Make your own straw rocket, stomp rocket and antacid rocket
Discovery Place Nature
3, 2, 1… blast off! Ever wonder what makes a rocket fly?
There are four forces to consider when having a successful flight and these apply not only to rockets, but to anything that flies.
First are weight and thrust. Weight is the force put on the rocket by gravity from the earth. The heavier the rocket is, the higher weight force will be. Thrust is what moves the rocket forward and allows it to overcome that weight force. It’s the reason we need to use some sort of fuel for our rocket.
The last two forces are lift and drag. These deal with how rockets interact with the air around them. Lift allows the rocket to be stable and have a given direction. The design of the nose and fins of the rocket affects the lift. Drag force is the friction of the air that slows the rocket down. While the rocket must eventually come down because of weight and drag, the design of the rocket can help it overcome the forces of weight and drag by having good thrust and lift.
In this activity, learners will explore three different ways to launch a paper rocket. We will be making a straw paper rocket, a stomp rocket and an antacid rocket. As you design your rockets, keep the four forces in mind and consider which rocket is able to launch the farthest.
(Note: This list includes materials for making all three types of rockets and launchers. If only making one rocket, you may not need everything)
- Paper (copy, construction, cardstock) – having different kinds of paper is best though you can make your rocket all from one type of paper
- Tape (masking tape and duct tape, though other types of tape will work, too)
- Drinking straw (Plastic or Reusable)
- 2-liter plastic bottle
- Plastic tubing
- Plastic film cannister (You can also use an empty chap stick or glue stick container, or even an empty pringles can or plastic spice container, anything that has a top that can pop off)
- Antacid tablet
- Decorations for your rockets (optional)
Straw Paper Rocket
- Fold a piece of copy paper into quarters and cut along the folded lines. You will only need one cut piece of paper, but you can save the other 3 pieces for future designs.
- Wrap your paper lengthwise along your straw to give your rocket body a shape. Make sure it is tight enough for a good fit, but not so tight that it gets stuck.
- Tape along the edge of your paper to seal it shut. Make sure you don’t tape your rocket to your straw.
- Design your rocket’s nose and fins. Decide what shape you want for your nose and fins. How many fins do you want to put on your rocket? What type of paper do you want to use? Where do you want to place your fins?
- Once you have decided on your design, cut out your fins and nose and tape them onto your rocket. Whatever shape you choose for your rocket nose, make sure it creates a tight seal along the top of the rocket. We don’t want to lose any of our air fuel!
- Once your rocket is ready to fly, place it onto your straw and blow air into it. How far did your rocket go? Feel free to try again. Experiment with the air amount, angle of the straw or even a whole new rocket design.
- Follow the same procedure listed above to make a new rocket. This time, your rocket can be bigger. Try using a full piece of paper for your rocket body. Use the plastic tubing as your size model for the rocket body instead of the straw. Again, we want a tight fit around the tubing. (Note: We used about two feet of 7/8” plastic tubing, but you can use different sizes as long as you can tape it tightly to the bottle to create an air seal.
- To make your stomp rocket launcher, take the bottle cap off the bottle and tape one end of the plastic tubing to your bottle. We highly recommend using duct tape for this part to make a sturdier connection. Make sure your tubing is taped securely onto the bottle. (Note: You can also use a tornado tube connector for an extra sturdy seal, but it is not necessary)
- Give yourself plenty of space or go outside to launch your rocket. Put your rocket on the open end of the tubing, take aim and stomp on the bottle to launch your rocket. If possible, have a partner aim your rocket so you can focus on stomping.
- To reuse your stomp rocket launcher, blow air into your bottle, using a bike pump or just yourself.
- Experiment with the stomping force, angle of the tube or a whole new rocket design.
- Follow the same procedure listed above to make a new rocket. The size of this rocket will depend on the container you are using. Cut your paper to make the body of your rocket about the same height as your launching container (film cannister or other object with a pop-off lid).
- Place your completed rocket onto the bottom of your launch container (the side opposite of the cap).
- We recommend going outside to launch your rocket because this next part can get messy. Flip your launcher upside down, take off the cap and fill it about 1/3 of the way with water.
- You’ll need to do this next part quickly. Add one antacid tablet to the inside of the container. Break it into pieces if it doesn’t fit. QUICKLY put the cap back on the launcher and place it on a flat surface, with your rocket pointing up. Note: You may need to adjust the amount of antacid tablets you add depending on the size of your container.
- Observe what happens next. How long did it take for your rocket to blast off? How high did it go?
- Rinse and dry the inside of your container. Feel free to experiment with the type of water (does soda water make a difference?), amount of antacid or a whole new rocket design.
What is happening?
Each of our three rockets relies on the same principles to take flight and needs fuel to get that thrust force. Rocket launches follow Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Imagine filling up a balloon with air and letting go; it’s going to fly in the opposite direction that the air is coming out, the thrust force. In each of these cases, air is being used to provide that thrust. In the third rocket challenge however, we are using chemistry to create that gas in the form of carbon dioxide (the same stuff we breathe out). When the antacid tablet dissolves in water, the baking soda and the citric acid trapped in the tablet mix together and form those CO2 bubbles that build up and launch the rocket.
How to adjust for younger and older learners
For younger learners, focus on one type of rocket launch. We recommend starting with the Straw Rocket. Ask young learners to predict what will happen when they make changes to their rocket or launcher. Try placing targets at different distances or heights from your launching site and make your rocket launching into a competition!
For older learners, take your rockets to the next level. Remember, what comes up, must come down. Make that drop easier on your rocket by designing a way to have a parachute come out of your rocket. Want to make an even better stomp rocket? Check out NASA’s video on how to make a stomp rocket using PVC pipes: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/activity/stomp-rockets/