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CHAPTER 8

MULTISTAGE ROCKETS
With current technology and fuels and without greatly increasing the effective I sp by airbreathing, a single stage rocket to orbit is still not possible. So it is still necessary to reach
orbit using a multistage system where a certain fraction of the vehicle mass is dropped off
after use thus allowing the non-payload mass carried to orbit to be as small as possible.
The final velocity of an n stage launch system is the sum of the velocity gains from each
stage.
V n = !v 1 + !v 2 + !v 3 + + !v n

(8.1)

The performance of an n -stage system can be optimized by proper selection of the structural mass, propellant mass and specific impulse of each of the n stages.

8.1 NOTATION
Let the index i refer to the ith stage of an n stage launch system.The structural and propellant parameters of the system are as follows.

M 0i - The total initial mass of the ith stage prior to firing including the payload mass,
ie, the mass of i, i+1, i+2, i+3,...., n stages.

M pi - The mass of propellant in the ith stage.

M si - Structural mass of the ith stage alone including the mass of its engine, controllers
and instrumentation as well as any residual propellant which is not expended by the end of
the burn.

M L - The payload mass

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8.1

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Analysis

8.2 ANALYSIS
The figure below schematically shows a three stage rocket at each stage of flight.

ML

ML

ML

MS3

MS3

MS3

MP3

MP3

MP3

MS2

MS2

MP2

MP2

MS1

M02

M03

MP1

M01
Define the following variables
M 0(i + 1)
" i = ---------------------------------------M 0i M 0 ( i + 1 )
ML
M 0(n + 1)
" n = ------------------------------------------ = -------------------------M 0n M 0 ( n + 1 )
M 0n M L

(8.2)

Structural coefficient
M Si
M Si
# i = ---------------------------------------- = ---------------------------M 0i M 0 ( i + 1 )
M Si + M Pi

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8.2

(8.3)

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The variational problem

Mass ratio
1 + "i
M 0i
R i = --------------------------- = ----------------M 0i M Pi
#i + "i

(8.4)

Ideal velocity increment

n

Vn =

C i ln R i =

i = 1

i = 1

) 1 + "i *
C i ln ' -----------------(
% # i + " i&

(8.5)

ML
) M 02* ) M 03* ) M 04*
) ML *
+ = ---------- = ' ----------( ' ----------( ' ----------( ' -----------(
M 01
% M 01& % M 02& % M 03&
% M 0n&
(8.6)
) "1 * ) "2 * ) "3 *
) "n *
= ' -----------------( ' -----------------( ' -----------------( ' -----------------(
% 1 + " 1& % 1 + " 2& % 1 + " 3&
% 1 + " n&
Take the logarithm of (8.6) to express the payload fraction as a sum in terms of the payload
ratios.
n

ln + =

i = 1

) "i *
ln ' ---------------(
% 1 + " i&

(8.7)

8.3 THE VARIATIONAL PROBLEM

The structural coefficients, # i and effective exhaust velocities, C i , are known constants
based on some prior choice of propellants and structural design for each stage. The question
is: how should we distribute the total mass of the vehicle among the various stages? In other
words, given V n , choose the distribution of stage masses so as to maximize the payload
fraction, + . It turns out that the opposite statement leads to equivalent results; namely given
+ maximize the final velocity, V n .
The mathematical problem is to maximize
ln + = G ( " 1, " 2, " 3, , " n )

(8.8)

(8.9)

for fixed

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8.3

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The variational problem

or, equivalently, maximize (8.9) for fixed (8.8). The approach is to vary the payload ratios,
( " 1, " 2, " 3, , " n ) so as to maximize + . Near a maximum, a small change in the " i
will not change G .

-G
, G = ) --------* ," i = 0
% -" &
i

(8.10)

The basic idea is shown schematically below.

0
2
- G*
1 ) - G*
2
2
)
, G = ------- ," + --- ' ----------( ( ," ) . ( ," )
% -" &
2 % -" 2 &

"

Figure 8.1 Variation of G near a maximum

The ," i are not independent, they must be chosen so that V n is kept constant

-F
, F = ) --------* ," i = 0
% -" &
i

(8.11)

Thus only n 1 of the ," i can be treated as independent. Without loss of generality lets
choose " n to be determined in terms of the other payload ratios. The sums (8.10) and (8.11)
are,
n1

2
G
G
) --------* ," + ) ---------* ," = 0 00
% -" & i % -" & n
0
i
n
0
i = 1
1
n1
0
-F *
-F *
) ------)
- ," + --------- ," = 0 00
% -" & i % -" & n
i
n
0
i = 1
/

(8.12)

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8.4

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Use the second sum in (8.12) to replace " n in the first.

