Countdown to Rocket Launch in Cordova by Doug Carroll

When our tech director and ASTE board member, Keith Zamudio, sent out a call from Genie for things that we did that are cool projects, I immediately thought of the one that my STEAM class is currently finishing up.

Last year we did a rocket project and the kids really enjoyed it. We built model rockets, painted them, launched them and took pictures and videos along the way. Needless to say our launch day was a bit chaotic. We had the physics class and all of my students, we had a video camera on a tripod to film all of the launches, a Go-Pro below the rocket to give a different perspective, and we also had three students flying the Parrot Bebop 2 drones with sky controllers and filming. We also had students recording the height angles and calculating the height of the rockets. It was a pretty big day and all of the students made a video of the entire process. It was a big project, but very rewarding.

Last summer I thought a lot about how I could make this project even better. It had a lot of elements that I liked, but since we were using model rocket kits, it did not really afford for much design and engineering on the part of the students.

Throughout the school year, we did a number of different great projects. Since we got our first 3D Printer (an Ultimaker II extended plus), 3D design and printing has been a favorite of mine. We started off by using Tinkercad and learned to do some 3D design and printing. Students designed a few elementary items, and learned to use the program by going through the accompanying tutorials. Shortly after that, we engaged in one of our more ambitious projects: two teams of 8th grade students set forth to build two 3D printers from kits ordered off of Amazon. They built a Sainsmart Anet A8 and a Anycubic Kossel. For the record the students had a much easier time with the Sainsmart than the Anycubic, and we still have not gotten the Anycubic printer to print anything successfully, but we are still working on it. After the printer build, we extended our design capabilities by going through a module using a much more sophisticated 3D design software called Fusion 360. The students went through the modules and each ended up with a certificate for it. It took them a couple of weeks and even though they thought it was a little tedious, they realized in the end how they could now produce some really cool objects in a short time.


Fast forward a few months and I was still thinking about how I could make the rocket project a bit better for this year’s students. As I was looking for supplies for the project on the discount rocketry web site, I came across the Boostar C model rocket bases. Since they were only the bases, it looked like something that we could use to allow the students some creativity in building the rockets this year. I thought we might be able to use the bases and have the kids create and design the rockets’ body tube and nosecones through 3D design and printing. I contacted the seller to find out if this was feasible and they reached out to a rocketeer who said he had “never heard of anyone doing that before, but it sounds like a great idea.” so we decided to move forward.

Throughout the course of the project the students learned about measurement, tolerances, engineering and design. They also learned to measure twice and print once, and the value of patience, because inasmuch as it is a cool and useful technology, 3D printing is still a very slow process. They not only created a body tube and a nosecone, but some of them even tried to use TPU (a flexible printing filament) to create a stencil for painting their rockets. The stencil turned out good, but the success in painting was a bit limited. Overall, the students worked really hard to get their rockets done and ready and it has been very rewarding seeing how much time, effort and pride they have put into this project.


We learned a lot from the initial launch. Although it was a success, with our first rocket being launched successfully and achieving a height as high as some of the rocket kits from last years launch, one place we had to change was glueing the body tube to the Boostar C. We thought by making the fit between the body tube and the Boostar C very tight, we would not need to glue on the body tube. However, upon reaching apogee, when the rocket ejected the nose cone, it also blew apart the fit between the body tube and the boostar, separating the rocket into three pieces.



Further, we had also thought the shock cord on the recovery system would be best attached to the inside of the Boostar C portion, making it so if the body tube did separate from the Boostar it would keep all of the parts of the rocket together. In fact, the explosion blew the shock chord apart, and although the rocket still made it safely to the ground, the recovery system did not help.


We made the changes based on our first observations and the other two launches (ten rockets total) were more successful, although we had a number of misfires which may have been influenced by the weather. Overall, the rocket project took about six weeks of work, and was considered a huge success!