Model Rocket Challenge

3 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will be able to build a model rocket as an introduction to rocketry.

Big Idea

Consider this your students' first step into model rocket flight.

NGSS Background

This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.

NGSS Performance Expectation (PE): (MS-ETS1-1) Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

Science and Engineering Practice SP1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems. Students are required to build a rocket from a commercial kit. They must understand construction principles, the laws of motion, and rocketry principles in order to build a rocket with the intent of a successful launch.

Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI): ETS1.A Defining and Delimitating Engineering Problems - The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.

Crosscutting Concepts (CCC) Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World - The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. 

This lesson allows students to build a model rocket from a commercial model rocket kit. The kits are all of the same basic design, so learning to build one rocket assists in building another rocket. The plans are all pretty much the same. Rocket flight is a excellent practical connection to Newton's Laws.

I spend about two days walking the students through the building process step-by-step until they have reached a point where they can work independently. They work in groups of 3-4 students to build the rocket. In their Interactive Science Notebooks they have to create a reference to Newton's Three Laws and rocket flight.

During the construction process I refer back to Newton's Laws and encourage my students to think in these terms. The students can build a more complicated version of this rocket with Craft Rocket Challenge #1 and Craft Rocket Challenge #2

Building a Commercial Model Rocket

60 minutes

These instructions are based on included directions for an Estes Alpha Rocket. This is a beginner's rocket and very typical of plans used to build other rockets. I suggest you use these instructions as an augmentation to the included directions. Once your students have mastered these plan they can easily assemble the more complicated designs.

1) To assemble the engine mount, you will need the blue engine mount tube (far left), the green adaptor ring (center), and the engine hook (far right).

2) Using a pen or pencil and a ruler mark the blue engine mount tube at 25mm and 64mm from one end. With a sharp knife to cut a small notch at the 64mm mark.

3) Insert the bent end (right angle) of the 'Engine Hook' into that cut notch.

4) Coat the inside of the green adaptor ring with white glue (use white glue only, do not use hot glue - will melt) and slide it over the engine hook up to the 25mm mark.

5) Coat the outside of the green adaptor ring with white glue (white glue only) and insert it in the rocket tube at the tail end until the hook is flush with the rocket tube.

6) Locate the shock cord mount outline and the included shock cord.

7) Place a dab of white glue onto the middle section (2) of the outline and place one end of the shock cord into this dab of glue.

8) Fold section 1 onto the dab of glue on section 2.

9) Now fold that sandwiched end onto section 3.

10) Use hot glue to attach the 'Rocket Fins'. In my experience hot glue works best for this step, as it sets almost immediately and attaches firmly. White glue takes almost 24 hours to completely dry. I would rather have the rocket built in one class period.

11) Use hot glue again to attach the launch lug attachment (small straw).

12) Use white glue to attach the shock cord mount assembly into the nose end of the rocket tube.

13) Slide the shock cord mount assembly approximately 25mm down inside the rocket tube and press firmly with your fingers to attach it to the inside wall of the rocket tube.

14) Attach the parachute to the nose cone.

15) Attach the shock cord to the nose cone.

16) The rocket is now complete. You can paint the rocket and add included stickers or leave undecorated.

Student Activity

120 minutes

You can test for stability by tying string to the middle of the rocket and swinging it overhead. If the rocket flies correctly while it is swinging overhead it will fly straight when launched.

Testing for Stability

Follow the direction for the Model Rocket Engine package as to how to prep the engine, attach the ignitor, pack the recovery wading, and launch the rocket.

Model Rocket Launch

A small camera can be attached to the rocket and pointed downward to capture some incredible launch footage.

Rocket Flight

Student Work Sample

To complete this lesson each student had to connect rocket flight to Newton's Three Laws.

Newton's Laws

  1. An object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by another force.
  2. Acceleration is based on mass and force.
  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In their Interactive Science Notebook that had to provide a title, list all three of Newton's Laws, provide an explanation of how Newton's Laws connect to rocketry, include one drawing for each law, and use a minimum of three colors.