The conservation of mass is a fundamental
concept of physics. Within some problem domain, the amount of mass
remains constant; mass is neither created or destroyed. The
mass of any object is simply the volume that the object
occupies times the density of the object.
For a fluid (a liquid or a gas) the
density, volume, and shape of the object can all change within the
domain with time and mass can move through the domain.
The conservation of mass (continuity) tells us that the
mass flow rate mdot
through a tube is a constant
and equal to the product of the density r,
velocity V, and flow area A:
mdot = r * V * A
Considering the mass flow rate equation, it appears that for a given
area and a fixed density, we could increase the mass flow rate indefinitely by
simply increasing the velocity.
In real fluids, however, the density does not remain
fixed as the velocity increases because of
We have to account for the change in density to determine the mass flow
rate at higher velocities.
If we start with the mass flow rate equation given above and use the
relations and the
equation of state,
we can derive
a compressible form of the mass flow rate equation.
This equation is shown in the red box on this slide and relates the mass
flow rate to the flow area A,
total pressure pt and temperature Tt of the flow,
the Mach numberM, the
ratio of specific heats
of the gas gam, and the
In many applications, we are interested in the weight flow rate,
which is the mass flow rate multiplied by the gravitational constant (32.2 ft/sec ^2
in Imperial units, or 9.8 m/sec^2 in Metric units).
The equation can be further simplified to derive a
weight flow function
that depends only on the Mach number.
that solves the mass flow equation for you for both the mass flow rate and the weight flow rate:
Mass Flow Calculator
Mass Flow Rate
Weight Flow Rate
To change input values, click on the input box (black on white),
backspace over the input value, type in your new value. Then press the
red COMPUTE button to perform the calculation.
You will see the output box (yellow on black) change value.
You can use either Imperial or Metric units
using the red on white menu button. Just click on the menu button and click on your
You can also download your own copy of the program to run off-line by clicking on this button:
The compressibility effects on mass flow rate have some
We can increase the mass flow through a tube by
increasing the area, increasing the total
pressure, or decreasing the total temperature.
But the effect of increasing velocity (Mach number) is a little harder to figure out.
If we were to fix the area, total pressure and temperature, and graph
the variation of mass flow rate with Mach number, we would find that a
limiting maximum value occurs at Mach number equal to one.
You can generate the numbers to put in the graph by using the calculator.
Notice that if you only change the value of the Mach number, the largest
mass flow rate occurs for Mach = 1.0.
There is a mathematical proof of this result that uses
a technique taught in calculus. To
find the maximum (or minimum) value of a function, determine when
the derivative of the function is equal to zero.
Let us apply this technique to the mass flow rate equation. To simplify the
exercise, let us define:
B = (A * pt) / sqrt(Tt) * sqrt(gam / R)
C = (gam + 1)/(2 * (gam - 1))
D = (gam - 1) / 2
Then Eq #10 can be written:
mdot = B * M / ((1 + D * M^2) ^ C)
We take the derivative of this equation with respect to M
and set the result to zero to find the maximum:
d mdot/dM = M * ( d [ 1 / ((1 + D * M^2) ^ C)] /dM) + 1 / ((1 + D * M^2) ^ C) = 0
-(2 * C * D * M^2) / ((1 + D * M^2) ^ (C + 1)) + 1 / ((1 + D * M^2) ^ C) = 0
Using some algebra to simplify this equation::
2 * C * D * M^2 = 1 + D * M^2
Now collect terms which multiply M^2:
M^2 = 1 / (D * ( 2 * C - 1))
We can evaluate the right side of this equation by using Eq #12 and Eq #13:
Therefore the condition for the maximum airflow occurs at:
M^2 = 1 or M = 1
There is a maximum airflow limit that occurs when the Mach
number is equal to one.
The limiting of the mass flow rate is called choking of the
If we substitute M = 1 into Eq #10 we can determine the value of the
choked mass flow rate:
Mach number equal to one is called a sonic condition
because the velocity is equal to the speed of sound and
we denote the area for the sonic condition by a special symbol "A*",
If we have a tube with changing area, like the
shown on the slide, the maximum mass flow rate through the system
occurs when the flow is choked at the smallest area. This
location is called the throat of the nozzle.
The conservation of mass specifies that the mass flow rate through a nozzle is a constant.
If no heat is added, and there are no pressure losses in the nozzle,
the total pressure and temperature are also constant. By substituting the sonic
conditions into the mass flow equation in the box, and doing some algebra,
we can relate
the Mach number M at any location in the nozzle to the ratio between
the area A at that location and the area of the throat A*.
Since the Mach number is related to the velocity, we can determine the exit
velocity of a nozzle, if we know the area ratio from the throat to the exit.
Knowing the exit velocity and the mass flow rate, we can determine the
thrust of the nozzle.
You can explore the operation of
a nozzle with our interactive thrust
simulator and design your own rockets!