- Category: Project Activities
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- Written by Bryan
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3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . LAUNCH! Imagine the excitement your family will experience as it builds, prepares, then launches their very own high-flying rocket. This exciting family activity combines learning, fun, and teamwork in a most excellent family experience.
Launching rockets involves a significant amount of effort and a certain amount of risk. But do not be discouraged as the excitement that a family experiences during a launch is well worth it.
This article is geared toward families that have never worked with model rockets before. More experienced families may find some of the tips at the bottom helpful.
How to get started
The easiest way to get started is to buy a basic model rocket starter kit. The kit should include a launch platform, ignition mechanism, and rocket. Typically you must buy the engines separately from the main kit. The kits and engines can be found in many local hobby shops or you can pick one up at your local Wal-Mart or from Amazon. Start with the smallest engine (Estes A8-3). You can use larger engines later as you learn more about how they work. Read about safety before actually launching your rocket. See the Basic Tips section below for excellent safety resources.
Make it more than just pushing a switch
Sure you could just grab the kit, run out to some field, set it up, then launch. But the family would miss 80% of the experience. An activity like this creates a great learning opportunity. It is excellent science that becomes very interesting for children when it is combined with the excitement of launching a rocket.
Learning Opportunity Ideas:
Here is the most comprehensive learning site for rockets: NASA's Rocket Index.
Research the history of rockets and space flight. Here is a good place to start: Smithsonian's Milestones of Flight exhibit.
Visit NASA's Beginner's Guide to Rockets. This site has links to all kinds of excellent resources to get started with rockets.
Study how things fly.
Learn how to estimate the height of the rocket. You can also make a rough estimate of the altitude using simple geometry. Assuming a straight path into the air, this can be done by simply using the rule for determing the length of one side of a right triangle when you know one of the other lengths and one angle.
Pick the place and time
Finding a suitable place has always been the most difficult part of launching rockets for our family. We live in one of the most densely populated regions, so finding an open field that is large enough to launch a rocket and safely retrieve it is difficult. One successfuly tip I can recommend is to call your local parks and recreation person for your municipality. I typically find these individuals helpful in pointing out good open space and getting contact information when permission is needed. For the smallest rocket engines any athletic field will work, but the size of the filed increases significantly as the size of the engine goes up.
The date does not matter very much but the weather does. Realize that on extremely windy days the rocket's return trajectory can become problematic. To avoid having to climb trees or run into serious safety issues with power lines, only launch on less windy days.
Invite others to enjoy the launch
While your family may have fun with the preparation and learning, there is no reason to keep the rocket launch to yourself. Invite another family or two to enjoy the exprience. This can also be combined with the Family Event: Spring Festival of Flight (new article coming soon).
Basic Safety Tips
Be extremely safe. Parents should become very aware of all the safety hazzards involved in launching model rockets. Take all preventive measures.
Only use certified rocket parts and engines. Get reliable motors from reputable places. This is important since you are dealing with the same chemical reaction used in explosives.
Stay completely away from power lines.