March 19, 2017

5 Steps to Make a Paper Rocket Launcher

Rocket Launcher from Jill Merkle on Vimeo.

For a fun makerspace activity, I created a rocket launcher from PVC pipe and a bike pump.  My K-5 elementary students created paper rockets and had fun launching them into the air.  

Here are five steps to create a paper rocket launcher on your own: 

1.  Gather your tools and materials.  For tools, you will need a miter saw, electric drill, drill bits, and sand paper.  For materials, you will need:
- (2) 5’ x 3/4” PVC pipe
- (3) 3/4” 90 degree elbow connectors
- (1) 3/4” shutoff valve
- (1) 3/4” end cap
- (1) tire valve (TR418)
- (1) PVC primer (optional)
- (1) PVC cement
- (1) bicycle pump

2.  Cut the PVC pipes.  Using a miter saw, cut the PVC pipes into the lengths below.  With sand paper, be sure to sand down any rough edges.  
- (2) 30” pipes
- (1) 36” pipe
- (1) 18” pipe
- (1) 6” pipe

3.  Drill the end cap to fit the tire valve.  Using an electric drill with a 5/16” bit, drill a hole in the top of the end cap.  Slip the tire valve into the opening - it should fit snuggly.  

4.  Cement the pieces together.  Ready your materials to assemble the launcher in the picture shown below.  Apply a little PVC primer (optional) and cement to the ends of each piece and glue them together.  The only piece I left unglued was the elbow attaching the launch pipe.  I did this so I can position it to match the makerspace activity.  If we want to see how high the rockets will go, I’ll position the launch pipe straight up.  If we want to see how far the rockets will go, I’ll position the launch pipe at an angle.  

5. Make a paper rocket.  Using tape and construction paper, make a rocket.  I let kids get creative with their rocket design, there's no wrong way to make a rocket.  I recommend using a piece of PVC pipe to wrap paper around to make the body of the rocket.  This will ensure the paper rockets will fit the launcher pipe.  I cut long PVC pipes into about 25 12-inch pipes to help students roll the body of their rocket.  Below are some examples of rockets my students made.

It’s launch time!  Place the paper rocket on the launcher pipe.  Be sure the shutoff valve is closed.  Use the bicycle pump to build up pressure.  Make sure participants have backed away and aren’t in danger of being hit with the rocket.  I even put out hola hoops along the land pad to measure each rocket's distance.  Next release the shutoff valve to send the rocket launching into the air!  Make it a contest and see whose rocket can go the highest or the farthest.  I allow students to launch their rocket, redesign it, and launch it again to try to beat their first attempt's distance.  For an extension, have students calculate their rocket’s altitude or distance traveled.  Sometimes, I even dress up as a mad scientist!

To make the rockets shoot higher, try modifying this design.  Like making the launch pipe closer to the shutoff valve or making it entire launcher straight instead of square (however, a square one stands up on its own).

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