Rocket Flight

By Matt Henderson

Table of Contents


Table of Contents








Works Cited

How to build a model rocket

Some funny rocket jokes

Return To Research



Today, the uses of rockets cover two main categories. To carry objects into space and in the atmosphere, while serving as a national defense system. The basic form of a rocket was invented in the 11th century by the Chinese, when they found that an object could be propelled through the use of gunpowder as a fuel. The initial use for this discover was to defend the Great Wall. The Chinese would strap the rockets onto their arrows to greatly extend the range of the bow and arrow. Toy rockets began the space age in the early 20th century. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was one of the first men to theorize rockets as a way for space travel (Maurer). Tsiolkovsky was the first scientist to understand the use of rockets in space travel. His first rocket ship in 1903 was to be powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (Von Braun). Tsiolkovsky was the inventor of the train effect, two single powered rockets; one goes off after the other burns out. This idea is used today in every space launch. But, the idea might have never made it, if it weren’t for that little toy rocket. Today, Rockets are also used for space travel, national defense, and worldwide communication via satellite. For my investigation I will be analyzing the flight of solid-fueled model rocket. First, rocket engines are reaction engines. The basic principle of the driving motion of the rocket derives from Newton’s third Law “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” In basic terms, a rocket is throwing mass in one direction, which is why it goes the other. It is the same as a 12-guage shot gun having a kick back. First tells us that in order to generate more thrust, you need to increase the mass or increase the acceleration; which can be shown by comparing the force exerted by a bowling ball and a baseball on the ground. Since the bowling ball is heavier and can achieve a higher acceleration, the bowling ball will hit the ground harder and therefore exert more force on the ground then a baseball. When speaking in terms of rockets, a person would hypothesize that a bigger engine would accelerate the rocket faster. However, this would only happen if the rocket’s power to weight ratio was greater than the rocket with the little engine. In addition, a rocket engine “throws mass” in the form of a high-pressure gas. The 2001 encyclopedia states that thrust is measure in “pounds of thrust”(4.45 Newtonsof thrust=1 pound of thrust). This thrust is made up of 72% nitrate, 24% carbon, 4% sulfur. Unlike gunpowder (75% nitrate, 15% carbon, and 10% carbon) the fuel burns out and does not explode. The solid fuel in a rocket engine burns along the wall of the tube, and outward toward the casing until it burns out. Two disadvantages of the engine are thrust cannot be controlled, and an engine cannot be stopped once ignited. However, some advantages of the rocket engine are the simplicity and safety of it. From, I find the max thrust for each type of engine and that model rocket engines have 3 stages. The first stage is the propellant; this provides power for the lift off and climb. The engine exerts an extreme amount of force which quickly depletes to a constant force that is call the second stage. The second stage is the delay charge, which emits smoke in order to provide a visual. The stage also provides the rocket with a constant thrust. This allows the rocket to ascend to a high altitude in a small amount of time. The third and final stage is the ejection charge; which creates enough pressure in the rocket to pop the nozzle off. Normally, the discharge of the parachute prevents the rocket from continuing its ascent. However, in order to graph the rocket’s entire flight I had to remove the parachute. The three stages happen in less than two seconds. These stages can be summed up into Total Impulse Power. Neglecting the ejection of the parachute, I will measure the force exerted by the rocket in the three stages of the rocket. From this information I will be able to graph the entire ascent and descent of the rocket. 



From the know elements that I measured, I will be able to graph the aspects like velocity, acceleration, and elevation of a rocket.



My approach to measuring the data consisted of finding the force the rocket exerted when in flight. This was the only way to achieve accurate data, since I couldn’t measure the rockets velocity or max height while it was in flight. First, I measured the mass of the rocket. Second, I built a structure using clamps, a stand, and ppc pipe to hold the engine. The clamps held onto the pipe to enable the engine to be able to slide through the pipe without friction. The force probe was set below the engine to measure the thrust it exerted. The engine was placed upside down, to make it push into the force probe. I didn’t want to get the floor dirty. Before I ignited the rocket, I calibrated the force probe to zero. I used 500g (4.9 Newtons of Force) weights to give the force probe a range. I set the range at 19.6 N, even though the peak 10.6 N. I approximated the max force from my resources as 13.3 N, but I didn’t want to take any chances. The connection wires were about 7ft in length. This allowed me to set off the rocket from inside the building with the door closed. This helped me stay safe in the experiment. Here’s what my setup looked liked


