Water Rocket Launch

This lesson focuses on aerospace engineering and how space flight has been achieved from an engineering vantage point. Student teams build and launch a rocket made out of a soda bottle, powered with an air pump, and consider the forces on a rocket, Newton’s Laws, and other principles and challenges of actual space vehicle launch. 

  • Learn about aerospace engineering.
  • Learn about engineering design and redesign.
  • Learn about space flight.
  • Learn how engineering can help solve society’s challenges.
  • Learn about teamwork and problem solving. 

Age Levels: 8-18

Safety Note: This is an outdoor activity.  This activity should only be done under the supervision of a qualified teacher.  Safety glasses should be worn at all times during launch testing.  Since a quantity of water will be sprayed, it is suggested that old clothes or rain coats be worn by the test crew. Observing students should stand safely away from the launch site. 

Build Materials (For each team)

Required Materials – (1 for each team)

  • Empty 2-liter plastic soda bottle

Required Materials – (Trading/Table of Possibilities)

  • Cork with a hole drilled in the middle (these may be plastic)
    • The hole should be slightly smaller than the air valve to ensure a tight fit
    • An alternative would be a soft rubber plug used as temporary stoppers in partially emptied wine bottles. 
    • The objective here is to use a plug which can be tightly squeezed into the neck of the plastic bottle so that it is air-tight. 
  • Cardboard
  • Rubber bands
  • Aluminum foil
  • Optional Payload Items – i.e., hard boiled egg, tennis ball, rubber ball

Alternative Kit

  • A water bottle rocket kit may be purchased via: 

Testing Materials

  • Water source
  • Drill for corks – hole should be slightly smaller than an air valve (if not using a kit)
  • Small plastic tubing (3 meters or more) and 1 air valve to be used for all rocket launches
  • Air valves – 1 for each rocket (used for inflating bicycle tires, footballs or basketballs)
  • Bicycle tire pump
  • Altimeter or altitude finder (optional)

Safety Note: This is an outdoor activity.  This activity should only be done under the supervision of a qualified teacher.  Safety glasses should be worn at all times during launch testing.  Since a quantity of water will be sprayed, it is suggested that old clothes or rain coats be worn by the test crew. Observing students should stand safely away from the launch site. 

Materials

  • Water source
  • Drill and bit for corks – hole should be slightly smaller than an air valve (if not using a kit)
  • Small plastic tubing (3 meters or more) and 1 air valve to be used for all rocket launches
  • Air valves – 1 for each rocket (used for inflating bicycle tires, footballs or basketballs)
  • Bicycle tire pump
  • Altimeter or altitude finder (optional)

Detailed Assembly and Launch Instructions (if not using a kit)

The launch procedure is as follows and can be reviewed at www.grc.nasa.gov/www/K-12/rocket/rktbot.html

  1. Drill holes in the middle of several corks in a size that allows for an air valve to be inserted. Hole should be slightly smaller than the size of the valve to ensure a tight fit. 
  2. Make the rocket stand up on its own upside down (cap down)
  • Either guide students to make “tail fins” out of cardboard that can support the weight of a bottle that is 1/4 filled with tap/still water, or make a stand for the class out of wood that will keep the rocket upright during launch. Lengths of wooden dowel held together with duct tape would suffice. 
  • For younger students, it is best to have a “launch pad” prepared. This will help ensure that rockets go up and not sideways.  If you intend to do this lesson multiple times, or want to add another layer of consistency in results, consider building a launching stand for your school. You can find a good plan at www.nasa.gov/pdf/153405main_Rockets_Water_Rocket_Launcher.pdf. 
  • There are many options for building a launcher. Another idea is to set up a joint project with a high school class. The high school students can design and build the launcher, and the younger students can build the rockets.  
  1. Set up a connection from the rocket to a bicycle air pump. Insert an air valve into the hole in the middle of the cork. 
  2. Attach the plastic tubing to the valve in the cork and attach another air valve to the opposite end. This end will attach to the bicycle pump. 
  3. Fill the rocket ¼ full with tap/still water and place it in a vertical position in its launchpad. 
  4. Attach the plastic tubing air valve to the bicycle pump. Extend the tube as far as possible from the bicycle pump. 
  5. Be sure to set up the launch pad area in an open space and keep students at a distance from the launch area. Be sure to follow your school’s safety guidelines. Observing students should stay back from the launch pad. 
  6. Start pumping GENTLY. Eventually, the pressure of the air in the rocket will push the cork out of the bottle. The water in the rocket will then slow down the outgoing flow of air giving time for the rocket to launch.
    • The height of the launch will depend on the weight of water in the rocket and the tightness of the fit of the cork. 
    • If needed, you can try using more or less water to adjust the height of the rocket. 
  7. For a more exact measurement of the launch height, you may use an altimeter or other type of altitude finder. 

