Moog Celebrates 89th Anniversary of Goddard’s Launch of the World’s First Liquid-Fueled Rocket

16 March 2015

Moog Inc. (NYSE: MOG.A and MOG.B) Space and Defense Group is celebrating the 89th anniversary of Dr. Robert H. Goddard’s launch of the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. This pioneering advancement was the first step toward advancing man into the Space Age. Liquid-fueled rockets, either alone or in conjunction with solid propellant rockets, have been used to propel every spacecraft into orbit since Sputnik in 1957 including mankind beginning in 1961. Moog has provided the hardware and engineering expertise to support launches since then. Moog’s Space and Defense Group supports on average two launches every month occurring across three different continents. Moog’s support ranges from servovalves used in Thrust Vector Control (TVC) actuators to the entire TVC system including the actuators, batteries, and control avionics; critical support brackets for main engine applications; valves for upper stage applications that control the super cold cryogenic liquid propellants; and a wide range of valves and actuators used throughout the launch vehicle including the valves and thrusters used for roll and reaction control systems.

Dr. Goddard launched a rocket burning gasoline and liquid oxygen (LOx) on March 16, 1926 from his aunt’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. Contrary to modern designs the rocket engine combustion chamber and nozzle was located at the top of the rocket with the propellant stored below proving that the fire doesn’t always come out of the bottom as the joke goes in the rocket community. The rocket only traveled 41 feet remaining airborne for 2.5 seconds and landing 184 feet downrange. Like theWright Flyer in Kitty Hawk nearly 25 years previous, this short flight became the first step in an important advancement in mankind’s ability to travel and explore eventually allow man to travel to the Moon. This flight came 17 years after Dr. Goddard first proposed that a rocket could be fueled by liquid oxygen (LOx) and liquid hydrogen (LH2). This propellant combination is the standard for many large launch vehicles today.

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Dr. Goddard Standing Next to ‘Nell’ (courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

In 1914, Dr. Goddard received two US Patents that are the foundation of modern rockets including the concept of a multi-stage rocket and the use of liquid propellants (in this case gasoline and nitrous oxide). These patents and other concepts were gathered and published in early 1920 in the book A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. This book, along with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices published in 1903, are the basis for all modern rocketry. 

US Patent 1,102,653 and 1,103,503 (courtesy of US Patent and Trademark Office)

Dr. Goddard’s use of a de Laval nozzle used in steam turbines allowed for the expansion of the gases from the combustion chamber to expanded and do so with an increasing speed eventually exceeding the speed of sound. This design, optimized over the years, is found in almost all rocket engines both big and small. The design gives engines their characteristic shape of a contraction, known as the throat, and then an expansion nozzle. The expansion ratio, the ratio of the nozzle exit area to throat area, is typically controlled to match the pressure at the nozzle exit with the ambient pressure. Depending on the application ambient pressure may be near or at zero, such as in space, requiring relatively high expansion ratios as high as 300:1 to be able to come close to these pressures. Engineers have optimized engine expansion ratio with other concerns such as mass, size, and cost. For boosters the ambient pressure is decreasing as the rocket rises through the atmosphere but the nozzle exit pressure remains somewhat constant. This is why a rocket’s exhaust plume seems to expand over the duration of the flight. Once again this is something engineers must optimize in their designs finding the right balance of many parameters.


Examples of High Expansion Ratio Nozzles on Moog’s LEROS, DST, and MONARC line of thrusters

Dr. Goddard also went on to theorize about the possibility of building a rocket that would be capable of not just putting scientific payloads into Earth’s orbit but go farther including the Moon. The New York Times went on to write an editorial about the publication that rocket engines would not work in the vacuum of space as they would be in violation of Newton’s third law of motion regarding action and reaction with nothing in vacuum to react off. The New York Times later published a correction on July 17, 1969, the day after man successfully landed on the Moon.

Dr. Goddard continued his research and experimentation after his 1920 book that gained him national attention eventually in 1930 receiving funding from the Guggenheim family. In the more than two decades of research and development he utilized regeneratively cooled chambers and nozzles (found in many large rocket engines today), film barrier cooling (found many rocket engines today including Moog’s engines), rocket propellant turbopumps (found in large rocket engines today), 3-axis control concepts (found in most guided rockets), and gyroscopic guidance that could be used to control the thrust direction (thrust vector control systems are used almost exclusively to control large modern rockets). Dr. Goddard went on to launch 35 rockets between 1926 and 1941. The rocket technology pioneered by Dr. Goddard has enabled the access, exploration, and utilization of space fundamentally changing how humans around the globe live their lives.

Moog Inc. is a worldwide designer, manufacturer, and integrator of precision control components and systems. Moog’s high-performance systems control military and commercial aircraft, satellites and space vehicles, launch vehicles, missiles, automated industrial machinery, wind energy, marine and medical equipment. Additional information about the company can be found at Additional information about Moog’s Space Sector can be found

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