Open Source Aerospace Computing

Modeling rockets with open source tools and methods

Simulating Rockets

The Problem

Building and flying “High Power Rockets” is a popular hobby world-wide. Many people enjoy the challenge of building something that will withstand the heat a pressure of launching many kilometers into the air. And even if it’s just for fun there is a lot to learn about serious aerospace engineering. Increasingly universities have student groups building more and more advanced rockets.

A very important part of building a large—one or more meters tall, flights in the multiple kilometer range—rocket is trying to optimize the whole system. In the process of designing the rocket there are dozens, if not hundreds, of trade-offs to make. In a perfect world you could balance each decision for factors like cost, complexity, and mission outcome. This is hard!


File Formats

Some standardization is needed to make sharing data easier. In some cases it seemed necessary to create a file format standard.

Open Rocket Document Format

Open Rocket Document (.ord) is a suggested open document standard for describing sounding rockets. Includes many useful format transformations for use with scientific computing packages.


Tools and libraries to assist or run the simulation of rocket flights.

The barrowman Python Module

Pure Python implementation of “Barrowman’s method” of estimating the aerodynamics of slender bodies (read: rockets)

JSBSim Manager Python Module

Python helper module to create and run XML files for JSBSim and run many instances in parallel

JSBSim NASA Test Cases

An attempt to apply NASA published flight simulation test cases to the open source JSBSim flight dynamics simulation framework.

Historical Reconstructions

Some reconstructions of historical flights of famous or interesting real rockets.

Aerobee 150

The Aerobee 150 is a four-fin sounding rocket approximately 9 meters long and 38 centimeters in diameter, first flown in February, 1960. The rocket was capable of transporting 45 to 130 kilograms payloads to high altitudes (over 200 kilometers) with a stable, near vertical trajectory. The rocket consisted of a liquid propellant sustainer and a solid propellant booster.


The Lambda-4S rocket is currently the smallest (by volume) rocket ever built by humans that has carried a Payload into Earth orbit. Much of it’s history is fascinating.