 

  • After the initial launch, you may choose to have students add a payload (hard boiled egg, tennis ball, rubber ball) and launch their rocket again with the payload attached.

Design Challenge

You are part of a team of engineers given the challenge of building a model rocket using a soda or water bottle that will be launched using a bicycle air pump. Your goal is to have your rocket shoot up the highest and the straightest. 

Criteria 

  • Must design a base to hold the rocket

Constraints

  • If you’ve been given a payload challenge, the payload must not be placed inside the bottle
  • Use only the materials provided
  • Teams may trade unlimited materials
  1. Break class into teams of 3-4.
  2. Hand out the Water Rocket Challenge worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs. 
  3. Consider asking the students how they think a rocket can fly and how engineers have to consider payload, weather, and the shape and weight of a rocket when developing a new or re-engineered rocket design. If time allows, have students explore www.grc.nasa.gov/www/K-12/rocket for research and use online rocket simulator.

    Decide if you want to give students the challenge of adding a payload to their rocket – after the initial launch testing. If so, explain that students must design a way to have the rocket hold the item(s) during launching. Payloads cannot be held inside the rocket.
  4. Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials.
  5. Instruct students to start brainstorming and sketching their designs.
  6. Provide each team with their materials. To add some fun, tell students they can get creative and decorate their rockets any way they choose.
  7. Explain that students must design and build a water rocket using everyday materials. If you haven’t built a stand for the rocket launch, instruct students to make “tail fins” out of cardboard that can support the weight of their rocket when it is 1/4 filled with water. Also, if you’ve decided to add a payload challenge, instruct students to design a way to have their rocket hold the item(s) during launching. Payloads can’t be held inside the rocket.
  8. Each team should document an estimate of how high they believe their rocket will travel. They should also observe the height and launch patterns of other team’s launches.
  9. Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
  10. Use a timer or an on-line stopwatch (count down feature) to ensure you keep on time. (www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch). Give students regular “time checks” so they stay on task. If they are struggling, ask questions that will lead them to a solution quicker.
  11. Students meet and develop a plan for their water rocket. They agree on materials they will need, write/draw their plan, and present their plan to the class. Teams may trade unlimited materials with other teams to develop their ideal parts list.
  12. Teams build their designs.
  13. Test the rocket designs using the detailed instructions in the “Testing Materials and Process” section.
  14. Teams should document the height their rocket reached (if using an altimeter or altitude finder) and the flight pattern.
  15. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  16. For more content on the topic, see the “Digging Deeper” section.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. How did your height estimate compare with the actual height your rocket reached?
  2. What do you think might have caused any differences in the height you achieved?
  3. Did your rocket launch straight up?  If not, why do you think it veered off course?
  4. Do you think that this activity was more rewarding to do as a team, or would you have preferred to work alone on it? Why?
  5. Did you adjust your model rocket at all?  How?  Do you think this helped or hindered your results?
  6. How do you think the rocket would have behaved differently if it were launched in a weightless atmosphere?
  7. What safety measures do you think engineers consider when launching a real rocket?  Consider the location of most launch sites as part of your answer.
  8. When engineers are designing a rocket which will carry people in addition to cargo, how do you think the rocket will change in terms of structural design, functionality, and features?
  9. Do you think rocket designs will change a great deal over the next ten years?  How?
  10. What tradeoffs do engineers have to make when considering the space/weight of fuel vs. the weight of cargo?

Time Modification

The lesson can be done in as little as 1 class period for older students. However, to help students from feeling rushed and to ensure student success (especially for younger students), split the lesson into two periods giving students more time to brainstorm, test ideas and finalize their design. Conduct the testing and debrief in the next class period.

Divide into teams
Review the challenge and criteria constraints
Brainstorm possible solutions (sketch while you brainstorm!)
Choose best solution and build a prototype
Test then redesign until solution is optimized
Reflect as a team and debrief as a class

Internet Connections

  • Timeline of Rocket History
  •  NASA Beginners Guide to Rockets (www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K12/rocket/bgmr.html)
  •  Water Rocket Launcher (www.nasa.gov/pdf/153405main_Rockets_Water_Rocket_Launcher.pdf)

Recommended Reading

  • Rockets and Missiles: The Life Story of a Technology (ISBN: 978-0801887925)  
  • Rocket Propulsion Elements (ISBN: 978-1118753651)  
  • Firing a Rocket (ISBN: 978-1549688683)  “A Pictorial History of Rockets” (www.nasa.gov/pdf/153410main_Rockets_History.pdf)  
  • Soda-Pop Rockets: 20 Sensational Rockets to Make from Plastic Bottles (ISBN: 978- 1556529603) 

Writing Activity 

Write an essay or a paragraph describing an example of rockets might be used to help society in peaceful times. 