I went through many trials because the machine would not calibrate to 0. I predicted that max force would less than 19.6 N because 4.9 N = 500g of weight. In addition I found that the average force of the rocket type I was using was 13.3 N. I measured the thrust of the rocket engine through the force probe. I took the data and created a thrust vs. time graph. Third I measured the mass the rocket after I had used it. Basically, I could calculate the weight of the fuel in the engine at any moment by having the weight of the engine with the fuel and without it. Next, I derived formulas to find the velocity, acceleration, burn rate and elevation. With theses elements I could graph the aspects of the flight of the rocket.



Useful Numbers:

Mass of rocket whole
Drag Coeff
Time interval
Rocket engine mass
Initial fuel
Burn rate
time to burn

Burn rate = Fuel/t

In my research, it proved very difficult to calculate the drag and coasting portion of the rocket’s flight. According the dynamics of a rocket flight, my data proves logical and very similar. After testing the force of the rocket I came up with what I expected. There is no formula for the force because this is what I measured. In the graph below, the straight line is known as the delay period in the rocket.It admitted a constant thrust, which I expected. The dramatic fall of the line at the end of the graph indicates that the second stage was completed. At this time, the rocket coasts for a moment until the ejection charge activates.

(Click on the picture to get the excel spreadsheet)

The acceleration proved difficult to find because of the loss of mass and the thrust. I predicted that the acceleration would follow the same pattern as the thrust until 1.8 s. I made this theory because the acceleration goes to 14.55 seconds not 1.8s. Formula a = F – mg – Dcoeff * V

Dcoeff = .0111089

Unlike the acceleration and thrust, the velocity followed a distinct pattern that was not similar to any other elment . I hypothesized that the velocity would increase until the rockets thrust would equal 0. At this point the rockets velocity would begin decreasing and eventually hit the max altitude. From there it would descend into negative numbers until it arrived at a constant terminal velocity. In this graph the terminal velocity point is at 28.7 (s). It is hard to see because my time intervals are so close. The graph is endeavored with about 700 data points. Formula v = u + a (delta)t

(delta)t = .05 s 

According to my data the elevation looked like this: I calculated the change in elevation with the formula delta(h) = ((u+v)/2)*(delta)t

Then I used the formula h = delta h + h0 to find the elevation and each point (this formula is what I graphed). This is just the elevation; the distance would not be very far because I shot the rocket straight up with no wind change. 

The mass deterioration like the fuel was consistent until about 2 seconds. This is when the rocket ran out of fuel. Also the fuel changes as the rocket goes. The formula m = m(whole rocket) + Fuel(decreasing)



