Thunderbolt (Viva Rocketry! Part 1.1)


Fig. 1

Shown in Fig. 1 is an experimental car propelled by a rocket motor. The drag force (air resistance) is given by R = \beta v^2. The initial mass of the car, which includes fuel of mass m_f, is m_0. The rocket motor is burning fuel at the rate of q with an exhaust velocity of u relative to the car.  The car is at rest at t=0. Show that the velocity of the car is given by, for 0 \leq t \leq T,

v(t) = \mu \cdot \frac{1-({m \over m_0})^{\frac{2\beta \mu}{q}}}{1+({m \over m_0})^{\frac{2\beta \mu}{q}}},

where m=m_0-qt, \mu^2=\frac{qu}{\beta}, and T=\frac{m_f}{q} is the time when the fuel is burnt out.

We have derived the governing equation of rocket flight in “Viva Rocketry! Part 1“, namely,

F = m \frac{dv}{dt} + u \frac{dm}{dt}\quad\quad\quad(1)

From m=m_0-qt,  we have

\frac{dm}{dt} = -q.

Apply air resistance R=\beta v^2 as the external force, (1) becomes

-\beta v^2 = (m_0 - q t) \frac{dv}{dt} - u q.

And the car is at rest initially implies


It follows that the motion of the car can be modeled by an initial-value problem

\begin{cases} -\beta v^2 = (m_0 - q t) \frac{dv}{dt} - u q \\ v(0) = 0 \end{cases}\quad\quad\quad(2)

It suffices to show that the given v(t) is the solution to this initial-value problem:

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 9.28.46 AM.png

Fig. 2

An alternative is obtaining the stated v(t) through solving (2).

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 4.40.18 PM.png

Fig. 3

The fact that m = m_0 -qt, (-1)^{2 \frac{\sqrt{b}\sqrt{u}}{\sqrt{q}}} = 1 simplifies the result considerably,

\frac{\sqrt q \sqrt u}{\sqrt \beta}\cdot \frac{m_0^{\frac{2 \sqrt \beta \sqrt u}{\sqrt q}}-m^{\frac{2 \sqrt \beta \sqrt u}{\sqrt q}}}{m_0^{\frac{2 \sqrt \beta \sqrt u}{\sqrt q}}-m^{\frac{2 \sqrt \beta \sqrt u}{\sqrt q}}}\quad\quad\quad(3)

Divide both the numerator and denominator of (3) by m_0^{\frac {2 \sqrt{\beta} \sqrt{u}}{\sqrt{q}}} then yields

\frac{\sqrt q \sqrt u}{\sqrt \beta}\cdot \frac{1-(\frac{m}{m_0})^{\frac{2 \sqrt \beta \sqrt u}{\sqrt q}}}{1-(\frac{m}{m_0})^{\frac{2 \sqrt \beta \sqrt u}{\sqrt q}}}

which is equivalent to the given v(t) since \mu^2=\frac{qu}{\beta}.

At time t=T, the fuel is burnt out. It means

m_0-m_f = m_0 - qT.


T = \frac{m_f}{q}

Exercise 1: Solve (2) manually.

Hint: The differential equation of (2) can be written as \frac{1}{uq - \beta v^2} \frac{dv}{dt} = \frac{1}{m_0 - q t}.

Exercise 2: For m_0=900\;kg, m_f=450\;kg, q=15\;kg/sec, u=500\;m/sec, \beta=0.3, what is the burnout velocity of the car?


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