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Beginner's Guide to Propulsion and EngineSim

Subject Area:
Grade Level: 9-12
Time Required: 3 class periods
National Standards:


  • Unifying Concepts and Processes:
    • Change, constancy, and measurement
    • Form and function.
  • Science as Inquiry:
    • Understandings about scientific inquiry.
    • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Physical Science: Structure and properties of matter.


  • Research Tools - Use content-specific tools, software and simulations (e.g., environmental probes, graphing calculators, exploratory environments, Web tools) to support learning and research.
  • Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Tools - Routinely and efficiently use on-line information resources to meet needs for collaboration, research, publications, communications, and productivity.


You and your group will design your own procedure to calculate the mass of the gas molecules in the classroom by measuring the volume of the classroom and researching the density of air. You and your group will then apply the changes in air density with altitude and the effects on a jet engine.

EngineSim, which was created at NASA Glenn Research Center to illustrate an example of their research, simulates the aero-thermodynamics of a jet turbine engine. With this software you can learn about different types of jet engines and how they work. You can change the operating conditions and even design your own turbine engine. EngineSim is intended for science and math students from secondary schools through undergraduate engineering. In some parts of the package, there are problems that you must solve using EngineSim. In other parts, you are free to experiment. EngineSim is a Java applet which you can also download from the World Wide Web at EngineSim Download.

The Beginner's Guide to Propulsion is a Web site of information prepared by the NASA Glenn Research Center to help you better understand aircraft engine propulsion. Click on the Beginner's Guide Index to access the list of slides. Open the slides entitled Air Properties Definitions and/or Air Density. Read the descriptions as background information to help you complete the activity.


A. Because the target group is a Chemistry class, the lesson is presented with a rather open procedure by design. Students are not told step by step exactly what to do. They are given the objectives and in small groups are to decide what materials, information, and procedures are required to determine the mass of the gas molecules in the room.

B. This lesson also helps students to realize that air has mass. Once students have determined the mass of the molecules in the room they can then analyze how the properties of those molecules will change with altitude in our atmosphere and how that applies to the functioning of a jet engine.

C. A suggested option is to have the students predict the mass of the gas molecules in the classroom before they begin their procedure. This may help remove some misconceptions about air.


You and your group will be assessed on your description of your procedure, the presentation of your data and calculations, and the final results for both the mass of gas molecules in the classroom and the functioning of the jet engine.


Reports should be neat, in chronological order, and include measurements with units. All sections should be clearly identified.

Submitted by: Norma Holowach, Lakeview High School, Cortland, Ohio

Related Pages:
Propulsion Activity Index
Propulsion Index


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Editor: Tom Benson
NASA Official: Tom Benson
Last Updated: Thu, May 13 02:38:39 PM EDT 2021

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