In my data, it was very hard to calculate the elevation due to drag and coasting of the rocket. While the rocket was powered the mass would change according to the fuel burn rate of .00624 kg/s. When the rocket starting coasting the mass would stay constant and the rocket would coast to its maximum altitude. The problem was calculating the drag and velocity of the rocket as it coasted. I went through many formulas until I found data points that looked appropriate. Beginning, the acceleration follows the lines of the change in velocity. First the accelerations copies the graph of thrust, except that is only for the first two seconds. After the two second mark the rocket loses its thrust or push. Due to the lose of power, and by factoring the effects of gravitational forces and drag I can predict that acceleration will quickly become negative. As shown in the graph the acceleration drops to an astonishing -122.29 (m/s^2) then increases to 0 over time. For the acceleration, I derived the formula a = F – mg – Dcoeff * VDcoeff = .0111089. The weight and drag were difficult in finding, but I used the formula W=mg for the weight and calculated the drag by plugging in number’s until the velocity equaled 0 at 6 seconds. Once I got the drag coefficient, the calculation of the rocket coasting became very simple. Before I put in the drag coefficient, the velocity of the rocket was at about 400 m/s (it would not slow down). I realized that the drag played a major role in the rocket’s flight. The drag coefficient is the air friction correlated with gravity. At first, the rockets thrust created the drag coefficient; it had to resist gravity and air friction. The drag had little effect on the velocity of the rocket because it was powered. However, once the rocket began its coasting the drag began to have a major effect on the rocket’s velocity and acceleration. The drag dramatically helped the rocket decrease its acceleration and velocity. If the drag was taking away, I would be simulating the rocket in a weightless environment. It would never slow down. The velocity is the speed of the rocket. For the velocity, I used the formula v = u + a (delta)t because I had to factor in the gravitational push on the rocket and the drag created by the air and the rockets velocity. I did not have to factor the drag in to the velocity formula because it already existed in the acceleration formula. The velocity graph is very similar to the thrust graph because thrust is a form of propulsion as is velocity. As the propulsion increases or decreases the velocity will also. After 2 seconds the velocity of the rocket started to decrease at a rapid rate. Eventually the velocity and the acceleration hit 0 at 6 seconds. Using the formula a = F – mg – Dcoeff * V I was able to calculate a drag without having to the take the surface area of my rocket. Even though the drag is very little, it makes a significant difference in the rockets flight. From watching model rockets in flight and taking a few estimations from my resources, I was able to conclude that the rocket with a model C rocket engine would reach its max altitude at 6 seconds. At the max altitude the acceleration is 0. From my data a conducted a trial and error experiment until the drag made the acceleration equal 0 at 6 seconds. I factored the drag coefficient into the flight of the rocket and saw that it dramatically affected its flight. This new data signified the max altitude of the rocket (476.91 ft). Alot farther then a trebuchet. From that point the rocket began to fall, which lasted 30.1 seconds. Mass of .01874 (kg) played a major factor in the rocket’s descent. As shown in the graph the velocity hit its terminal velocity of 28.7 (s). At this velocity, the rocket was going as fast as it could go. The velocity would stay the same until the rocket hit the ground at 36.31 (s). Also, in my quest to know the elements of a rocket flight, I found many of my formulas based on drag and weight, which I got from It was very helpful.



There could be some errors in my experiment. For one, I only measured the force once because I wasted numerous rockets trying to get the force probe to work. Second, the force probe was only within a .05 interval and a .1 accuracy. Even though .05s is a extraordinarily small interval, there were still ascents of the force that had significant gaps in them. For example from .1s to .15s the thrust jumped from 2.8N to 7.1N(that’s fast). Also, I measured the force in .1’s, which created unseen change in the thrust. From .9s to 1.5s the thrust stayed constant at 4.5N. I know that the thrust changed during this period; however, the reading measuring made the computer round the nearest decimal. This prevented me from knowing the exact change in that period. The lack of exact data could prove to create a small amount of error in my calculations. Also, in calculating the drag of the rocket, I estimated that the velocity would equal 0 at 6 seconds. Realistically, this isn’t the time the velocity would equal 0. Since I didn’t have the proper equipment to measure the drag, I calculated a drag that would make the rocket’s velocity become 0 at 6 seconds. I estimated from the various resources I collected and my personal experience, that a rocket with that type of engine would begin its descent at 6 seconds. Normally the drag coefficient would vary according to weather condition and the size and mass of the rocket. In a real launch, the drag would equal my simulated drag if the conditions were right. The formulas for acceleration and velocity were a challenge to get right. There were various factors that related to outcome of the velocity and acceleration. My calculations have some error because of the time interval and the accuracy of the force probe, but the data points seem logical. In addition, according to my resources the simulated data points would match the flight of real rocket (with no wind change and ignited at 90 degree angle). In addition, the model engines play a difference since they are not always performing the same as the manufacture says. If I had done numerous test of the same type of engine, the data would be extremely similar, but would vary in spots. Each engine reacts differently. To improve on this experiment, I would make my time interval .005s and set the accuracy of the force probe to .01N. This would help me measure the data more accurately, even though there would be about 100 pages. In addition, if I had the correct equipment, I would measure the actual drag of the rocket. This would allow me to calculate the time when the rocket’s velocity did equal 0.



