reaction engines, gimballed thrust, momentum wheels, deflection of the exhaust stream, propellant flow, spin, or gravity.
Rockets for military and recreational uses date back to at least 13th-century China. Significant scientific, interplanetary and industrial use did not occur until the 20th century, when rocketry was the enabling technology for the Space Age, including setting foot on the Moon. Rockets are now used for fireworks, missiles and other weaponry, ejection seats, launch vehicles for artificial satellites, human spaceflight, and space exploration.
Chemical rockets are the most common type of high power rocket, typically creating a high speed exhaust by the combustion of fuel with an oxidizer. The stored propellant can be a simple pressurized gas or a single liquid fuel that disassociates in the presence of a catalyst (monopropellant), two liquids that spontaneously react on contact (hypergolic propellants), two liquids that must be ignited to react (like kerosene (RP1) and liquid oxygen, used in most liquid-propellant rockets), a solid combination of fuel with oxidizer (solid fuel), or solid fuel with liquid or gaseous oxidizer (hybrid propellant system). Chemical rockets store a large amount of energy in an easily released form, and can be very dangerous. However, careful design, testing, construction and use minimizes risks.
In China, gunpowder-powered rockets evolved in medieval China under the Song dynasty by the 13th century. They also developed an early form of MLRS during this time. The Mongols adopted Chinese rocket technology and the invention spread via the Mongol invasions to the Middle East and to Europe in the mid-13th century. According to Joseph Needham, the Song navy used rockets in a military exercise dated to 1245. Internal-combustion rocket propulsion is mentioned in a reference to 1264, recording that the \"ground-rat\", a type of firework, had frightened the Empress-Mother Gongsheng at a feast held in her honor by her son the Emperor Lizong. Subsequently, rockets are included in the military treatise Huolongjing, also known as the Fire Drake Manual, written by the Chinese artillery officer Jiao Yu in the mid-14th century. This text mentions the first known multistage rocket, the 'fire-dragon issuing from the water' (Huo long chu shui), thought to have been used by the Chinese navy.
Medieval and early modern rockets were used militarily as incendiary weapons in sieges. Between 1270 and 1280, Hasan al-Rammah wrote al-furusiyyah wa al-manasib al-harbiyya (The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices), which included 107 gunpowder recipes, 22 of them for rockets. In Europe, Roger Bacon mentioned firecrackers made in various parts of the world in the Opus Majus of 1267. Between 1280 and 1300, the Liber Ignium gave instructions for constructing devices that are similar to firecrackers based on second hand accounts. Konrad Kyeser described rockets in his military treatise Bellifortis around 1405.
The name \"rocket\" comes from the Italian rocchetta, meaning \"bobbin\" or \"little spindle\", given due to the similarity in shape to the bobbin or spool used to hold the thread from a spinning wheel.Leonhard Fronsperger and Conrad Haas adopted the Italian term into German in the mid-16th century; \"rocket\" appears in English by the early 17th century.Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima, an important early modern work on rocket artillery, by Casimir Siemienowicz, was first printed in Amsterdam in 1650.
The Congreve rocket was a British weapon designed and developed by Sir William Congreve in 1804. This rocket was based directly on the Mysorean rockets, used compressed powder and was fielded in the Napoleonic Wars. It was Congreve rockets to which Francis Scott Key was referring, when he wrote of the \"rockets' red glare\" while held captive on a British ship that was laying siege to Fort McHenry in 1814. Together, the Mysorean and British innovations increased the effective range of military rockets from 100 to 2,000 yards (91 to 1,829 m).
The first mathematical treatment of the dynamics of rocket propulsion is due to William Moore (1813). In 1814 Congreve published a book in which he discussed the use of multiple rocket launching apparatus. In 1815 Alexander Dmitrievich Zasyadko constructed rocket-launching platforms, which allowed rockets to be fired in salvos (6 rockets at a time), and gun-laying devices. William Hale in 1844 greatly increased the accuracy of rocket artillery. Edward Mounier Boxer further improved the Congreve rocket in 1865.
