Grades 9-12 | 6 (45 min) classes

Topics Covered

Free Body Diagrams | Newton’s Second Law | Aviation vs Rocket Flight

Essential Question

How can free body diagrams show the differences in key forces for aviation and rocket flights?


In this six (45-minute) class period lesson, students investigate key forces in aviation and rocket flight. Through the use of free body diagrams and model rocket construction and launch, students explore motion, force direction, and the impact of differing rocket engines. They'll put Newton's second law into practice, understanding that increased force leads to greater acceleration for a set mass, and conversely, more mass results in less acceleration from a certain force. The lessons merge engineering, physics, teamwork, critical thinking, data analysis, and presentation skills, providing a holistic exploration of flight physics.

Note to Educators: This lesson is specifically designed with the rocketry newcomer in mind, serving as an entry point for teachers venturing into a deeply scientific and engineering-driven activity. To ensure a smooth teaching experience and a deep understanding of each lesson, it is strongly recommended that teachers build a model rocket themselves prior to instructing the class. Having a tangible model in class can greatly assist in demonstrating each step, and experiencing the process firsthand provides valuable insights into potential challenges students may encounter throughout the course. Enjoy your journey into the world of model rocketry!


Each Student Needs:

  • Student Portfolio
  • Safety Goggles

Each Classroom Needs:



HS-PS2-1 Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration.

SEP: Developing and Using Models

CCC: Patterns & Structure and Function



Create equations in two or more variables to represent relationships between quantities; graph equations on coordinate axes with labels and scales.


Represent constraints by equations or inequalities, and by systems of equations and/or inequalities, and interpret solutions as viable or nonviable options in a modeling context.


For a function that models a relationship between two quantities, interpret key features of graphs and tables in terms of the quantities, and sketch graphs showing key features given a verbal description of the relationship.


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Should you have need, you can meet with a member of Education team for FREE, 1:1 online support to learn rocketry basics, how to apply our curriculum, and discover unique teaching strategies. Our team is eager to answer your questions!



Graphical illustrations used to visualize the forces acting on an object. In a free body diagram, the object is typically represented by a dot, and the forces are represented by arrows pointing in the direction of the force. The length of the arrow can be used to represent the magnitude of the force.


A force that moves an object forward. In physics, it's usually talked about in the context of propulsion systems, like a jet engine or a rocket, which use thrust to move an object through a fluid (like air or water).


The force that directly opposes the weight of an airplane and holds the airplane in the air. It's created by differences in air pressure - an aircraft wing is designed so the air moving over the top surface has to travel a longer distance than the air moving under the surface, which creates a lower pressure area above the wing and higher pressure below, generating lift. For an airplane, lift is crucial.


A force of attraction that exists between any two masses, any two bodies, and any two particles. In the context of Earth, it's the force that pulls objects downwards towards the center of Earth. The Earth exerts a gravitational force on objects, pulling them towards it, and this is what gives objects weight.


A force that opposes an object's motion through a fluid (like air or water). It's caused by friction and differences in air pressure. Drag is the air resistance that an airplane or a rocket encounters as it moves through the air.


The support force exerted upon an object that is in contact with another stable object. For example, if a book is resting on a surface, then the surface is exerting an upward force to support the weight of the book. This is the normal force.

Learn About Model Rocket Safety!

Not sure how to safely launch a rocket with your group? Head over to our dedicated Safety instructions page for videos, support, and more!