GO IN DEPTH

Rocket Launch

What You Need

Materials

prefabricated model rocket of your choice, suitable for launching.

 
Rocket Launch Photo Credit: Science NetLinks

Purpose

To have students consider constraints which contribute to the design of a model rocket, as well as begin to analyze a model rocket's design and flight.


Context

In this lesson, students will explore design considerations of model rockets. They will consider how model rockets are similar to real rockets (in design and flight), as well as how they are different due to the constraints placed upon them such as size and intended user. In order for this to be a substantive lesson, it is important for students to be very specific in their thoughts and discussions.

The lesson is intended to reinforce the concept that every engineering design works within constraints that must be identified and taken into account. Constraints include absolute ones like physical laws and more flexible ones, such as economic and social. Students will be looking at these in the context of model rockets that are intended to be launched safely by individuals and retrieved for future use.

By participating in design and engineering activities, students should learn how to analyze situations and gather relevant information, define problems, generate and evaluate creative ideas, develop their ideas into tangible solutions, and assess and improve their solutions. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 48.)


Planning Ahead

This lesson involves the launching of a model rocket, so you will need to choose and order a prefabricated rocket ahead of time.

The launching will need to be done outdoors in a field at least the size of a baseball field (a football field would be better) and away from busy streets. Launching requires a launch pad and preferably an electronic launch controller.


Motivation

Begin this lesson by asking students to visit the websites listed above so that they can explore basic information about rockets. This is primarily to whet students' appetites, so you can structure this activity as much or as little as you'd like.

Now that students are thinking about rockets in general, lead them to the realization that rockets are important to learn about, but obviously can't be examined or launched in the classroom. Ask students how the study of rockets is accomplished, guiding them to the topic of models.

Possible discussion questions include:

  • In general, what is the purpose of a model?
  • With what models (other than rockets) are you familiar?
  • What are the limitations of a model?
  • What are the benefits/advantages of a model?

Development

Focus the discussion back on model rockets, and on the idea that they have to rely on a model rocket that was designed with a specific audience in mind (i.e., high-school teachers and students). When the rocket was designed, thought had to be given to how the model would be manufactured, operated, maintained, replaced, and disposed of and who would sell, operate, and take care of it.

The Beginner's Guide to Model Rockets, part of Glenn Learning Technologies, a NASA website, contains background information that may be helpful for you and/or your students. It contains information on model rockets, including specific information on rocket parts and flight.


Next, show the students the model rocket that will be launched, and ask them to focus on general characteristics.

For example:

  • How is it similar to a real rocket?
  • How is it different?

Focus the discussion on the constraints associated with designing this model, keeping in mind, "What questions did the design team need to ask themselves in order to construct this rocket?"

Discussion questions could include:

  • For whom is the rocket designed?
  • Where will it be launched?
  • Will it withstand several launches?
  • How often will it be launched?
  • Can parts be replaced or exchanged?
  • Can one person operate it?
  • How easy is it to launch?
  • How many steps are involved?
  • What safety issues were taken into consideration?
  • How far is it designed to go?
  • What type of location is needed in order to launch the rocket?


After the design of the rocket is analyzed, move students outside to watch the launching of it. Show students the rocket once again before launching, asking them to pay close attention to the basic form and condition of it.

Launch the rocket several times while having students pay attention to how you operate the launch, the flight of the rocket, and the condition of the rocket after each recovery.

Possible monitoring questions include:

  • How am I igniting the rocket?
  • What did you observe of the rocket's flight?
  • How could it have flown better?
  • How did the rocket come back down?
  • Where did the rocket come back down compared to where it took off?
  • What is the condition of the rocket?
  • Will this affect the next flight? How? Why?
  • How was this flight different from the one before?
  • Do you think the condition of the rocket had any effect on that flight? Why?

After launching the rocket, ask students how it was similar to and different from the launching of a real rocket, and to what they expected. Again, continue to focus the discussion on how the model was designed with certain constraints in mind.

Possible questions include:

  • What would have made the launch more successful?
  • Which of the external components contributed to the success or failure of the launch?
  • Which of the external components were necessary, and which, if any, were purely for show? Why do you think these particular components were selected for this model?
  • How could the design of the rocket have been modified? Do you think these modifications would be possible considering the constraints of designing it for use in a high school classroom?

Note: If information on the model rocket used in this lesson is available (e.g., information on the Internet, a catalog description), students could use this to inform their discussions and analysis of the rocket design throughout the lesson.


Assessment

Because students have considered the thought processes that may have gone into the design of the model rocket, and have witnessed the launching of it, they could write an advertisement for this particular model. As alluded to in the context, this will have to be specific in order for it to be worthwhile and substantive.

The advertisement should address things such as:

  • The consumer; specifically, how the model was designed taking into account the issues/constraints associated with who will operate, maintain, dispose, and take care of it.
  • How the model is similar to a real rocket (in design and flight), as well as how it is different due to the constraints placed upon it.

Students may also want to test additional rockets and publish their own "Consumer Report" issue evaluating the rockets. This could be done as a cross-disciplinary assignment with English (writing articles) and computers (page layout and design).


Extensions

Have the students research the design constraints for the NASA Space Shuttle on the NASA website.

Try a few of these questions:

  • Are the constraints more or less strict?
  • Are they more or less complicated?
  • Does the availability of money directly solve any of these constraints?
  • How is this the same as what you did and how is it different?
  • How many of the similarities are considerations that any designer would have to make and how many are specific to rocketry?

Students can watch the film or read the book October Sky, which illustrates that there were many failures before there was a success.


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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards
AAAS Thinkfinity