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Aerodyamics of Rocket Shapes

  1. Feb 10, 2009 #1
    When looking at the design of the both the U.S. Saturn V rocket, and the Soviet N1 rocket, there is an obvious design difference between the basic overall rocket body shape.


    The Saturn V shows several conical regions, with a straight body design throughout.

    The N1 shows more of a conical design, progressively expanding towards the wide base.

    My belief is that the Saturn V shape is aerodynamically more logical, as it allows less drag along more consistent regions, whereas the N1 provides less area where there would be increased atmospheric friction, but I would like feedback on this, as I'd love to truly know which body design is aerodynamically superior.

    (It also seems that more modern rocket body designs follow more similarity to that of the Saturn V, which supports my thinking as well.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 10, 2009 #2


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    Keep in mind that rockets are not designed solely to be the most aerodynamically sound vehicles possible. For example, the N1 has a larger cross-sectional area at the bottom in order to accommodate the massive number of thrusters at the bottom.
  4. Feb 10, 2009 #3


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    One also must consider the speed which the vehicles will be traveling as a function of altitude, and the thrust to weight/mass ratio.
  5. Feb 10, 2009 #4
    Yes, though I'm basically asking which basic shape contains a more optimal aerodynamic flow, regardless of optimization for internal component housing.
  6. Feb 12, 2009 #5
    "Optimal aerodynamic flow", for what velocity and altitude? (amongst other things).

    I think the flight envelope on this vehicle is soooo large, it is a game of "trade offs"

    Alter the payload and all of a sudden, the problem is different. Now the altitude where shock waves form is different.

    They both work, perhaps one is only better than the other given a specific set of variables.
  7. Feb 12, 2009 #6


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    Actually, they don't both work. The N1 failed rather spectacularly, and was never successfully flown as designed. As for the drag though, I would imagine that the Saturn V would be the lower drag design, although as stated above, neither was designed with drag as the primary consideration.
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