Rocket Science

ThinkTank Maths tackles the mathematical challenges of next-generation rockets.

The most visible feature of any launcher is its hypersonic plume. The cone of hot gas that expands as the rocket climbs up in the atmosphere is a spectacular sight. Unfortunately, if the plume gets too wide, the heat from the alumina particles — tiny pieces of superheated aluminium oxide found in most solid propellants — can actually damage the payload.


Making sure this does not happen is a crucial problem in rocket science: it constrains launcher concepts and requires extensive prototyping and testing. During the course of a new launcher development project, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Aerothermodynamics group asked ThinkTank Maths to consider novel approaches to the mathematics of rocket plumes — beyond the conventional practices of Computational Fluid Dynamics.


A richer theoretical understanding of the plume and its radiative effects is bringing new perspectives to launcher design — to begin with, to understand the risks, and ultimately to deliver satellites to orbit undamaged.

This work was carried out under a programme funded by the European Space Agency. This case study has been prepared by TTM and does not necessarily express the official opinion of the European Space Agency.