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Missile design sources for the aspiring asymmetric, amateur or hostile state scientist



Having built rockets in earlier decades as part of an investigation of kinetics, warhead design, fuzing and explosives, I wondered where would the aspiring asymmetric attacker or amateur scientist go now to build rockets capable of offensive capacity? In those years DuPont's Blasters' Handbook and many military field manuals on fuzes and explosives were readily available.


Spotting a short piece on engineering sources for missile design in Arms Control Wonk in which contributors commented on titles of seminal, still applicable - though often out of print - sources for missile design, I decided to chase them down in order to see what was available to an asymmetrical missile builder.


Many of the initial links had inaccurate titles and/or lacked full provenance or sources. All are properly sourced below. Having been a builder, I’ve added items from the amateur side which can have asymmetrical applicability.


The best were indeed a short list, with many key works rising in the 1960s. Here they are, divided into three sections: 

  • For launcher design
  • For engine design
  • From applied theory to beginning practice

Perpetual threat of hostile IP collection


The NASA Special Publications cited here are but an infinitesimal fraction of the IP housed at NASA facilities and subject to repeated attacked by Chinese and Russian assets. A highly recommended article is Epstein and Elgin’s Network Security Breaches Plague NASAYou know things are bad when the then head of IT security for the Ames Research Center rings the network admin in the middle of the night to demand, "Disconnect us!...Disconnect us from the Internet!":

By early 1999 the volume of intrusions had grown so worrisome that [Talleur], the most senior investigator specializing in cyber-security in the Inspector General's office at NASA, wrote a detailed "network intrusion threat advisory" [describing] the sly tactics behind a particularly virulent series of attacks on agency networks, which he said had been perpetrated by Russians...


[Starting] in May 1997, virtual intruders masking themselves and their IP addresses slipped undetected into networks at the Goddard center, a hub of space science activity. The trespassers penetrated computers in the X-ray Astrophysics Section of a building on Goddard's campus, where they commandeered computers delivering data and instructions to satellites. Before being discovered, the intruders transferred huge amounts of information, including e-mails, through a series of stops on the Internet to computers overseas. The advisory stated: "Hostile activities compromised (NASA) computer systems that directly and indirectly deal with the design, testing, and transferring of satellite package command-and-control codes"...


Talleur, now 59, retired in December 1999, frustrated that his warnings weren't taken more seriously. Five months after his advisory was circulated internally, the [GAO] released a public report reiterating in general terms Talleur's concerns about NASA security. But little changed... "There were so many intrusions and hackers taking things we had on servers, I felt like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike," he explains, sitting on the porch of his home near Savannah, Ga. On whether other countries are behind the intrusions, he says: "State-sponsored? God, it's been state-sponsored for 15 years!"


Huntsville, Ala., known as Rocket City, is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center, [home to] one of the richest lodes of high-tech secrets anywhere in the world. Around the clock for four days in June 2002, a prowler methodically probed enormous volumes of proprietary information at Marshall, according to NASA documents. The electronic intruder, without setting foot anywhere near Rocket City, gained access to servers handling sensitive work on new versions of the Delta and Atlas rockets that power intercontinental missiles, enhancements of the Shuttle's main engines, and Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an advanced fighter jet that remains in development...


The secrets from Marshall could have helped the Chinese design engines and fuel to lift heavier loads beyond the atmosphere, according to NASA documents. Investigative case files prepared for a federal grand jury following the Marshall intrusion [include] information from the statement of an unidentified witness under the heading "Allegations of Sale to a Foreign Government."

Readers are recommended to pursue this and other links in the bibliography below for the greater national security IP threat. The balance of this note returns focus to open source materials available to the asymmetric attacker:




Handbook of Astronautical Engineering

Edited by Heinz Hermann Koelle

McGraw Hill. 1961

Out of Print – used copies about a $100-150 dollars

Here and here

Best overall missile design. Much "relevant material, terse summaries and collections of tables, graphs, and reference material not found elsewhere."


Aerospace Vehicle Design: Volume II - Spacecraft Design

by K. D. Wood

Johnson Publishing Co. (1964)

Out of Print – used copies about $150 dollars



For general launcher design. Despite its title, "almost entirely a launcher book, and the only real tutorial overview of launcher design.  Long out of print and quite scarce. (Beware, vol. I is an aircraft-design book; it was a standard text in its time and is okay, but it has nothing to do with launchers, so know what you're buying.)" Many empirical relationships.


International Reference Guide to Space Launch Systems

Steven J. Isakowitz, Joshua B. Hopkins, Joseph P. Hopkins

American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics (AIAA)

1999, Third Edition

ISBN: 1563473534

Out of Print – used copies about 40 Pounds



Reference book "on existing launchers... interesting technical material... 3rd ed. is much better than earlier editions."


International Reference Guide to Space Launch Systems, Fourth Edition

Steven J. Isakowitz, NASA

Joshua Hopkins, Lockheed Martin Astronautics

Joseph P. Hopkins Jr., Andrews Space and Technology

Library of Flight Series

Published by AIAA, 2004, 4th Edition

ISBN-10: 1-56347-591-X

ISBN-13: 978-1-56347-591-7


Ballistic Missile and Space Vehicle Systems

Edited by Howard Stanley Seifert, Kenneth Brown

Wiley (1961)


Out of Print – used copies about twenty five dollars



"Uneven quality... chapters on liquid propulsion are nearly useless... some of it is excellent, e.g. a chapter on predicting ascent losses"


Space Vehicle Design Criteria, SP-8000 series

NASA Special Publications

Introduction and General Series

by Donald Boggs


When the United States Congress created NASA, part of its charge was to disseminate to the public the product of its research and exploration. NASA began almost immediately to do so and its publications have continued to this day. Although there are a variety of NASA publications, the ones of most interest to collectors are the Special Publications (SPs), Educational Publications (EPs), Conference Publications (CPs), Reference Publications (RPs) and Technical Memoranda (TMs).


