Thermal energy, as it refers to engineering is heat energy produced by conversion of another form of energy.


Thermal power stations (or power plants) generate electric power which usually involve some sort of heat engine. Usually, this transforms thermal energy, often from combustion of a fuel, into rotational energy.


An energy transfer is the process of changing working energy from one system or device to another (such as heat energy in coal transferred into thermal energy, or, thermal energy converted to kinetic energy in steam). Such transfers can be between energy types, as from electricity to mechanical motion, or within its own type, from one mechanical motion to another. The amount of energy transfer depends on how much of input energy is converted, that is efficiency.

Space programs[]

In a nuclear electric rocket, nuclear, available is converted into electrical energy that is used to power one of the electrical propulsion units. So technically the powerplant is nuclear, not the propulsion system.

During atmospheric reentry of space crafts, they rely mainly on the heat shield for protection from thermal energy. A spacecraft converts the craft's high kinetic energy at reentry into thermal energy (heat) by atmospheric friction. Any errors in this portion of the flight profile are difficult to recover from and will probably have serious impact upon the mission. Death and/or mission failures have occurred during re-entry. Nevertheless, the use of strong heat shields has so far been regarded as the only practical approach and all orbital returning spacecraft have been equipped with such. This unavoidably rapid conversion of a large amount of kinetic energy to heat results in extremely high temperatures, so the heat shield needs to be extremely strong and reliable.

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