William Leitch first proposed the concept of using rockets to enable human spaceflight in 1861. Leitch's rocket spaceflight description was first provided in his 1861 essay \"A Journey Through Space\", which was later published in his book God's Glory in the Heavens (1862). Konstantin Tsiolkovsky later (in 1903) also conceived this idea, and extensively developed a body of theory that has provided the foundation for subsequent spaceflight development.
In 1921 the Soviet research and development laboratory Gas Dynamics Laboratory began developing solid-propellant rockets, which resulted in the first launch in 1928, which flew for approximately 1,300 metres. These rockets were used in 1931 for the world's first successful use of rockets for jet-assisted takeoff of aircraft and became the prototypes for the Katyusha rocket launcher, which were used during World War II.
In 1929, Fritz Lang's German science fiction film Woman in the Moon was released. It showcased the use of a multi-stage rocket, and also pioneered the concept of a rocket launch pad (a rocket standing upright against a tall building before launch having been slowly rolled into place) and the rocket-launch countdown clock. The Guardian film critic Stephen Armstrong states Lang \"created the rocket industry\". Lang was inspired by the 1923 book The Rocket into Interplanetary Space by Hermann Oberth, who became the film's scientific adviser and later an important figure in the team that developed the V-2 rocket. The film was thought to be so realistic that it was banned by the Nazis when they came to power for fear it would reveal secrets about the V-2 rockets.
In 1943 production of the V-2 rocket began in Germany. It was designed by the Peenemünde Army Research Center with Wernher von Braun serving as the technical director. The V-2 became the first artificial object to travel into space by crossing the Kármán line with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on 20 June 1944. Doug Millard, space historian and curator of space technology at the Science Museum, London, where a V-2 is exhibited in the main exhibition hall, states: \"The V-2 was a quantum leap of technological change. We got to the Moon using V-2 technology but this was technology that was developed with massive resources, including some particularly grim ones. The V-2 programme was hugely expensive in terms of lives, with the Nazis using slave labour to manufacture these rockets\". In parallel with the German guided-missile programme, rockets were also used on aircraft, either for assisting horizontal take-off (RATO), vertical take-off (Bachem Ba 349 \"Natter\") or for powering them (Me 163, see list of World War II guided missiles of Germany). The Allies' rocket programs were less technological, relying mostly on unguided missiles like the Soviet Katyusha rocket in the artillery role, and the American anti tank bazooka projectile. These used solid chemical propellants.
A rocket design can be as simple as a cardboard tube filled with black powder, but to make an efficient, accurate rocket or missile involves overcoming a number of difficult problems. The main difficulties include cooling the combustion chamber, pumping the fuel (in the case of a liquid fuel), and controlling and correcting the direction of motion.
Rockets consist of a propellant, a place to put propellant (such as a propellant tank), and a nozzle. They may also have one or more rocket engines, directional stabilization device(s) (such as fins, vernier engines or engine gimbals for thrust vectoring, gyroscopes) and a structure (typically monocoque) to hold these components together. Rockets intended for high speed atmospheric use also have an aerodynamic fairing such as a nose cone, which usually holds the payload.
As well as these components, rockets can have any number of other components, such as wings (rocketplanes), parachutes, wheels (rocket cars), even, in a sense, a person (rocket belt). Vehicles frequently possess navigation systems and guidance systems that typically use satellite navigation and inertial navigation systems.
Rocket engines employ the principle of jet propulsion. The rocket engines powering rockets come in a great variety of different types; a comprehensive list can be found in the main article, Rocket engine. Most current rockets are chemically powered rockets (usually internal combustion engines, but some employ a decomposing monopropellant) that emit a hot exhaust gas. A rocket engine can use gas propellants, solid propellant, liquid propellant, or a hybrid mixture of both solid and liquid. Some rockets use heat or pressure that is supplied from a source other than the chemical reaction of propellant(s), such as steam rockets, solar thermal rockets, nuclear thermal rocket engines or simple pressurized rockets such as water rocket or cold gas thrusters. With combustive propellants a chemical reaction is initiated between the fuel and the oxidizer in the combustion chamber, and the resultant hot gases accelerate