Rocket technology is one of the fastest growing fields in the world today. Microbiology is also one of the most talked about fields in the world today. Rocket science is one of the primary branches of aerospace engineering and space science and it is based on basic science concepts such as Newton’s Laws of Motion. Although the two fields differ, there is a great linkage between them. Whether life came from alien life is still a mystery, even when talking about the origin of life on Earth. If the first living organisms were microorganisms, and they came from outer space, you would see that microbiology and space science have a great linkage to do.
History of Rocket Science
Humans have wanted to observe information about the Earth’s upper atmosphere and space since immemorial time. Soon after the introduction of gunpowder, humans launched the rockets. Evidence found from China tells they used rockets as weapons in 1200. The gunpowder is used in warfare by stacking bullets in a small tube. Leaving the other end of the tube open. So, the bullets could burn and the gas produced would come out of the open air. Similar fireworks can still be seen today.
Soon, rocket science spread to Europe. They also used the same technology to make various weapons. France used it in the Battle of Orleans in 1429 under the guidance of John of Arc. But with the advancement of guns and artillery technically, rocketry was far from the end of the 1700s. However, India used these weapons in the war against the British
Functionality of a Rocket | Base of the Rocket Science
In 1864 Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law of motion. The third rule that says “Every action has the same and opposite reaction”. Burning fuel in a rock can cause an unusually high amount of pressure in its combustion chamber. The only way to get out of this high-pressure air is through a hole in the bottom. When the gas is forced downward at high speeds, Newton’s third law produces a similar opposite force. When a rocket’s gas exits in one direction, the rocket moves in the other direction. This causes the rocket to rise.
In 1895, Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky stated that the rocket is the only way to fly through space gravity based on the event. Similarly, Hermann Oberth of Germany and Robert H. Goddard of the United States carried out further research into rocket technology. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky investigated the basic theory of rocket flight, Oberth researched solid fuel rockets, and Goddard investigated liquid fuel rockets.
It takes a lot of energy to fly a rocket. Propulsion is the material to gain this high energy. There are two types of propulsion used in rockets. They are solid and liquid propulsion. Both types need a fuel and reducing agent. Reducing agent supplies the oxygen to burn the fuel.
A good example for solid propulsion is gunpowder. In skyscrapers the propulsion is the gunpowder. Nowadays, people are using skyscrapers during festivals. The fuel is carbon. The reducing agent is potassium nitrate. But space rockets use synthetic rubber as fuel and ammonium chlorate as an antioxidant. These rockets have a simple design and are mounted on a slightly larger cylinder. There is a small opening at the end for exhaust gases. That part is called the combustion chamber.
The main rocket engines of space shuttles use liquid hydrogen as fuel and liquid oxygen as reducing agent. Both of these react with water and produce a great deal of heat. Water becomes a gas vapor due to heat, and vapor passes through the rocket’s exhaust at high speed. Some other rockets use gasoline and hydrazine as fuel.
Liquid propulsion rocket engines are more complex than solid propulsion rocket engines. They carried fuel and reducing agents in separate tanks and pumped to the combustion chamber via separate tubes. Liquid propulsion rockets have several advantages. Astronauts can easily change the speed of the rocket, and easily turn on and off these rockets. But once the combustion of solid propellant rockets has begun, it becomes very difficult to stop.
What are Water Rockets?
A water rocket is a model rocket which uses water as its fuel. The compressed air generates power to the rocket. Made from ordinary water bottles, the small nozzle at the bottom of the bottle releases compressed water at high speeds to outside. According to Newton’s third law, the reversal force causes the rocket to go up.
Today, there are many types of water rockets made for different purposes. People make water rockets for water rocket tournaments and as a hobby. Some of them are single bottles, as well as multi-stage water rockets with several bottles interlocking. Generally, a water rocket with a single bottle can meet an altitude of only 80 m. A multi-stage rocket can easily reach an altitude beyond that. If we can use another type of gas instead of normal air, it also can extend the height. The pressure and the volume of water determines maximum height which the rocket can fly. Therefore, we can change the height by controlling the amount of water and pressure.
How to make a water rocket?
