Physics KS3 / GCSE: Using Earth’s rotation to launch a rocket

This clip opens with British Space Scientist, Monica Grady, commentating live from Kazakhstan during the launch of the Soyuz rocket carrying Tim Peake into orbit.

She points out that the rocket turns east at a certain altitude.

Back in the Royal Institution lecture theatre, Dr Kevin Fong uses a student to demonstrate how the rotation of the Earth provides rockets with additional kinetic energy to help them reach escape velocity.

In order to make the most of this, rockets need to travel through the atmosphere towards the east after launch, aligned with the direction that the Earth rotates in.

This clip is from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2015.

Teacher Notes

This clip could be used to challenge students to explain why the rocket is launched vertically, before turning to travel east through the atmosphere.

Students could plan an investigation into the effects of launching rockets from a moving or rotating launch site.

They could use fizzing film canister rockets for this.

Curriculum Notes

This clip will be relevant for teaching KS3 and GCSE Physics.

This topic appears in OCR, Edexcel, AQA, WJEC KS4/GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 in Scotland.

More from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2015

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Resonant Frequency
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Orbital Rendezvous
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What does gas weigh?
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Why are bones weaker in orbit?
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How micro-gravity disorientates us
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The danger of orbital debris
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Demonstrating heat shield material
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Why Earth rock is found on the Moon
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Demonstrating radiation detectors
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How Earth protects us from radiation
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Why tardigrades can survive in orbit
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How to recycle urine in space
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