Jet propulsion

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The jet engine of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 jet engine.jpg
The jet engine of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
A pump-jet on a ferry. Pump-jet on NatchanWorld 02.JPG
A pump-jet on a ferry.

Jet propulsion is the propulsion of an object in one direction, produced by ejecting a jet of fluid in the opposite direction. By Newton's third law, the moving body is propelled in the opposite direction to the jet. Reaction engines operating on the principle of jet propulsion include the jet engine used for aircraft propulsion, the pump-jet used for marine propulsion, and the rocket engine and plasma thruster used for spacecraft propulsion.



Jet propulsion is produced by some reaction engines or animals when thrust is generated by a fast moving jet of fluid in accordance with Newton's laws of motion. It is most effective when the Reynolds number is high—that is, the object being propelled is relatively large and passing through a low-viscosity medium. [1]

In animals, the most efficient jets are pulsed, rather than continuous, [2] at least when the Reynolds number is greater than 6. [3]

Specific impulse

Specific impulse (usually abbreviated Isp) is a measure of how effectively a rocket uses propellant or jet engine uses fuel. By definition, it is the total impulse (or change in momentum) delivered per unit of propellant consumed [4] and is dimensionally equivalent to the generated thrust divided by the propellant mass flow rate or weight flow rate. [5] If mass (kilogram, pound-mass, or slug) is used as the unit of propellant, then specific impulse has units of velocity. If weight (newton or pound-force) is used instead, then specific impulse has units of time (seconds). Multiplying flow rate by the standard gravity (g0) converts specific impulse from the mass basis to the weight basis. [5]

A propulsion system with a higher specific impulse uses the mass of the propellant more effectively in creating forward thrust and, in the case of a rocket, less propellant needed for a given delta-v, per the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation. [4] [6] In rockets, this means the engine is more effective at gaining altitude, distance, and velocity. This effectiveness is less important in jet engines that employ wings and use outside air for combustion and carry payloads that are much heavier than the propellant.

Specific impulse includes the contribution to impulse provided by external air that has been used for combustion and is exhausted with the spent propellant. Jet engines use outside air, and therefore have a much higher specific impulse than rocket engines. The specific impulse in terms of propellant mass spent has units of distance per time, which is an artificial velocity called the "effective exhaust velocity". This is higher than the actual exhaust velocity because the mass of the combustion air is not being accounted for. Actual and effective exhaust velocity are the same in rocket engines not utilizing air.

Specific impulse is inversely proportional to specific fuel consumption (SFC) by the relationship Isp = 1/(go·SFC) for SFC in kg/(N·s) and Isp = 3600/SFC for SFC in lb/(lbf·hr).


From the definition of specific impulse thrust in SI units is:

where Ve is the effective exhaust velocity and is the propellant flow rate.

Types of reaction engine

Reaction engines produce thrust by expelling solid or fluid reaction mass; jet propulsion applies only to engines which use fluid reaction mass.

Jet engine

A jet engine is a reaction engine which uses ambient air as the working fluid, and converts it to a hot, high-pressure gas which is expanded through one or more nozzles. Two types of jet engine, the turbojet and turbofan, employ axial-flow or centrifugal compressors to raise the pressure before combustion, and turbines to drive the compression. Ramjets operate only at high flight speeds because they omit the compressors and turbines, depending instead on the dynamic pressure generated by the high speed (known as ram compression). Pulse jets also omit the compressors and turbines, but can generate static thrust and have limited maximum speed.

Rocket engine

The rocket is capable of operating in the vacuum of space, because it is dependent on the vehicle carrying its own oxidizer instead of using the oxygen in the air, or in the case of a nuclear rocket, heats an inert propellant (such as liquid hydrogen) by forcing it through a nuclear reactor.

Plasma engine

Plasma thrusters accelerate a plasma by electromagnetic means.


The pump-jet, used for marine propulsion, uses water as the working fluid, pressurized by a ducted propeller, centrifugal pump, or a combination of the two.

