Engineering Estes Rockets Level 1 - Unit Plan

Grades 9-12 | 10 (45 min) Classes

Topics Covered

Engineering Design Process | Center of Gravity and Pressure | Rocket Design

Essential Question

How can we use the engineering design process to design, build, and launch a safe and stable model rocket by repurposing parts from the Estes warehouse?


In this unit, students will answer the question, How can we use the Engineering Design Process to design, build, and launch a safe and stable model rocket by repurposing parts from the Estes warehouse?

Students will act as engineers working for Estes Industries, the world leader in model rocket manufacturing. Estes has a warehouse full of parts that need to be either thrown away or repurposed. Estes would rather not throw them away since these parts are expensive and they do not wish to contribute excess trash in landfills. They know that solid waste can contribute to greenhouse gasses when methane is created from wastes decaying in landfills. In turn, those greenhouse gasses trap warmth in Earth’s atmosphere and cause a rise of Earth’s temperatures. Thus, reusing these parts is important to them.

Estes has challenged a group of engineers to design a new model rocket that uses only these parts. The rockets must be stable, include a recovery system, be aesthetically pleasing, and have a name. The rocket must meet the needs of the identified end user.

For each of the Designer’s Special kits purchased, students will work collaboratively to create 5 safe and stable rockets. They will need to coordinate their designs to ensure each group has the parts they need. Students will test the stability of their rockets using the Swing Test and redesign as necessary. They will decide what types of qualitative and quantitative data to collect during the launch to prove to the Estes Product Development team that their rocket had a stable and successful flight.

For their final assessment, students will create an infographic that describes the characteristics of a stable rocket and successful launch and highlights their rocket’s success.

Note: This Level 1 lesson is an introduction to the process of designing, building, and testing rockets. It does not include use of calculations to determine center of gravity or pressure, or simulations to test rocket stability. Any of those can be added as extensions if your students are more advanced.


Each Student Needs:

  • Student Design Portfolio
  • Safety Goggles
  • Clipboard

Each Classroom Needs:




Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.


Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.


Developing and using models
Using mathematics
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information


Systems and system models
Structure and functions



Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


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The peak altitude or highest point of a rocket’s flight.


A specially wound and treated cardboard or lightweight plastic cylinder used to make the fuselage or airframe of a model rocket.


The period of time immediately following propellant burnout and preceding the ignition of the ejection charge of the engine during which the rocket coasts upward on its momentum.


The items needed for the design to be successful.


The limitations or boundaries of the design.


(model rocket) A miniature non-metallic solid fuel rocket motor that contains propellant and may contain a delay element and an ejection charge. Designed to impart force to accelerate the rocket during flight and to activate the recovery system at or near apogee.


The stabilizing and guiding unit of a model rocket; an aerodynamic surface projecting from the rocket body for the purpose of giving the rocket direction and stability.


An electrical device which initiates the combustion process in a rocket engine.


In the engineering design process, steps are repeated as needed with improvements made each time.


A round, hollow tube which slips over the launch rod to guide the model during the first few feet of flight until sufficient airspeed is reached allowing the fins to operate.


The foremost surface of a model rocket, generally tapered in shape for streamlining, it is usually made of balsa or lightweight plastic.


The period of time following the deployment of the recovery system which allows the rocket to drift easily back to earth.


A device incorporated into a model rocket for the purpose of returning it to the ground in a safe manner. Usually achieved by creating drag or lift to oppose the acceleration of gravity. All model rockets must employ a recovery system, such as a parachute.


The period of time during which the propellant is burning, and the rocket motor is producing thrust.

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