MadSci Network: Engineering

Re: What is the smallest rocket that could leave Earth's atmosphere?

Date: Fri Jun 25 23:39:53 1999
Posted By: Troy Goodson, Staff, Spacecraft Navigation, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Area of science: Engineering
ID: 928934488.Eg

You've hit upon a central question of aerospace engineering. However, in order to answer you question directly, I need to know how high you consider Earth's atmosphere to be. Can this be a staged rocket, like the Saturn 5? or must it be single-stage, like the Delta-Clipper?

Even then, however, I could only direct you to an existing rocket. I think you want to know what the practical limit is. The crux of the answer is that we are still trying to build the smallest rocket to leave Earth.

You can review our progress with the list of launch vehicles at

You might want to look at the Scout family of rockets. They could get to 500 km with a payload of just 150 kg (330 lb). See

On the other hand, the Atlas rocket was able to put John Glenn in orbit using just a little more than one stage.

Your question also leads me to think that you're interested in understanding how to build a rocket to get into an orbit around Earth. Visit these sites, they should give you a feel for what it's all about. http:/ /

There's even a java program for simulating rocket trajectories

Finally, I should point out that a similar question was asked at before: 897920771.Ph

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