Take a 1.5 L water bottle and remove the lid of the bottle. Then fix the nozzle instead of lid. The diameter of the nozzle hole should not be more than 0.5 mm. Then attach the four fins to the bottom of the bottle using a plastic board. These fins help the rocket to go on a straight line. Now take another 1.5 L bottle and cut it into 1/3 of the total bottle to the side of the lid. It is known as nose cone. Use it to attach to the bottom of the pre-made bottle. Before installing, take 50g of clay and glue it to the bottom of the bottle. This will help to balance the rocket’s center of gravity. Basic rocket science describes it. Now you can fix the nose cone to a pre-prepared bottle with a nozzle and fins.
The rocket launcher is another essential part to launch the rocket. People use either wood or steel to make it. There is a separate pipe line to fill air to the rocket. Everything must be fully sealed. First of all, fill the rocket with the required amount of water. Then place it on the right place of the launcher. Then pump the required amount of air to the rocket by air pump or compressor. After pumping air, the launcher can release the rocket.
How to use Water Rocket Science for air sampling?
Organization of Earth Atmosphere
There are main four layers of the Earth’s atmosphere; Troposphere (0 to 12 km-contains 75% of the gases in the atmosphere), Stratosphere (12 to 50 km), Mesosphere (50 to 80 km -The temperature drops in this layer to about -100°C) & Thermosphere (80 km and up – Temperatures often reach 2000°C or more). The environmental conditions of each layer differ from one to one. Temperature, atmospheric pressure, gases and UV strength are some of the environmental factors of these layers.
We all know microorganisms can live either harsh or normal environmental conditions. So, these layers have different types of airborne microorganisms. They may be viable and culturable microorganisms or viable and non-culturable microorganisms. Among these microorganisms they may have the ability of tolerating harsh environmental conditions such as low O2 conditions, high temperatures levels & survive even under UV rays. Therefore, isolation, identification and characterization of these types of Microorganisms is very useful for different kinds of human activities. So, the rocket science method helps to collect air samples from different layers of the atmosphere. Therefore, studying these microorganisms will be useful in identifying the microbial diversity in the upper atmosphere. This is how water rockets link with microbiology. This method is only applicable for below 700-800 altitudes.
How to Isolate airborne microorganisms?
For the experimental purpose we have to attach a petri plate (Small size Petri plate – 45mm) to the rocket. Therefore, fix another nose cone over the pre-attached nose cone. Then place the Petri plate containing culture media and timer circuit between two nose cones. This circuit helps to open and close the secondary nose cone after a particular time/altitude. When the nose cone is opened microorganisms will attach to the medium. After a particular time (2 seconds), close it. After rocket land, the Petri plate is put into the incubator for proper incubation time.
This experiment performs again and again using different types of media and for different types of altitudes. Common culture media for this experiment is Plate count agar (PCA) or Tryptic soy agar (TSA). It allows us to isolate a wide range of different types of beneficial microorganisms.
The microorganisms that are dispersed in the surrounding air are known as airborne microorganisms. More than 80% of them are bacteria. Because bacteria can tolerate more harsh environmental conditions than fungus. However, fungal spores and bacteria in the surrounding environment cause severe problems to humans, animals and plants.
Pathogenic bacteria can cause diseases to humans and animals. Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Whooping cough and Meningitis are common airborne bacterial diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria. Fungal spores can cause disease to plants. According to the Sir Carl Woese classification, viruses are not included in any domain. It means viruses are either prokaryotes or Eukaryotes. However, a lot of viral diseases also spread through the air. Because a lot of viruses are airborne organisms. Mumps, Measles, Flu, Chickenpox, Smallpox, SARS and COVID-19 are some airborne diseases caused by viruses. Different types of air sampling methods are available to detect airborne microorganisms.
- The Anderson sampler
- The Burkard sampler
- The rotorod sampler
These methods are unable to collect bacteria or fungus from upper atmospheric layers. Because, handling these equipment at high altitude is too hard. But the water rocket method helps to collect samples from different layers (not suitable for more than 700-800 m. The maximum altitude limit of a water rocket is around 700-800m).
As height increases in the atmosphere, temperature decreases. The temperature drops about 6.5 °C for every kilometer above the earth’s surface. But again, when reaching the thermosphere, the temperature often reaches 2000°C or more. Therefore, this layer is known as “heat sphere”. The temperature is very high in this layer because UV radiation is turned into heat. But, some of the extremophile bacteria and Archaea species can survive under those hard-environmental conditions too. If you get air samples from these layers it may help to triple jump in microbiology history.
Pasindu Chamikara – Microbiologist