Jet-propelled animals

Cephalopods such as squid use jet propulsion for rapid escape from predators; they use other mechanisms for slow swimming. The jet is produced by ejecting water through a siphon, which typically narrows to a small opening to produce the maximum exhalent velocity. The water passes through the gills prior to exhalation, fulfilling the dual purpose of respiration and locomotion. [1] Sea hares (gastropod molluscs) employ a similar method, but without the sophisticated neurological machinery of cephalopods they navigate somewhat more clumsily. [1]

Some teleost fish have also developed jet propulsion, passing water through the gills to supplement fin-driven motion. [7] :201

In some dragonfly larvae, jet propulsion is achieved by the expulsion of water from a specialised cavity through the anus. Given the small size of the organism, a great speed is achieved. [8]

Scallops and cardiids, [9] siphonophores, [10] tunicates (such as salps), [11] [12] and some jellyfish [13] [14] [15] also employ jet propulsion. The most efficient jet-propelled organisms are the salps, [11] which use an order of magnitude less energy (per kilogram per metre) than squid. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jet engine</span> Aircraft engine that produces thrust by emitting a jet of gas

A jet engine is a type of reaction engine, discharging a fast-moving jet of heated gas that generates thrust by jet propulsion. While this broad definition may include rocket, water jet, and hybrid propulsion, the term jet engine typically refers to an internal combustion air-breathing jet engine such as a turbojet, turbofan, ramjet, or pulse jet. In general, jet engines are internal combustion engines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rocket</span> Vehicle propelled by a reaction gas engine

A rocket is a vehicle that uses jet propulsion to accelerate without using the surrounding air. A rocket engine produces thrust by reaction to exhaust expelled at high speed. Rocket engines work entirely from propellant carried within the vehicle; therefore a rocket can fly in the vacuum of space. Rockets work more efficiently in a vacuum and incur a loss of thrust due to the opposing pressure of the atmosphere.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spacecraft propulsion</span> Method used to accelerate spacecraft

Spacecraft propulsion is any method used to accelerate spacecraft and artificial satellites. In-space propulsion exclusively deals with propulsion systems used in the vacuum of space and should not be confused with space launch or atmospheric entry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nuclear thermal rocket</span> Rocket engine that uses a nuclear reactor to generate thrust

A nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) is a type of thermal rocket where the heat from a nuclear reaction, often nuclear fission, replaces the chemical energy of the propellants in a chemical rocket. In an NTR, a working fluid, usually liquid hydrogen, is heated to a high temperature in a nuclear reactor and then expands through a rocket nozzle to create thrust. The external nuclear heat source theoretically allows a higher effective exhaust velocity and is expected to double or triple payload capacity compared to chemical propellants that store energy internally.

A nuclear salt-water rocket (NSWR) is a theoretical type of nuclear thermal rocket which was designed by Robert Zubrin. In place of traditional chemical propellant, such as that in a chemical rocket, the rocket would be fueled by salts of plutonium or 20 percent enriched uranium. The solution would be contained in a bundle of pipes coated in boron carbide. Through a combination of the coating and space between the pipes, the contents would not reach critical mass until the solution is pumped into a reaction chamber, thus reaching a critical mass, and being expelled through a nozzle to generate thrust.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antimatter rocket</span> Rockets using antimatter as their power source

An antimatter rocket is a proposed class of rockets that use antimatter as their power source. There are several designs that attempt to accomplish this goal. The advantage to this class of rocket is that a large fraction of the rest mass of a matter/antimatter mixture may be converted to energy, allowing antimatter rockets to have a far higher energy density and specific impulse than any other proposed class of rocket.

Specific impulse is a measure of how efficiently a reaction mass engine creates thrust. For engines whose reaction mass is only the fuel they carry, specific impulse is exactly proportional to the effective exhaust gas velocity.

Delta-v, symbolized as v and pronounced delta-vee, as used in spacecraft flight dynamics, is a measure of the impulse per unit of spacecraft mass that is needed to perform a maneuver such as launching from or landing on a planet or moon, or an in-space orbital maneuver. It is a scalar that has the units of speed. As used in this context, it is not the same as the physical change in velocity of the vehicle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rocket engine</span> Non-air breathing jet engine used to propel a missile or vehicle

A rocket engine uses stored rocket propellants as the reaction mass for forming a high-speed propulsive jet of fluid, usually high-temperature gas. Rocket engines are reaction engines, producing thrust by ejecting mass rearward, in accordance with Newton's third law. Most rocket engines use the combustion of reactive chemicals to supply the necessary energy, but non-combusting forms such as cold gas thrusters and nuclear thermal rockets also exist. Vehicles propelled by rocket engines are commonly called rockets. Rocket vehicles carry their own oxidiser, unlike most combustion engines, so rocket engines can be used in a vacuum to propel spacecraft and ballistic missiles.

