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A rocket (from Italian: rocchetto, lit. 'bobbin/spool') is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle that obtains thrust from a rocket engine. Rocket engine exhaust is formed entirely from propellant carried within the rocket. Rocket engines work by action and reaction and push rockets forward simply by expelling their exhaust in the opposite direction at high speed, and can therefore work in the vacuum of space.
In fact, rockets work more efficiently in space than in an atmosphere. 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 Earth's moon. Rockets are now used for fireworks, 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.
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 out of a rocket engine nozzle (or nozzles) at the rearward-facing end of the rocket. The acceleration of these gases through the engine exerts force ("thrust") on the combustion chamber and nozzle, propelling the vehicle (according to Newton's Third Law). This actually happens because the force (pressure times area) on the combustion chamber wall is unbalanced by the nozzle opening; this is not the case in any other direction. The shape of the nozzle also generates force by directing the exhaust gas along the axis of the rocket.
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