By the spring of 1966, the number of SPs was large enough to warrant the printing of a small (35 page) booklet listing each of them with a short summary of its content. By 1983, it took a 127 page Special Publication (#470) simply to list the titles. This essay is meant to provide some modest information on the NASA Special Publications to those who seek to collect them.


The newest of the NASA SPs are available from the NASA Information Center in Washington, D.C. (see their website for a long out of date listing) or through the Government Printing Office (GPO). All of these publications are available from the NASA Center for Aerospace Information (website), in the original edition, if available, or on microforms or Photostat. Prices are significant higher than the original price and in some cases even higher than the current market value.


Lunar Missions and Explorations

Edited by C. T. Leondes and R. W. Vance

Wiley (1964)

ASIN: B0007EJ5P0

Out of Print – used copies about 40 Pounds



Launch centric with "excellent chapter on launcher design, and a somewhat shorter one on launch facilities... biased toward very large launchers" but still useful


Fundamentals of Astrodynamics

by Roger R. Bate, Donald D. Mueller, Jerry E. White

Dover Publications; 1 edition (June 1, 1971)

ISBN-10: 0486600610


Good section on trajectory computation


Scud Ballistic Missile and Launch Systems 1955–2005

New Vanguard 120

Author: Steven J Zaloga

Illustrators: Jim Laurier Lee Ray

February 2006; 48 pages; ISBN: 9781841769479




Rocket Propulsion Elements, 7th Edition

by George P. Sutton, Oscar Biblarz

Wiley-Interscience; 7 edition (December 29, 2000)

ISBN-10: 0471326429


For engine design. The 6th and 4th editions were favored. Huzel and Huang is better for liquid propellants.


The Design of Liquid Propellant Rockets

by Huzel and Huang

NASA SP-125: "The Design of Liquid Propellant Rockets"

2nd edition by Huzel and Huang 1971

Available online download



Good for liquid propulsion


Space Vehicle Design Criteria, SP-8000 series

NASA Special Publications

Introduction and General Series

by Donald Boggs


Items from this series also address motors/propulsion


Mechanics and Thermodynamics of Propulsion (2nd Edition)

by Philip Hill, Carl Peterson

Prentice Hall; 2 edition (September 27, 1991)

ISBN-10: 0201146592


Said to have better coverage of some theory areas than Sutton, but note "unit-conversion errors in some of the engine specs given as examples."


Ignition!: An informal history of liquid rocket propellants

by John D Clark

Rutgers University Press (1972)

ISBN-10: 0813507251

Out of Print – used copies about a thousand dollars





The AROCKET Discussion List

Since early in 1996, the aRocket e-mail list has been active, providing a forum for discussion for all sorts of experimental rocketry topics worldwide. There are almost 400 people using this free service.




Copyright 1967 by Leroy J. Krzycki

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing: March 1967

Second Printing: March 1971

First WWW Edition: June 1996

SBN 9600-1980-4


Amateur Rocket Motor Construction

A Complete Guide to the Construction of Homemade Solid Fuel Rocket Motors

David Sleeter, Teleflite Corporation

ISBN 0-930387-04-X


Also here


Ball Milling Theory and Practice for the Amateur Pyrotechnician

By Lloyd Sponenburgh

Also here


Grinding your own materials, making better black powder


See also Ball Milling 101 in Skylighter Fireworks Tips

March 10, 2008 -- Issue #91


Rocket Science Books Catalog

Catalog Updated 10 July 2007


Note: Ignore the category/section links as they are null. Scroll down to the individual book descriptions. Many good basic texts on the basics of physical design.


Solid Rocket Motor Internal Insulation

by Hercules Incorporated, Aerojet-General, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and NASA Lewis Research Center


Also scroll down to bottom of page for companion volumes: Solid Rocket Motor Metal Cases, Solid Rocket Motor Nozzles, Solid Rocket Motor Performance Analysis, and Solid Rocket Thrust Vector Control.


Solid Rocket Motor Internal Insulation can also be read online at SCRIBD.


Postscript: As it turns out the Blasters' Handbook lives on, the International Society Of Explosives Engineers (ISEE) having purchased the rights to publish the Blasters' Handbook from Explosives Technology International (ETI Canada) which consolidated DuPont's US and Canadian commercial explosives business.See also: 

International Society Of Explosives Engineers (ISEE)

ISEE Library 

Institute of Makers of Explosives (IME) 




Three Wonks Walk Into a Bar…

by Geoffrey Forden

Arms Control Wonk

posted Friday January 16, 2009


Obama Moves to Counter China With Pentagon-NASA Link (Update1)

By Demian McLean


Jan. 2, 2009


Analysis: China space launch raises fears

by Sara Sargent

Washington (UPI) Oct 3, 2008


Report: U.S. vulnerable to Chinese cyber espionage

Posted by Elinor Mills


November 24, 2008 5:12 PM PST


Network Security Breaches Plague NASA

By Keith Epstein and Ben Elgin


November 20, 2008, 5:00PM EST



U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

November 20, 2008


China launches space walk mission

By David Barboza


Published: September 26, 2008


Blasters' Handbook

by Robert Hopler

International Society Of Explosives Engineers (ISEE)

17th edition, 2003

ISBN-10: 1892396009

ISBN-13: 978-1892396006


Books for aspiring rocket scientists?

Henry Spencer

Aug 20 2000, 3:00 am


Shenzhou and China’s Space Odyssey

By: Jing-dong Yuan

China Brief Volume: 5 Issue: 24


December 31, 1969 07:00 PM


Gordon Housworth

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