I grew up in the space race era but had no specific interests in it. My dad was a systems engineer on classified space programs, so I was aware but we didn't discuss.
Then I recently heard of a "rocket scientist" who thought other fields of intellectual pursuit were trivial compared to rocketry -- that they could be learned in 3 weeks. As a challenge I decided to study rocket science for 3 weeks. Thus this page.
Sometimes known as "rocket science". Covers getting into space, performing tasks there, and (usually) coming back to Earth. Since transport is done with non-air-breathing rockets, the field covers rockets used in atmosphere too (hobby, cruise missiles, etc.)
After early hobbyist efforts, and Germany flying bombs, the field was driven in the Cold War first by ICBMs and then by man-to-the-moon. The field struggled with complex technical problems, and solved them with enormously expensive designs. By the late 1990's however, rocketry had become an understood technology. The references below are essentially summations of lessons learned, at the tail end of the excitement.
We are now in an era in which rockets get to orbit routinely, and satellites can be designed and built by amateurs. Really complex missions (e.g., spy satellites with high resolution imaging and ability to thwart attacks) still require detailed work, but even that is supported by texts and design software.
The big picture design tasks:
You need adequate math to handle systems of differential equations, spherical and elliptical coordinates, and the underlying math for mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and chemistry. But you don't have to be an expert in each of these fields. Given the math, the texts below give adequate subject-specific material.
My impression of the rough equiv of typical degree programs is:
If you have read my web pages (and their references) on math, physics, chemistry, and engineering, then astronautics will be do-able. Yes, "it is rocket science", but then again rocket science isn't quantum field theory.
People have been shooting off rockets since long before Goddard, and there are still amateur rockets. They go up, they may take a few readings or pictures, and they come down. Weather balloons go higher.
Here are some representative sites:
Amateur Radio folk put the first "hobby" satellites in orbit. CubeSat and ArduSat carry on from there. Representative sites:
NASA and other national and commercial launch vendors have shifted from running big space programs to helping others do missions. This has a fuzzy boundary with hobby satellites. You get OSS software and NASA-provided mission analysis. Representative sites:
In military tactics, you want "high ground", to make gravity your accomplice rather than adversary. The ultimate high-ground is space-based weapons. ICBMs mark the apex of that path.
Once we humans realized ICBMs carry A-bombs and H-bombs, and that the only mutually assured destruction (MAD) can prevent their use, we shifted the target to man-to-the-moon, space telescopes, entertainment broadcasts, and of course spy satellites, as ways to use the technology. (Dreamers talked about colonizing the moon and mars, but no one with a pocket calculator takes that seriously.)
However... Drones (UAVs) are a cheaper way to get very high resolution visual, audio, and radio imagery. Drones are also better at unmanned long-range killing. Fiberoptics are better at high-speed communications. Cell towers are better at wireless.
The space business isn't going away. Satellites are good for spying on foreign nations and for the non-military spinoffs (e.g., earth sensing, weather, forest fires). The gluttonous military-industrial-congressional complex will tout those for every billion they can squeeze out of the citizenry.
Still, the single most important lesson from the whole space program was the sight of "Earthrise" over the lunar horizon. We have just one habitable planet, and we humans are making a real mess of it. Let's re-direct the space-race funding and enthusiasm to accomplishing sustainable living here on Earth.
Creator: Harry George