The most exciting part of rocketry is the thrill of launch day! However, this can be the most stressful day for educators on a limited time frame and 30 rockets to launch! Read on to learn how to set-up a smooth launch event along with tips from my over 400 rocket launches with middle school students!
This post is part three of a three part series on model rockets in the classroom. Before you read further, I recommend starting with part one to get some basic background on model rockets and part two for a classroom guide.
Through the years of launching, including rockets getting stuck in trees and electric lines, I have learned some tips and tricks for a smooth launch day. First, I recommend starting with materials from Estes that includes a great launch guide - read more in this shared Google Drive filled with rocketry resources.
Launch Day Procedures
Make sure to first have permission from administration before using any school property for a launch. Our favorite spot is the football field as it provides an open area for recovery. However, on windy days, the rocket can easily land outside the field.
Once a location is selected, the following are general guidelines for setting up a launch.
At least 2 adults are required for a launch. One is the safety officer and the second is the launch commander.
The launch commander helps the student with setting up the rocket following the procedures in the next section. Once ready, they give a thumbs-up to the safety officer.
Safety officer verifies that all spectators are at least 25 feet away, verifies no low flying aircraft overhead, and wind conditions are favorable. Once ready, they initiate countdown from 5 or 10. Bring a megaphone for dramatic effect!
Student launches rocket!
Student (or designated reccovery team) chases after rocket and retrieves.
To set-up the rocket on the launchpad, follow these steps:
Ensure the rocket and recovery system (including recovery wadding) are properly installed. Check that all rocket parts are aligned and secured.
Insert engine, igniters, and igniter plugs following instructions provided. Note: One of the most common reasons a rocket will not launch is because the igniters are not pushed all the way into the engine. When launched, the spark does not reach the engine fuel, and nothing happens. In this case, just replace with new igniters and try again.
Slide the launch rod through the launch lug on the rocket.
Attach alligator clips from launch controller to igniter wires. Make sure they don’t touch each other.
Make sure everyone has moved away from the launchpad.
Insert safety key. Push HARD, and bulb will light. This shows that the allignator clips have been properly connected. Rocket is ready!
At end of countdown, press and hold both safety key and launch button.
Check out some video clips from my previous launches to see everything in action! These rocket launches are part of a showcase of my Space Club students during a STEM Family Night event at each school.
Launch Day Safety
Prior to launching rockets, I take time to carefully review some safety procedures of the launch day with students. Make sure everyone is aware of the process and that no distractions will be tolerated. The most dangerous part of a launch is accidentally igniting a rocket when someone is still within the launch area. Some key safety rules for students:
Be aware of surroundings.
You will be nervous and excited. Stay focused on your task.
Do not catch a falling rocket. It will be HOT. Pick-up from front end.
Stay behind the launch zone unless you are launching. Note: we recommend safety cones to mark the launch zone.
Avoid launch zone when retrieving rocket if multiple rockets are being launched.
Watch all falling rockets.
Launch Day Tips
Hoepfully this gives you a good idea on how to set-up and manage a successful launch with your students. Here are additional tips and tricks I have learned:
On a windy day, point the rocket launch rod into the wind to keep rocket from flying too far.
Make sure students don't try to catch the rocket! The rocket may be hot, and they can get poked in the eye. Allow it to land first, and then carefully pick-up by the nosecone.
Always bring tons of extra ignition wires and engines. Bring more than you think you will need.
If a launch lug falls off, stick on with hot glue as a quick fix. The glue will probably melt during launch, but it keeps the launch lug in place long enough for the launch.
When launching, if the rocket will not launch, try the following in this order:
- Make sure student is pushing the launch controller buttons correctly. Students often get nervous!
- Check that the alligator clips are correctly attached to the wires and are not touching. When pushing the safety key in, there will be a light that signifys a proper connection.
- Replace the ignition wires.
- Replace the engine.