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A model rocket is a small scale rocket, which can be launched by most anyone, making model rocketry a popular sport among children. Model rockets are usually constructed of paper, cardboard, plastic, wood, and/or other lightweight materials. A model rocket is launched on a Model Rocket Launch System, powered by a model rocket engine, and returns safely to Earth by the recovery system to be launched again.
Building and flying a model rocket is a very exciting and educational experience. Products offered range from rockets that are ready to fly to fantastic 3-stage rockets. Lessons learned from model rocketry include basic modeling skills, the basics of aerodynamics, to advanced mathematical and physics concepts.
Origins of Model Rocketry
The origin of the model rocket is attributed to Orville Carlisle, a pyrotechnics expert, who built the first stable model rocket engine in 1954 for his brother Robert to use during lectures on rocket powered flight. The quality and safety of the engine allowed for the expansion of the hobby as children no longer needed to build their own rocket engines, which often proved to be extremely dangerous.
G. Harry Stine, a rocket expert, built and flew sample model rockets in the late 1950's with these new engines. His experience at the flight range lead to the writing of the Handbook of Model Rocketry, which is today still the primary reference resource for model rocketry.
Anatomy of a Model Rocket
Most model rockets consists of the same basic building components.
The body tube forms the main body of the model rocket and holds the nose cone (the tip of the rocket) in place. The rocket fins at the bottom of the rocket provide stability during flight. A launch lug is attached to the body tube near the center of gravity for the rocket.
Inside the rocket, and not seen, is the recovery system, typically a parachute or streamer, used to help the rocket land safely. Also inside the rocket is the engine mount which holds the model rocket engine in place.
Model Rockets in Education
Most rocketeers are introduced to model rockets at an early age, and many keep that passion a lifetime and pass it along to their own children. This has been the history of model rocketry. A rocketry program is perfect for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, school field days, summer camps, church youth group outings, birthday parties, to simply introducing your own child to rocketry.
As such, most every model rocket kit is designed with the student in mind. Most kits are fairly easy to build and are designed for stable flight. The come with detailed instructions on how to build the model rocket and how to launch the rocket safely.
The lessons that can be taught through a model rocketry program are plentiful. First, the building of the rocket teaches basic modeling skills such as following directions, preparing a model for assembly, how to glue a project together, and much more. The launching of the rocket teaches safety since a model rocket engine must be treated with respect. Advanced lessons can be taught in aerodynamics, geometry, algebra, and physics.
How to Choose a Model Rocket
The most import factor in choosing a model rocket is how much time is available to build the rocket, and how difficult should the assembly be. To help with this, the model rocket industry has a set of Model Rocket Skill Level standards, ranging from 1 (the easiest) to 4 (the hardest). A rocket will usually be Skill Level 1 unless otherwise stated.
Another factor is cost. Part of the model rocket product lines are bulk packs, which contain multiple rockets (usually 12 per box), which provide significant cost savings when buying rockets in bulk. If someone is just starting to get into rocketry, then the model rocket starter set is a great option as it contains the model rocket, a launch system, and the model rocket engines. Everything needed to build and launch a rocket.
The most exciting option is variety! There are hundreds of model rocket kits to choose from. Each offering a unique design, look, or flight style.
How to Design a Model Rocket
The design of a model rocket is a fairly advanced topic and should be reserved for well qualified rocketeers. Model rocket kits are already designed and tested by the manufacturer for stability and safety, making them a great choice for model rocketry.
The basic steps for designing a model rocket are:
How to Build a Model Rocket
The steps to build a model rocket are as follows:
- 1 : Identify all the model rocket kit components listed in the instructions (Nose Cone, Body Tube, Launch Lug, etc.)
- 2 : Gather the building supplies necessary (Glue, Scissors, Ruler, Hobby Knife, etc.)
- 3 : Pre-read the instructions before beginning
- 4 : Prepare components for assembly, which may require assembly of some of the rocket components (Engine Mount Kit, Parachute Kit, Nose Cone, etc.)
- 5 : Follow the instructions in assembling the rocket.
How to Paint a Model Rocket
Like any painting job, the key to success is careful preparation of the surfaces to be painted. Painting over bumpy surfaces or bare wood will lead to unsightly results. Once the surface is prepared, a primer coat of paint should be sprayed on giving the model a nice clean and smooth surface to paint. The primary color of the rocket should then be sprayed on to achieve a nice consistent finish. Once dried, additional colors can be sprayed or brushed on, and then the rocket may be sealed. Finally, decals can be applied and final finishing touches done.
The steps listed in this article are the standard steps in finishing a rocket. Some model rockets need little, if any, painting, while others must be fully finished. For more basic finishing, some steps may be skipped, and for more detailed painting and finishing some additional detailing steps may be done.
How to Launch a Model Rocket
To launch a model rocket it is extremely important to select and prepare an appropriate launch site for the size of model rockets that are going to be flown. Once a site is chosen, setup the launch system and establish boundaries of where people are allowed to be during a launch. Next prepare the rocket for launch by installing the model rocket engine, and wadding if required. Place the rocket on the launch pad and connect the launch controller to the igniter. From a safe distance, use the launch controller and count down 5.... 4.... 3.... 2.... 1.... LAUNCH!
Always follow the NAR Model Rocketry Safety Code to assure a safe model rocket launch.