Atomic Rockets

A Rocket is Just The Thing!

Your imagination has been captured by the roaring rockets from Heinlein's SPACE CADET or the Polaris from TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET. But are such rockets possible? How does one go about defining the performance of these atomic-powered cruisers?

This document gives some hints and equations that will allow back-of-the-envelope calculations on such matters. Though horribly simplistic, they are far better than just making up your figures.

This site was mainly intended for science fiction authors who wanted a little scientific accuracy so they can write SF "the way God and Heinlein intended" (Arlan Andrews's Law). But anybody who is interested can play with the toys contained within, designing their own Planet Rangers Rocketships. It is assumed that the reader has enough knowledge to know the difference between a star and a planet, high school mathematics, and enough skill to use a pocket calculator. Computer spreadsheet and computer programming skills are a plus, spreadsheets in particular will make your life much easier.

The engine and the torchship pages explain how easily do some of the calculations using Nomograms. PDF versions of the nomograms can be downloaded from those pages, or printed versions can be purchased from the Project Rho Store. There is also a poster of the Atomic Rocket Cruiser Polaris.

While this site originally focused on rocketry equations, as you can see it has grown to encompass other topics of interest to SF authors and game designers.

Rockets in Books

There are already a couple of novels in the works whose authors have acknowledged that this website was most helpful in providing technical information. Keep an eye out for them when they are published, I have read the early manuscripts and they are incredibly good.

Through Struggle, the Stars by John J. Lumpkin. Late breaking news, the novel is now available in eBook form. Read about it here.

Late breaking news:

  • Through Struggle, the Stars is now available in eBook format
  • Through Struggle, the Stars is now available in paperback format

The Desert of Stars by John J. Lumpkin, the sequel to Through Struggle, the Stars. It is now available in eBook format, with paperback to follow. Read about it here.

The Humanist Inheritance (aka The Last Great War) by Matthew Lineberger

You can find more details on this page.

On the other hand is Philip Eklund, who provided some scientific details for this website, instead of the other way around. His new cardboard boardgame High Frontier has been released, along with the first expansion pack. Interested readers of this website will find that playing that game will give one valuable practical experience with designing scientifically accurate spacecraft, orbital trajectories, and the difficulties of space industrialization. It has the Atomic Rockets seal of approval. (more details here, here, here, and here).

Watch the Skies

This website is updated sporadically as I stumble over new information. Reload early and often. There is a rough list of the latest changes in the What's New section. I try to tweet updates, follow @atomicrockets. There is also the Atomic Rockets Blog which contains pertinent articles that will eventually be added to this website (new entries to the blog will also be tweeted).

And don't miss the sister website on the topic of making 3D star charts.

Title Image

The image was created by the author, using the astonishingly powerful open-source program Blender. The author crafted the mesh using blueprints of the Polaris from the Spaceship Handbook. The NERVA solid-core nuclear thermal rocket was created using reference images of NASA mock-ups. The green equations are from other pages in this website. The background image of Earth is courtesy of NASA. There is a larger version of the image here.

For dramatic effect I made the exhaust a blaze of blue. In reality, a hot hydrogen blast is invisible.