Teacher Background

Unit Plan

Student Journal

Not Just Rocket Science Banner

Grade 4-7 | 3-4 (45 min) Classes

In this lesson, students will learn about careers available in the aerospace industry and create posters about those careers to present to the class. They will also build and launch the Star Hopper rocket.


Targeted Performance Expectation(s):

Common Core Standards - English


Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.


Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.


Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening



The Field of study involving the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space


A person who uses math and science to invent, design, and build items that solve problems

Teacher Background

How does a Rocket Fly?

Students should be familiar with how a model rocket launches and all safety procedures that should be followed. The safety requirements can be found in the Model Rocket Safety Code of the National Association of Rocketry (NAR).

A Typical Model Rocket Flight

Thrust is the upward force that makes a rocket move off the launch pad. This is a demonstration of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The action of the gas escaping through the engine nozzle leads to the reaction of the rocket moving in the opposite direction. The casing of a model rocket engine contains the propellant. At the base of the engine is the nozzle which is made of a heat-resistant, rigid material. The igniter in the rocket engine nozzle is heated by an electric current supplied by a battery-powered launch controller. 

The hot igniter ignites the solid rocket propellant inside the engine which produces gas while it is being consumed. This gas causes pressure inside the rocket engine, which must escape through the nozzle. The gas escapes at a high speed and produces thrust. Located above the propellant is the smoke-tracking and delay element. Once the propellant is used up, the engine’s time delay is activated.


The engine’s time delay produces a visible smoke trail used in tracking, but no thrust. The fast-moving rocket now begins to decelerate (slow down) as it coasts upward toward peak altitude (apogee). The rocket slows down due to the pull of gravity and the friction created as it moves through the atmosphere. The effect of this atmospheric friction is called drag. When the rocket has slowed enough, it will stop going up and begin to arc over and head downward. This high point or peak altitude is the apogee. At this point the engine’s time delay is used up and the ejection charge is activated. The ejection charge is above the delay element. It produces hot gases that expand and blow away the cap at the top of the engine. The ejection charge generates a large volume of gas that expands forward and pushes the recovery system (parachute, streamer, helicopter blades) out of the top of the rocket. The recovery system is activated and provides a slow, gentle and soft landing. The rocket can now be prepared for another launch.


To summarize, the steps of the Flight Sequence of a Model Rocket are:

  1. Electrically ignited model rocket engines provide rocket liftoff.
  2. Model rocket accelerates and gains altitude.
  3. Engine burns out and the rocket continues to climb during the coast phase.
  4. Engine generates tracking smoke during the delay/coast phase.
  5. Rocket reaches peak altitude (apogee). Model rocket ejection charge activates the recovery system.
  6. Recovery systems are deployed. Parachutes and streamers are the most popular recovery systems used.
  7. Rocket returns to Earth.
  8. Rocket touchdown! Replace the engine, igniter, igniter plug and recovery wadding. Rocket is ready to launch again!


Star Hopper (one per student)

Engines (one per rocket)

Launch System (one per 10 students)

Poster paper, markers, pencils, etc.

Star Hopper Model Rocket Build Video (optional)

Unit Plan

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Student Journal

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