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Rockets have a variety of uses
Rockets or other similar reaction devices carrying their own propellant must be used when there is no other substance (land, water, or air) or force (gravity, magnetism, light) that a vehicle may usefully employ for propulsion, such as in space. In these circumstances, it is necessary to carry all the propellant to be used.
However, they are also useful in other situations:
Some military weapons use rockets to propel warheads to their targets. A rocket and its payload together are generally referred to as a missile when the weapon has a guidance system (not all missiles use rocket engines, some use other engines such as jets) or as a rocket if it is unguided. Anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles use rocket engines to engage targets at high speed at a range of several miles, while intercontinental ballistic missiles can be used to deliver multiple nuclear warheads from thousands of miles, and anti-ballistic missiles try to stop them. Rockets have also been tested for reconnaissance, such as the Ping-Pong rocket, which was launched to surveil enemy targets, however, recon rockets have never come into wide use in the military.
Sounding rockets are commonly used to carry instruments that take readings from 50 kilometers (31 mi) to 1,500 kilometers (930 mi) above the surface of the Earth. The first images of Earth from space were obtained from a V-2 rocket in 1946 (flight #13).
Rocket engines are also used to propel rocket sleds along a rail at extremely high speed. The world record for this is Mach 8.5.
Larger rockets are normally launched from a launch pad that provides stable support until a few seconds after ignition. Due to their high exhaust velocity—2,500 to 4,500 m/s (9,000 to 16,200 km/h; 5,600 to 10,100 mph)—rockets are particularly useful when very high speeds are required, such as orbital speed at approximately 7,800 m/s (28,000 km/h; 17,000 mph). Spacecraft delivered into orbital trajectories become artificial satellites, which are used for many commercial purposes. Indeed, rockets remain the only way to launch spacecraft into orbit and beyond. They are also used to rapidly accelerate spacecraft when they change orbits or de-orbit for landing. Also, a rocket may be used to soften a hard parachute landing immediately before touchdown (see retrorocket).
Rockets were used to propel a line to a stricken ship so that a Breeches buoy can be used to rescue those on board. Rockets are also used to launch emergency flares.
Some crewed rockets, notably the Saturn V and Soyuz, have launch escape systems. This is a small, usually solid rocket that is capable of pulling the crewed capsule away from the main vehicle towards safety at a moments notice. These types of systems have been operated several times, both in testing and in flight, and operated correctly each time.
This was the case when the Safety Assurance System (Soviet nomenclature) successfully pulled away the L3 capsule during three of the four failed launches of the Soviet moon rocket, N1 vehicles 3L, 5L and 7L. In all three cases the capsule, albeit uncrewed, was saved from destruction. Only the three aforementioned N1 rockets had functional Safety Assurance Systems. The outstanding vehicle, 6L, had dummy upper stages and therefore no escape system giving the N1 booster a 100% success rate for egress from a failed launch.
A successful escape of a crewed capsule occurred when Soyuz T-10, on a mission to the Salyut 7 space station, exploded on the pad.
Solid rocket propelled ejection seats are used in many military aircraft to propel crew away to safety from a vehicle when flight control is lost.