Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Building Model Rockets

Posted on: June 7, 2008

I started building model rockets with my students this year and I’m glad I did. Most of my students have never built or launched rockets before. A few did in eighth grade, I think maybe two or three did with their parents, but out of the 100 or so seniors that I teach, that’s was it. About 80% of my students are college bound and only a couple of them are going into science or engineering, so connecting a subject like physics to something hands-on is critical to their understanding of the material. Not that I think most of them understand it, but let me delude myself please.

Pile of Rockets

The school purchased one rocket for every two students. I know in some area schools, the students are required to purchase the materials. I know that most of mine could, but quite a few can’t. So the school paid for them. It took about three days to build and paint the rockets. They build, I paint. I knew I had to when one of my more trusted students came in with a rocket dripping paint. “Several light coats are better than one heavy coat.” Didn’t matter how many times I said that, apparently it didn’t stick.

The next nice day we all trudged out to the field, took lots of pictures posing with our rockets, then we launched them one at a time. I tried to explain how high and how fast they go, but until they saw it they just didn’t get it. A few dramatic failures are good. We had one tail fin fall off because it wasn’t glued on well. The rocket looped just barely over our heads. A few had the nose cone too tight.  The ejector charge couldn’t pop off the nose cone, they come down fast and tend to stick in the mud. We even had one actually explode. I’ve never had that happen, I think it was an engine failure and not the work of the student. All these events add to the teachability of the lesson.  We learn from our failures.

As a follow up homework assignment, they each had to write an article telling about the project, the launch, and explaining the theory to someone who hasn’t had physics. I chose two of the articles and a couple of photos and submitted it all to the school newspaper for publication.

Some thoughts:

  • Each group got a single A engine with the rocket. If they wanted to launch again, they had to purchase an engine for $2. I had some B and C engines, but our field isn’t very big and we lost anything launched with C’s.
  • I wanted the kids to purchase the rockets for $2, but only a few did. I would either get them to purchase them up front with their own money or just give it to them. The teams would have to decide ahead of time which of the two gets to keep the rocket.
  • I bought a mix of Viking and Wizard rockets. Both are good, they use streamers for recovery rather than parachutes. A parachute in a 10 mph wind will drift twice as far as it is high. So if it goes up 500ft, it will drift 1000ft.
  • Walmart is the cheapest place to find engines. A three-pack is under $5.

8 Responses to "Building Model Rockets"

I have been teaching model rocketry to students ages 8 to 22 and to teachers for over 30 years. Due to chronic budget cuts, I had to find a way to continue teaching model rocketry. Recently, I created a way to make over 50 model rockets (which soar up to 1,000 ft.), an electrical launch system, and a launch pad for less than $100. Would you please post my web page which explains what I’m offering?

hello, we are also making a rocket exact same in physics class. Im a grade 11 student learning to make a rocket. I was wondering if I could get some help or advice on how to make rocket go higher and smoother as i have never built one myself before. Ex, how many tail fins to put on and how big they should be would be great help, thanks.

Hi Omar. Since you are in physics class, you are most likely familiar with Newton’s 2nd Law: a=F/m. The most effective way to increase the acceleration of the rocket is to minimize the m or mass. So three fins will weigh less than five fins. You also want to minimize the turbulence by rounding the leading edges of the fins. Balance is important also, take care to put the fins on properly and parallel to the body of the rocket. If they aren’t parallel, they will steal energy from the lift and make the rocket wobble or spin. I’m undecided if paint makes a difference other than looks. We use enamel spray paints on our rockets. Paint makes the body smoother, which improves air flow, but it adds a little weight to the rocket. I hope that helps.

thank you scott, ill be sure to follow the advice you have give nme, so far I have Completed i think its the engine, small engine tube with 3 rings on it, 1 ring in the tube and 2 outside the tube.

I have finally found wings i have chosen, I wanted to clarify with you before i made them, i want rocket to go highest in class so i chose these

this site wont allow me to post image shack picture of it….
anyways its a straight

thats design of wings and my partner was saying we shud have 2 wings on bottom and 2 wings on top near the end of tube opposite sides of each other so if u look from birds eye view it looks like a plus sign (+).

At 6th grade Woodshop we are starting a project on model rockets just like these students made and now I’m going to build a model rocket just like these students and lanch them.

If you want to build rockets on the cheap, you can do pop-bottle rockets…they won’t go up 500 feet, but it is fun, and the physics are the same. We stop by the local recycle center and have them save recycled bottles for us so I can get enough for 200 students to all build their own rocket. Everything goes back to the recycling center when we are done, so it is eco-friendly as well! You do need a launcher and a way to pressurize the bottles (air compresser is best, but you can use a bicycle pump).

I miss doing rocket demo’s for schools. Big time politics and high cost.
last did 2000 I believe. I once even had P.H police dept with a uniformed officer on a motor cycle with radar gun to clock out my land rocket cars in 1998 or 99.

Pix of rockets under photos on my web site And no never launched Dream on 10 feet tall or Newtons Law 3 feet tall at a school. These are High Power.

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