I recently read a book about the Space Shuttle program. Obviously there were astonishing statistical numbers involved given the enormity catered for in the final builds… however, I was astonished to learn that 900,000 gallons of water is pumped to the ground area underneath the Shuttle at launch.
The water is instantaneously converted to superheated steam, and somewhat accounts for the massive plume shown at 3,2,1,launch! The water abates the sheer intensity of noise and heat.
The main fuel tank truly must have been massive to make the shuttle look smaller.
The solid rocket boosters had different ingredients. I can’t recall which, but the SRB’s/shuttle’s nozzles, one had an almost clear exhaust flame and the other a yellowish tinge.
The level of complexity as a machine is extreme too.
To get a large object off the planet look likely to follow the same principle for the next long while…ie massive expenditures and losses of energy.
Some small satellites have had clever engines/power sources? Voyager? And the latest rover on Mars? Ion drive went from sci-fi to reality, but small scale only?