From the beginning of this experiment, I hoped that it would run smoothly and the results would be astonishing. Even though I ran into a few calculations problems on the way, I still managed to pull through. From the force (N) I was able to calculate the many aspects of a rockets flight. I decided not to calculate the distance horizontally traveled by the rocket because I shot the rocket straight up with no wind change. Therefore the rocket would land in the same spot it took off. Since there are not really any averages in my raw data because the numbers are changing the whole time, I am not going to give it to you. And of course it is about 20 pages long. Save the trees! In search for knowledge of rocket engines I found useful information. Rockets are simple in their whole, but when taken apart they are very complicated. I learned detailed information and the purpose of the three stages of rocket. I also found that the velocity of the rocket did not follow the same pattern as the thrust. I also learned that my rocket only went 476 ft into the air. I thought the elevation would be lot higher. The Chinese used rocketry over 900 years ago, that’s a lot of advancement since then. Every type of propulsion system that used commonly in today’s society are all derived from the Chinese model rockets. I also learned that the elements and aspects of the rocket engine all depend on each other. The drag, velocity, acceleration, correlates to the mass and thrust of the rocket. Over all the experiment was a success; I now know the mechanics of a rocket flight. I have learned much from this experience.


Works Cited

This site was very helpful on basic force concepts

This site helped me alot with projectile motion equations; drag coefficent.

Gave me basic concepts of rocket flight, which helped me write my essay. Also gave me information on how the rocket engine itself works.

This site provided more engine information, but it got a little more techinical.

This site provided examples of some of the equations i was using in order to calculate certain elements of the rockets flight.

Maurer, Richard. How a Toy Launched the Space Age. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York. Copyright 1995

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000

Von Braun, Wernher. Space Travel a History. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd StreetNew York. Copyright 1985


How to build a model rocket

* The best way is to take a long plastic are cardboard tube. Usually you can find these tubes at home depot or Michaels or in your local dumpster.

* Next, find a Styrofoam cone or square that you can shape into a cone. This will be used for the top of the rocket.

* Find a PVC pipe to install in the tube of your preference. Use a hot glue gun to prevent the pipe from falling out. Before you glue the pipe onto the pipe, make sure the rocket engine fits into it.

* Now get a metal strip to glue to the inside of the PVC pipe. This piece will be needed in the future for the rocket engine. After you put the rocket engine in the pipe, the metal will be bent over the engine to hold it in.

* Finally glue fins to the side of the rocket to prevent it from going wild. Make the sure the fins are straight and evenly distributed around the rocket.

* Hey, you have made a rocket, go on, go launch it off.

P.S. If you impaired in the art of building model rockets, just buy a pre-made rocket at your local toy store.


Funny Jokes

It Takes A Rocket Scientist
Sometimes it DOES take a Rocket Scientist.... Scientists at NASA have developed a gun built specifically to launch dead chickens at the windshields of airliners, military jets and the space shuttle, all traveling at maximum velocity. The idea is to simulate the frequent incidents of collisions with airborne fowl to test the strength of the windshields.

British engineers heard about the gun and were eager to test it on the windshield of their new high speed trains. Arrangements were made to borrow the gun. But when the gun was fired, the engineers stood shocked as the chicken hurtled out of the barrel, crashed into the shatter proof shield, smashed into smithereens, crashed through the control console, snapped the engineer's backrest in two, and embedded itself in the back wall of the cabin.

Horrified, the British sent NASA the disastrous results of the experiment, along with the designs of the windshield, and begged the U.S. scientists for suggestions. NASA's response was just one sentence: "Thaw the chicken."

The NASA is launching a rocket to the moon. On board there are two pigs and Kiki, a stunning blond.

When the rocket is outside the stratosphere, the first stage drops off. Contact is made: "Houston here, Pig 1, Pig 1, do you read us, over."

"Oink, oink, here Pig1, read you loud and clear"

"Pig 1, do you still know your instructions?"

"Yes, when we get to the moon, I press the red button to initiate the moon landing, over."

"That's right. Over and out."

They go on until the rocket separates its booster stage. "Hallo, Pig2, Here Houston, come in please."

"Oink, oink, here Pig 2, read you loud and clear."

"OK, Pig 2 do you remember your instructions?"

"Yes, when we've landed on the moon and are ready to leave, I press on the green button to initiate the launch program."

"That's right. Over and out."

An hour later when the rocket has achieved the correct speed the last stage drops off as planned. Ground control contacts the astronauts again.

"Houston here, Kiki, come in, Kiki do you read us?"

"Kiki here, reading you loud and clear"

"Kiki, do you remeber your instructions?"

"Yes," Kiki says, "I feed the two pigs and keep my hands off any buttons."

How do you send a baby astronaut to sleep?