Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Science Camp: Rocketry

One of the big selling points of our science camp was building and launching a model rocket. 

Launching model rockets may sound intimidating, but if you start with a basic model, it's really not bad at all.  I didn't have any experience with model rockets before taking it on as a science camp project, and it all worked out very well.  Of course, it is the kind of project you'll want to make sure the school (or other hosting facility/group) is okay with.

I bought my rocket kits from AC Supply, as they seemed to have the best prices.  They offer a lot of different styles and levels of rockets and provide bulk packs of rockets and engines.

With our elementary students, we used the Alpha III (pictured above), which is a level 0 rocket.  With younger students, you'll definitely want to look for a one-piece fin unit - it makes it much easier to assemble and will fly with better results.   

As simple as the Alpha III is to assemble, there is still plenty for little hands to do.  Make sure you assemble one before you have your students do it, as you may find there are things you want to do for them, ahead of time.  I pre-glued the parts that needed gluing, both to save time and to increase the likelihood that things were straight. 

If I were to do camp again, I think I'd try the Gnome.  I'm not sure if it was available the last time I ordered or not, but having done the science camp experience a couple of times now, I realize that the mini-engines would provide more than enough height for the space we were working in and the lower price tag is always a plus.  Like the Alpha III, the Gnome is also available in bulk packs.

You'll need to order engines for your rockets, as they are not included in the kits.  There are several engines you can choose from for each model.  The model's page will list the engines appropriate for that model. 

If this is your first time launching rockets, you'll also need to order a launching pad

When scheduling your rocketry sessions....
Plan one session for assembling the rockets and another session (or two) on another day (in case assembly runs long) for launching.  I wouldn't recommend scheduling your launch for the final day of camp, because it's a weather-sensitive activity and you want to leave yourself room to reschedule if necessary. 

You'll want a day that's free of rain and ideally a day with little wind - depending on where you live, you may just have to do the best you can.

You want a large open field on which to hold the launch.  Set up the pad in the middle, as far from trees and power lines as possible.  Depending upon the direction of the wind and air currents, you may need to move the pad to adjust for those conditions, but start in the middle.

Set up a designated area for the students to sit and watch.  Anyone who's not launching a rocket needs to stay in that area.

Have one student at a time come to the launch area with his/her rocket.  The student will wear goggles while in the launch area and will place their rocket on the pad.  Allow all students to participate in the countdown and then the rocket-owner presses the button to launch.  When the rocket returns to the ground, the student then goes to retrieve it. 

When not launching, make sure all safety protocol (as instructed within the launching kit) are being followed. 

I always gave students this warning:
If you launch your rocket, there's a chance you won't get it back - it could get stuck in a tree, the wind could blow it somewhere we can't retrieve it, etc.  If you want to be guaranteed that you'll have your rocket to take home, you don't have to launch it. 
A few students won't be sure and will at least consider not launching their rocket, but usually the excitement of getting to launch it and seeing where it goes will convince them it's worth taking the chance on not getting it back. 

There are always a couple of rockets that don't make it back down (the reality when you don't have as big a field as you should when you launch), but I've never had anyone upset about it. 

One final bit of advice... take some extra batteries for the launch controller out to the field with you.  It will save you time and give you peace of mind when the launcher seemingly stops working while you're in the middle of launches!

1 comment:

  1. Cutting a big hole in the center of the parachute can help bring them down closer also, if you have a small field.