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The University of Southampton

SESA2023 Propulsion

Module Overview

This module introduces the fundamental principles of aircraft propulsion, and covers air-breathing and rocket propulsion systems. The module focuses on the analysis and determination of thrust and performance criteria for propulsion systems such as ramjets, turbo-jets, turbo-fans and rockets.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Typical propulsion system mechanical configurations and their performance indicators. (EA1b,EA2,EA3b,EA4b)
  • Propulsion system modules and the functional role of each subsystem in detail ((EA1b,EA2,EA3b,EA4b))
  • The configuration of typical commercial engines and relation to their application (P1,P7,EL1,EL3,EL5)
  • The architecture of launch vehicles and the role of various rocket motor stages ((EA1b,EA2,EA3b,EA4b))
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Calculate fundamental performance indicators of an entire engine (such as specific thrust and specific fuel consumption) for given flight regime, engine design parameters, and performance indicators of the engine components (such as the flight Mach number, compressor pressure ratio, and turbine efficiency etc.) (D1,D2,D3b,SM2b,SM3b)
  • Evaluate intuitively how, and explain why variations in the flight regime, design parameters and components performance affect the overall performance of a system.(P4,SM2b,SM3b)
  • differentiate rocket engine cycle designs and relate this to performance requirements (EL2)
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Study and learn independently (G1,G2)
  • Communicate work in written reports (G1,P3)
  • Demonstrate study and time management skills (G2)
  • Solve problems systematically (G1)
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Appreciate some of the technical issues associated with aerospace propulsion design (SM1b)


Fundamentals - Breguet range equation, the standard atmosphere - Steady-flow control volume analysis sufficient to introduce/define gross and net thrust, thermal efficiency, propulsive efficiency, overall efficiency and specific fuel consumption and specific impulse (in case of rockets) - Two-property rule, Perfect vs. Semi-perfect gases, properties of mixtures of ideal gases - First Law and Steady Flow Energy Equation. Definition of Stagnation Enthalpy - Entropy and isentropic processes, compressible and incompressible flow, leading to stagnation properties. Definition of isentropic efficiency. - 1D waves leading to speed of sound and Mach number. - 1D gas dynamics leading to compressible flow relations, normal shock waves and nozzle flow Ramjet - Practical overview of technology and its application, distinction between RAM and SCRAM. - Qualitative description of oblique shocks and 3D shock patterns in general and in the SR71 intake. - Calculation of an ideal ramjet engine. Combustion - Mechanisms of combustion in propulsion systems (diffusion flames, flame propagation, autoignition, detonation waves); flame ignition and stabilisation. - Combustion chemistry : chemical equations, air fuel ratio, equivalence ratio. - Combustion thermodynamics: heat of reaction / calorific value, calculation of combustion temperature for given fuel input. - Chemical equilibrium: calculate equilibrium composition for given temperature (consider reactions of NO, CO and also ones for H2/O2 rockets). Explain how dissociation results in lower effective heat release. Rockets - Specific impulse and choice of number of stages. - Fluid-fuelled rocket engine cycles - Analysis of rocket engine and its nozzle, including combustion & equilibrium. Gas turbines /  turbojets - Analysis of gas turbines: derivation of ideal air-standard Brayton cycle efficiency. Comparison to cycle with non-isentropic turbomachinery. - Analysis of turbojet in flight with fully-expanded propulsion nozzle. - Calculate the propulsive efficiency and the need for turbofans or turbo props Turbofans - Analysis of a turbofan engine - Selection of fan pressure ratio - Worked examples session based around Cumpsty's New Efficient Aircraft. Turbomachinery - Principles of turbomachinery & Euler work equation - Flow and work coefficient, specific speed and choice of turbomachinery type - Use velocity triangles to predict characteristic map for a compressor - stall and choke limits. - The axial turbine - The axial compressor Propellers and turboprops - Actuator disc description of propellers. - Propeller characteristics and how to select propellers for applications (particularly in the context of UAVs)

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods will include lectures and laboratory demonstrations. Learning activities include directed reading, problem solving, report writing.

Independent Study114
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

NASA Website.



MethodPercentage contribution
Continuous Assessment 30%
Final Assessment  70%


MethodPercentage contribution
Set Task 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Set Task 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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