For a fun makerspace activity, I created a rocket launcher from PVC pipe and a bike pump. My K-5 elementary students will create paper rockets and have fun launching their rockets 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 any type of paper (newspaper, copy paper, construction paper) make a rocket. Let kids get creative with their rocket design, there's no wrong way to make a rocket. I recommend using either a piece of PVC pipe or a paper towel roll to wrap paper around to make the body of the rocket. This will ensure the paper rockets will fit the launcher pipe. Below is an example of the rocket I made. It doesn't have fins but it still works!
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. 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. For an extension, have students calculate their rocket’s altitude or distance traveled.
To make the rockets shoot higher, try modifying this design. Like making the launch pipe closer to the shutoff valve or making it straight instead of square (however, a square one stands up on its own).