A propellant is a mass that is expelled or expanded in such a way as to create a thrust or other motive force in accordance with Newton's third law of motion, and "propel" a vehicle, projectile, or fluid payload. In vehicles, the engine that expels the propellant is called a reaction engine. Although technically a propellant is the reaction mass used to create thrust, the term "propellant" is often used to describe a substance which is contains both the reaction mass and the fuel that holds the energy used to accelerate the reaction mass. For example, the term "propellant" is often used in chemical rocket design to describe a combined fuel/propellant, although the propellants should not be confused with the fuel that is used by an engine to produce the energy that expels the propellant. Even though the byproducts of substances used as fuel are also often used as a reaction mass to create the thrust, such as with a chemical rocket engine, propellant and fuel are two distinct concepts.

A solar thermal rocket is a theoretical spacecraft propulsion system that would make use of solar power to directly heat reaction mass, and therefore would not require an electrical generator, like most other forms of solar-powered propulsion do. The rocket would only have to carry the means of capturing solar energy, such as concentrators and mirrors. The heated propellant would be fed through a conventional rocket nozzle to produce thrust. Its engine thrust would be directly related to the surface area of the solar collector and to the local intensity of the solar radiation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Laser propulsion</span> Form of beam-powered propulsion

Laser propulsion is a form of beam-powered propulsion where the energy source is a remote laser system and separate from the reaction mass. This form of propulsion differs from a conventional chemical rocket where both energy and reaction mass come from the solid or liquid propellants carried on board the vehicle.

The fission-fragment rocket is a rocket engine design that directly harnesses hot nuclear fission products for thrust, as opposed to using a separate fluid as working mass. The design can, in theory, produce very high specific impulse while still being well within the abilities of current technologies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Plasma propulsion engine</span> Type of electric propulsion

A plasma propulsion engine is a type of electric propulsion that generates thrust from a quasi-neutral plasma. This is in contrast with ion thruster engines, which generate thrust through extracting an ion current from the plasma source, which is then accelerated to high velocities using grids/anodes. These exist in many forms. However, in the scientific literature, the term "plasma thruster" sometimes encompasses thrusters usually designated as "ion engines".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rocket engine nozzle</span> Type of propelling nozzle

A rocket engine nozzle is a propelling nozzle used in a rocket engine to expand and accelerate combustion products to high supersonic velocities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spacecraft electric propulsion</span> Type of space propulsion

Spacecraft electric propulsion is a type of spacecraft propulsion technique that uses electrostatic or electromagnetic fields to accelerate mass to high speed and thus generate thrust to modify the velocity of a spacecraft in orbit. The propulsion system is controlled by power electronics.

A reaction engine is an engine or motor that produces thrust by expelling reaction mass, in accordance with Newton's third law of motion. This law of motion is commonly paraphrased as: "For every action force there is an equal, but opposite, reaction force."

A cold gas thruster is a type of rocket engine which uses the expansion of a pressurized gas to generate thrust. As opposed to traditional rocket engines, a cold gas thruster does not house any combustion and therefore has lower thrust and efficiency compared to conventional monopropellant and bipropellant rocket engines. Cold gas thrusters have been referred to as the "simplest manifestation of a rocket engine" because their design consists only of a fuel tank, a regulating valve, a propelling nozzle, and the little required plumbing. They are the cheapest, simplest, and most reliable propulsion systems available for orbital maintenance, maneuvering and attitude control.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rocket propellant</span> Chemical or mixture used as fuel for a rocket engine

Rocket propellant is the reaction mass of a rocket. This reaction mass is ejected at the highest achievable velocity from a rocket engine to produce thrust. The energy required can either come from the propellants themselves, as with a chemical rocket, or from an external source, as with ion engines.

A thermal rocket is a rocket engine that uses a propellant that is externally heated before being passed through a nozzle to produce thrust, as opposed to being internally heated by a redox (combustion) reaction as in a chemical rocket.


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