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Concept# Propellant mass fraction

Summary

In aerospace engineering, the propellant mass fraction is the portion of a vehicle's mass which does not reach the destination, usually used as a measure of the vehicle's performance. In other words, the propellant mass fraction is the ratio between the propellant mass and the initial mass of the vehicle. In a spacecraft, the destination is usually an orbit, while for aircraft it is their landing location. A higher mass fraction represents less weight in a design. Another related measure is the payload fraction, which is the fraction of initial weight that is payload. It can be applied to a vehicle, a stage of a vehicle or to a rocket propulsion system.
The propellant mass fraction is given by:
where:
is the propellant mass fraction
is the initial mass of the vehicle
is the propellant mass
is the final mass of the vehicle
In rockets for a given target orbit, a rocket's mass fraction is the portion of the rocket's pre-launch mass (fully fueled) that does not reach orbit. The propellant mass fraction is the ratio of just the propellant to the entire mass of the vehicle at takeoff (propellant plus dry mass). In the cases of a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) vehicle or suborbital vehicle, the mass fraction equals the propellant mass fraction, which is simply the fuel mass divided by the mass of the full spaceship. A rocket employing staging, which are the only designs to have reached orbit, has a mass fraction higher than the propellant mass fraction because parts of the rocket itself are dropped off en route. Propellant mass fractions are typically around 0.8 to 0.9.
In aircraft, mass fraction is related to range, an aircraft with a higher mass fraction can go farther. Aircraft mass fractions are typically around 0.5.
When applied to a rocket as a whole, a low mass fraction is desirable, since it indicates a greater capability for the rocket to deliver payload to orbit for a given amount of fuel. Conversely, when applied to a single stage, where the propellant mass fraction calculation doesn't include the payload, a higher propellant mass fraction corresponds to a more efficient design, since there is less non-propellant mass.

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Ontological neighbourhood

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The classical rocket equation, or ideal rocket equation is a mathematical equation that describes the motion of vehicles that follow the basic principle of a rocket: a device that can apply acceleration to itself using thrust by expelling part of its mass with high velocity can thereby move due to the conservation of momentum. It is credited to the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (Константи́н Эдуа́рдович Циолко́вский) who independently derived it and published it in 1903, although it had been independently derived and published by the British mathematician William Moore in 1810, and later published in a separate book in 1813.

In aerospace engineering, mass ratio is a measure of the efficiency of a rocket. It describes how much more massive the vehicle is with propellant than without; that is, the ratio of the rocket's wet mass (vehicle plus contents plus propellant) to its dry mass (vehicle plus contents). A more efficient rocket design requires less propellant to achieve a given goal, and would therefore have a lower mass ratio; however, for any given efficiency a higher mass ratio typically permits the vehicle to achieve higher delta-v.

A multistage rocket or step rocket is a launch vehicle that uses two or more rocket stages, each of which contains its own engines and propellant. A tandem or serial stage is mounted on top of another stage; a parallel stage is attached alongside another stage. The result is effectively two or more rockets stacked on top of or attached next to each other. Two-stage rockets are quite common, but rockets with as many as five separate stages have been successfully launched.

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