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For all our younger fans with their heads in the clouds, ArianeGroup asked a space engineer if it’s possible to make your own moon rocket.
In Over the Moon, the new animated film from Netflix, Fei Fei, the young heroine who loves astronomy and engineering, builds her own rocket in the shape of a rabbit. Why? She wants to go to the moon to prove that the legend of Chang’e, the moon goddess of Chinese myths, is really true!
As we said, Fei Fei is really good with mechanical things, so she starts by building a whole lot of experimental rockets powered by fireworks. Will attaching the fireworks to a long tube be able to fly her the moon?
We put this question to ArianeGroup space engineer Arnaud, and his answer was:
It’s an idea in the right direction, but that’s not the way it actually works. You need a huge amount of power to break free from the Earth’s gravity, the force that keeps everything on our planet held down, and even with only a little girl like Fei Fei onboard, you would need a vast amount of fireworks to generate enough power to lift the rocket. Also, since fireworks burn very, very quickly – they explode, in fact –that wouldn’t be the best idea!
The Ariane boosters essentially work in the same way as firecrackers do (on a much, much bigger scale!) but they don’t explode in a shower of sparks!
Fei Fei’s first attempts don’t succeed. You have to be very patient if you want to explore space!
So then she decides to use the power of magnets to give her rocket enough speed to break away from the Earth’s gravity. Her launch track would have many magnets carefully positioned on it and, like a roller-coaster, would sling her rabbit rocket into space. But could that work in real life?
You can find this clever idea sometimes used for launching very small rockets and especially drones. As the film shows, magnetic power is great for propelling a train along rails on the ground. It would work far better than fireworks because it you can get up to very high speed gently, without a big explosion.
The real problem is that a big rocket is extremely heavy. You would need a huge number of magnets, all carefully positioned along a long rail. Magnetic trackways like this are great for moving trains on Earth or for getting small, light planes into the air, and they can also be used to guide cars around a racing circuit, but they really wouldn’t work for launching a big rocket into space.
So, young space fans, you shouldn’t think of Over the Moon as a film that could really come true, but just let it inspire you to get super-interested in space.
And if you’d like to build your own rocket, why don’t you start with the paper version on this website? If you’ve a real passion for science and space travel, one day you may be dealing with real rockets!
(Pictures © Netflix)