n1

i = 1

6 ) - G*
1 -F 2
- + --- ) --------* 1," i = 0
5 % ------& 3 % -" &
i /
4 -" i

(8.13)

where

-G
-F
3 = ) ---------* ) ---------*
% -" & % -" &
n
n

(8.14)

plays the role of a Lagrange multiplier. Since the equality (8.13) must hold for arbitrary
," i , the coefficients in brackets must be individually zero.
1 -F
- G*
) ------- + --- ) --------* = 0 ;
% -" & 3 % -" &
i
i

i = 1, 2, , n 1

(8.15)

From the definition of 3 given by (8.14)

1 -F
-G *
) -------- + --- ) ---------* = 0
% -" & 3 % -" &
n
n

(8.16)

We now have n + 1 equations in the n + 1 unknowns ( " 1, " 2, " 3, , " n, 3 ) .

1 -F
- G*
) ------- + --- ) --------* = 0 ;
% -" & 3 % -" &
i
i
n

Vn =

i = 1

i = 1, 2, , n

) 1 + "i *
C i ln ' -----------------(
% # i + " i&

(8.17)

If we supply the expressions for F and G in (8.17), the result for the optimal set of payload
ratios is

3# i
" i = ---------------------------------------{ C i C i #i 3 }

(8.18)

The Lagrange multiplier is determined from the expression for V n

n

Vn =

i = 1

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) C i 3*
C i ln ' ----------------(
% #i C i &

8.5

(8.19)

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Example - exhaust velocity and structural coefficient the same for all stages

Note that 3 has units of velocity. Finally, the optimum overall payload fraction is,
n

ln + =

i = 1

3# i
)
*
ln ' --------------------------------------------------(
% C i # i C i 3 + 3# i&

(8.20)

8.4 EXAMPLE - EXHAUST VELOCITY AND STRUCTURAL COEFFICIENT THE SAME FOR ALL STAGES
Let C = C i and # = # i be the same for all stages. In this case,
V

) ------n-* *
)
% nC& (
3 = C'1 #e
,
'
(
%
&

(8.21)

V
) ------n-*
% nC&

1 #e
" = --------------------------e

V
) ------n-*
% nC&

(8.22)

V
)
) ------n-* *
%
nC& (
'
1 #e
'
+ = --------------------------------(
'
V (
) ------n-* (
'
% ( 1 # )e % nC& &

(8.23)

and the mass ratio is

R = e

V
) ------n-*
% nC&

(8.24)

Consider a liquid oxygen, kerosene system. Take the specific impulse to be 360 sec implying C = 3528 M/sec. Let V n = 9077 needed to reach orbital speed. The structural
coefficient is # = 0.1 and let the number of stages be n = 3 . The stage design results
are 3 = 2696 M/sec, " = 0.563 , R = 2.3575 and the payload fraction is

+ = 0.047

(8.25)

Less than 5% of the overall mass of the vehicle is payload.

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8.6

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Problems

It is of interest to see how much better we can do by increasing the number of stages in this
problem. Equation (8.23) is plotted below using the parameters of the problem.

0.05

0.04

+
0.03

0.02

0.01

number of stages
Note that beyond three stages, there is very little increase in payload. Note also that one
stage cannot make orbit even with zero payload for the assumed value of # .

8.5 PROBLEMS
Problem 1 - A two stage rocket is to be used to put a payload of 1000kg into low earth
orbit. The vehicle will be launched from Kennedy Space Center where the speed of rotation
of the Earth is 427 M/sec. Assume gravitational velocity losses of about 1200M/sec and
aerodynamic velocity losses of 500M/sec. The first stage burns Kerosene and Oxygen producing a mean specific impulse of 320 seconds averaged over the flight, while the upper
stage burns Hydrogen and Oxygen with an average specific impulse of 450 seconds. The
structural coefficient of the first stage is 0.05 and that of the second is 0.07. Determine the
payload ratios and the total mass of the vehicle. Suppose the same vehicle is to be used to
launch a satellite into a north-south orbit from Kodiak island in Alaska. How does the mass
Problem 2 - A group of universities join together to launch a four stage rocket with a small
payload to the Moon. The fourth stage needs to reach the earth escape velocity of 11,176
M/sec. The vehicle will be launched from Kennedy Space Center where the speed of rotation of the Earth is 427 M/sec. Assume gravitational velocity losses of about 1500M/sec
and aerodynamic velocity losses of 600M/sec. To keep cost down four stages with the same

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8.7

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Problems

effective exhaust velocity C and structural coefficient # are used. Each stage burns Kerosene and Oxygen producing a mean specific impulse of 330 seconds averaged over each
segment of the flight. The structural coefficient of each stage is # = 0.1 . Determine the