When I was about 12 or 13, my brother introduced me to his favorite hobby, model rocketry. I remember very clearly the first day we went out and bought a model rocket kit. The cardboard tubes, stickers, and fins looked unimpressive and at the time I didn’t think it was possible to launch something so unassuming in to the sky. To my pleasant surprise, I was completely wrong.
Flying a model rocket is a relatively cheap hobby considering kits that include a rocket, launch pad, controller, and supplies can be found for as low as $25.00. Supplies for each additional launch after that typically runs about $2-3. Stand-alone rocket prices range from $8 to $50 and up, depending on what kind of rocket you’re looking for. Some rockets even include digital cameras that allow you to take aerial photos.
Model rocketry has been around for ages and has been credited as one of the major inspirations for children who eventually go on to become scientists and engineers. Building and launching model rockets can teach propulsion, physics, and other important principles of science and mathematics.
As a hobby, it is safe and widespread thanks to companies such as Estes, which manufactures safe and reliable rocket components. In the interest of safety, G. Henry Stein and Vernon Estes have developed the NAR Model Rocket Safety Codes, which are used around the world as the rocketer’s creed.
A model rocket is powered by a small engine that is housed by a lower chamber within the rocket. A tiny igniter and plug are inserted in the bottom of the engine prior to launch allowing the pilot to attach two clips that provide a positive and negative charge to the igniter. Once the rocket is ready for launch, the pilot inserts a safety key in the ignition controller, which completes a circuit between the controller and the rocket. With the press of a button, a small electrical current is sent through the ignition system causing a spark that ignites the engine’s black powder, causing enough pressure for the rocket to achieve liftoff. At this point, the rocket is sent 350-1000 feet in the air. There are some larger rocket and engine models that can reach at much as 10,000 feet, but these are typically more expensive.
Once the rocket has reached altitude, one of six recovery systems kick in, allowing the rocket to return to earth safely without reaching ballistic trajectory. The most common recovery method uses a parachute and/or streamer to slow the descent. This method includes a built-in failsafe by ejecting the nose cone away from the body in addition to deploying the parachute. This creates drag by killing the aerodynamic qualities of the design. While this may not save the rocket from being damaged when it reaches the ground, it will prevent it from falling fast enough to become dangerous.
Model rocketry is a fun, educational, cheap, and safe hobby, as long as basic safety precautions are taken. Through building and launching model rockets, children and even adults can learn important fundamental principles of science and mathematics that will stay with them for a lifetime.
Get started with your own model rocket setup here!