Guide to Model Rocketry Part 1 - Introduction

by FliteTest | October 8, 2018 | (3) Posted in How To

Here's a brief look at the world of model rocketry and how to take your own giant leap. 

What's not to love about rockets? Huge plumes of smoke, bursts of flame, massive velocities and extreme forces. During a rocket launch, so much happens in such a short space of time. Model rocketry captures all of this on a smaller, more affordable scale. So, how do you get started? Here's a guide. 

All about model rockets

What they are: 

Model rockets are usually small, free flight aircraft that are propelled by solid fuel rocket motors. These are ignited by an electronic controller that is wired to the motor. They can, however, be larger than you might think.

How they work: 

These rockets work in the same way as the larger ones; a solid fuel 'motor' (or engine) produces thrust which propels the rocket into the sky. Interestingly, the Space Shuttle's two booster rockets were also powered by solid fuel. Once they're lit, they can't be stopped. 

How high they go:

Depending on the rocket size, weight and motor power, model rockets can go anywhere between a couple of hundred feet and a couple of thousand feet up. 

What the motor numbers mean

Rocket motors are categorized with letters which relate to the specific impulse of the engines. They range from 'A' to 'O'.  An 'A' motor would have between 1-2 newtons of thrust whilst a larger 'D' motor would have between 10-20 newtons of thrust. You can learn more about the specific numbers here.

Recommendations for getting started

Here's what you'll need.

  • A model rocket kit
  • Engines
  • Fireproof wadding
  • A launchpad and launch controller

Usually, a model rocket starter kit will come with all of the items listed above. The rockets in these starter packs are often easy to assemble too meaning you can get out flying in a short amount of time. This type of model rocket will teach you all about each component and what they do. 

Some packs from Estes come with two rockets. This is a great option for new rocketeers. 

Building Rockets

There are many types of rockets you can build. They come in various styles and can be made from different materials, but, for the most part, there are two main types of rockets. The first is traditional balsa rockets. The second is plastic rockets.

Balsa wood and cardboard tube rockets, like balsa airplanes, can take much longer to build and finish than plastic rockets. The latter are usually snap together kits which don't even require glue. However, balsa rockets don't take as long as you might think. Contrary to balsa airplanes, you can have one built from a kit in a couple of hours. If you've got some experience building foam board airplanes, balsa rockets should feel very familiar. 

Here's where you can find out more and purchase some rocket kits of your own!

If you're into model rockets and have some advice for new recruits, drop a comment down below!

Article by James Whomsley

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Guide to Model Rocketry Part 1 - Introduction