Rocket vs. Missile: 2 Important Differences (Complete Guide)

The words “Rocket” and “Missile” are used interchangeably by some. But is this right? Are they two words for the same thing, or is there a difference?

Rocket Vs. Missile: What’s The Difference?

The difference between a rocket and a missile is that a rocket is self-propelled, often by using flammable material stored within. However, it can have any purpose. A missile is something fired at an object for a specific purpose-destruction. However, it can be propelled by anything.

Rocket Vs. Missile: What's The Difference?

The Overlap Between Rockets And Missiles

Whilst there is a difference between a rocket and a missile, the confusion is understandable as there is also a lot of overlap.

Most missiles are also rockets because they are propelled by flammable chemicals that are stored at the base of them. But, they’re still missiles because their aim is to hit a target to destroy it.

A space rocket that accidentally lands on a town would of course be bad. But, there is some debate as to whether or not it counts as a missile. Some say yes because of the destruction. Others say no because of the intention.

Definitions Of Rocket

According to Google (who got their definition from Oxford), a rocket is “a cylindrical projectile that can be propelled to a great height or distance by the combustion of its contents, used typically as a firework or signal.”

And Websters says that it’s “a jet engine that operates on the same principle as the firework rocket, consisting essentially of a combustion chamber and an exhaust nozzle.”.

Although phrased slightly differently, both of them seem to agree that rockets move upwards in the sky as a result of their own contents. This includes many missiles, space rockets, and fireworks.

Definitions Of Missile

Google claims that a missile is “an object which is forcibly propelled at a target, either by hand or from a mechanical weapon.”

This proves that not all missiles are rockets. If I throw a rock, it counts as a missile.

And Websters says that a Missile is “an object (such as a weapon) thrown or projected usually so as to strike something at a distance”.

What both of them seem to agree on is that when you fire a missile, whether that’s a rock or a nuclear missile, the aim is to hit something. And usually, cause destruction.

Rocket Vs Missile: The Difference Is Purpose

Based on all of this information, the difference between a rocket and a missile can be summarised in one word “purpose”.

A rocket can serve many purposes. Whilst you could use a rocket to cause damage (missile), you could also use it to get into space (Space rocket), or you could use it to create a beautiful display (Fireworks).

A missile however can only be used for hitting things. A firework is not usually a missile, but if you aim it at something, it can become a missile.

A rock can be a missile if it serves the purpose of hitting something. But it can never be a rocket before it doesn’t power itself, it needs to be thrown.

Why The Rocket Vs Missile Debate Matters

These ideas might seem abstract, but they have real-world implications, namely, when we interpret what we hear on the news.

If we hear that “The USA has launched a rocket”, it could mean that they’re just going out into space. But if we hear that “The USA has launched a missile”, that means the United States has attacked another country, and we should prepare for war.

If a local teenager launches a rocket in their back garden, they’re probably just stupid. But if they launch a missile, that suggests malicious intention.

5 Examples Of Rocket

  1. “The world’s first rocket was developed by the USSR. Ever since the first man went into space, we haven’t looked back”.

  2. “Jeff Bezos has just created his first rocket, and already he has found and fallen in love with an Alien from another planet”

  3. “Stop using rockets for missiles. If you stop bombing other countries, we can use the rockets for going into space”

  4. “The firework is a kind of rocket that creates beautiful displays with lights”

  5. “One day, we will have a rocket instead of a car”

4 Examples Of Missile

  1. “Thankfully, the USSR never fired a missile at the USA. Because if they did, the whole world would have erupted into Chaos”.

  2. “I used a small pebble as a missile. I know it wasn’t great, but he had a knife and I had to do something.”

  3. “There will be a missile strike on North Korea within 30 days. Please stand by as we prepare for something major”

  4. “You used the firework as a missile when you aimed it at my house! I will see you in court for this”.

Other Definitions Of Rocket And Missile

Now we’ve looked at all the official definitions of Rocket and Missile, before we end, I think you’ve earnt some fun.

From the Oxford dictionary to the Urban dictionary. Here are some slight weirder definitions of Rocket and Missile.


1. An attractive female

“Corr, she’s a rocket”

2. An idiot (Scottish slang)

“Sheet yer mooth ya rocket”

3. A joint

“Imma light up this rocket”


1. An erection

“I woke up with a rocket today”

2. Bowel Movement

“I had to let out a rocket in the bathroom.

3. A football/soccer player who kicks the ball too hard

“Oh great there’s Danny He’s a rocket but has no idea how to aim or pass”


And there we have all of the differences between a missile and a rocket.

The differences are the method of power and the purpose.

Method of power is what determines a rocket. It needs to propel itself.

But the purpose is what determines a missile. It needs to have the goal of hitting something.

Many missiles are also rockets- such as nuclear missiles.

But, many are not, such as bullets or rocks.

And many rockets are not missiles. Such as fireworks or space rockets.

Next time you hear the news say either “rocket” or “missile”, you’ll know what they’re talking about, and will be able to form a better opinion because of it.