Related Lesson

TryEngineering.org offers a lesson incorporating traditional rockets called “Blast Off”

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks

Note: Lesson plans in this series are aligned to one or more of the following sets of standards:  

National Science Education Standards Grades K-4 (ages 4-9)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science

As a result of the activities, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Properties of objects and materials 
  • Position and motion of objects 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology 

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understanding about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science and technology in local challenges 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science as a human endeavor 

National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (ages 10-14)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science

As a result of their activities, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Properties and changes of properties in matter 
  • Motions and forces 
  • Transfer of energy

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Risks and benefits 
  • Science and technology in society 

National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (ages 10-14)

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science as a human endeavor 
  • History of science 

National Science Education Standards Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science 

As a result of their activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Chemical reactions 
  • Motions and forces 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understandings about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science as a human endeavor 
  • Nature of scientific knowledge 
  • Historical perspectives 

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 3-5 (Ages 8-11)

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 3-PS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object. 

Energy

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 4-PS3-1. Use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object.

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 3-5 (Ages 8-11)

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 3-5-ETS1-1.Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2.Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 3-5 (Ages 8-11)

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 3-5-ETS1-3.Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Next Generation Science Standards – Grades 6-8 (Ages 11-14)

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

  • MS-PS2-2. Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object.

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Standards for Technological Literacy – All Ages

The Nature of Technology

  • Standard 1: Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology.

Technology and Society

  • Standard 6: Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.
  • Standard 7: Students will develop an understanding of the influence of technology on history.

Design

  • Standard 8: Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.
  • Standard 9: Students will develop an understanding of engineering design.
  • Standard 10: Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.

Abilities for a Technological World

  • Standard 11: Students will develop abilities to apply the design process.

Engineering Teamwork and Planning

You are part of a team of engineers given the challenge of building a model rocket using a soda or water bottle that will be attached to a bicycle air pump which will be the source of propulsion or energy.  You can either make your rocket from everyday materials or use a kit that is provided to you.  Either way, your goal is to have your rocket shoot up the highest and the straightest within your class. You’ll research ideas online (if you have internet access), learn about rocket design and flight, and work as a team to construct and test your rocket.  You’ll consider the results of other teams, complete a reflection sheet, and share your experiences with the class.

Research Phase

Read the materials provided to you by your teacher. If you have access to the internet, also visit www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/rocket/ for additional research and to use the online rocket simulator, RocketModeler III.

Planning and Design Phase

On a separate piece of paper draw a detailed diagram of how your rocket will look when completed and estimate how high you believe your rocket with travel.  You’ll need to design a base to hold your rocket before launch.  Include a list of materials you will need and consider the weight you are adding to your base bottle.

If you have been given the challenge of adding a payload to your rocket, you’ll need to design a way to have the bottle hold the item(s) you are launching into space.  Payloads cannot be held inside the bottle.

Build and Launch

As a team, build your rocket — but always under the supervision of your teacher!  You’ll then test the rocket.  Be sure to observe how high and how straight the rockets built by other teams go.

Estimate Results

As a team, estimate how high your rocket will fly in the box below:

 

 

 

 

Reflection/Presentation Phase
Complete the attached student reflection sheet and present your experiences with this activity to the class.

  1. How did the height you estimated your rocket would reach compare with the actual estimated height?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. What do you think might have caused any differences in the height you achieved?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Did your rocket launch straight up? If not, why do you think it veered off course?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Do you think that this activity was more rewarding to do as a team, or would you have preferred to work alone on it? Why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Did you adjust your model rocket at all? How? Do you think this helped or hindered your results?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. How do you think the rocket would have behaved differently if it were launched in a weightless atmosphere?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. What safety measures do you think engineers consider when launching a real rocket? Consider the location of most launch sites as part of your answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. When engineers are designing a rocket which will carry people in addition to cargo, how do you think the rocket will change in terms of structural design, functionality, and features?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Do you think rocket designs will change a great deal over the next ten years? How?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. What tradeoffs do engineers have to make when considering the space/weight of fuel vs. the weight of cargo?

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Plan Translation