Main Engine Cut Off (MECO) – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Rocketry & Propulsion Glossary

What is Main Engine Cut Off (MECO)?

Main Engine Cut Off (MECO) is a critical event during a rocket launch where the main engines of the rocket are shut down to mark the end of the powered phase of the launch. This event typically occurs when the rocket reaches a certain altitude or velocity, at which point the engines are no longer needed to propel the rocket further into space.

How is MECO initiated during a rocket launch?

MECO is initiated by the rocket’s onboard computer system, which monitors various parameters such as altitude, velocity, and fuel consumption. Once the predetermined criteria for MECO are met, the computer sends a command to shut down the main engines. This command is executed by the engine control system, which stops the flow of propellant to the engines, causing them to shut down.

What is the purpose of MECO during a rocket launch?

The primary purpose of MECO is to conserve fuel and ensure that the rocket reaches its intended orbit or destination with maximum efficiency. By shutting down the main engines at the appropriate time, the rocket can coast through the remainder of its trajectory using its momentum and gravity, reducing the amount of fuel needed for the mission.

How does MECO impact the trajectory of a rocket?

MECO has a significant impact on the trajectory of a rocket during launch. Once the main engines are shut down, the rocket enters a coast phase where it continues to ascend towards its target altitude or orbit using its existing velocity. This coast phase is crucial for achieving the desired trajectory and ensuring that the rocket reaches its destination with precision.

What are the potential risks associated with MECO?

While MECO is a routine event during a rocket launch, there are potential risks associated with this critical maneuver. One of the main risks is the possibility of a premature or delayed MECO, which can result in the rocket failing to reach its intended orbit or destination. Additionally, if the engines do not shut down properly during MECO, it can lead to a loss of control or stability, posing a danger to the mission.

How is MECO different from other engine cutoff events during a rocket launch?

MECO is distinct from other engine cutoff events during a rocket launch, such as Stage Separation or Second Stage Engine Cutoff. While Stage Separation involves the separation of rocket stages to discard empty fuel tanks, MECO specifically refers to the shutdown of the main engines to transition from the powered phase to the coast phase of the launch. Similarly, Second Stage Engine Cutoff occurs when the second stage engines are shut down to place the payload into its final orbit, whereas MECO occurs during the first stage of the launch to conserve fuel and optimize trajectory.