Grade 9-12 – 10 (45 min) classes

Topics Covered

Engineering Design Process | Rocket Stability | Impacts of Rocket Design on Altitude

Essential Question

How is the altitude attained by a model rocket affected by the dimensions of the body tube, its mass distribution, and its fin configuration?


In this unit, students will answer the question, How is the altitude attained by a model rocket affected by the dimensions of the body tube, its mass distribution, and its fin configuration?

Estes recently announced a student competition for the design and build of a model rocket that can reach the highest altitude using parts found in the Designer’s Special kit. As part of the competition, students will make a video commercial introducing their rocket design and launch results to the judges.

This model rocket project will be focused on predicting and designing for stability while trying to reach a maximum altitude. Students will explore different factors that affect stability - geometry, mass distribution, and fin shape and configuration. In their commercial, students will communicate to the judges how they came up with their design and show the results of their launch.


Each Student Needs:

  • Student Portfolio
  • Safety Goggles
  • Clipboard
  • The Class Needs:

  • Slide Presentation
  • Designer's Special Kits
  • B6-4 Engines
  • Estes Altimeter
  • Lifetime Launch System
  • Hobby Knife
  • Scale
  • Camera
  • Access to Google Suite
  • Video editor of students’ choice
  • Tape
  • String
  • Glue
  • Meter Sticks
  • Scrap cardboard/ thick poster board
  • Pens, pencils, colored markers, paint (optional)
  • Scissors
  • 8.5” x 11” Cardstock
  • Clay
  • Standards


    HS-ETS 1-2

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

    HS-PS 2-1

    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.


    • Planning and carrying out investigations
    • Analyzing and interpreting data
    • Using mathematics
    • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information


    • Structure and function
    • Stability and change



    Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation


    Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.


    Reason abstractly and quantitatively.


    Model with mathematics.


    Use units as a way to understand problems and to guide the solution of multi-step problems; choose and interpret units consistently in formulas; choose and interpret the scale and the origin in graphs and data displays.


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    Air Resistance

    The force resulting from air creating friction on an object, magnitude dependent on surface area


    A device that can measure its height from a zero ground position


    The peak altitude of a model rocket


    A set of parts put together in a purposeful way or according to design

    Body Tube

    The portion of a rocket that houses most of the parts

    Center of Gravity

    The point on an object where the weight on either side is balanced with the other

    Center of Pressure

    The point on an object where the air flow from all directions is balanced


    The force that opposes motion due to various factors including air resistance

    Engine (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 maximum altitude.


    Passive 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.


    A push/pull on an object resulting from interaction with another object, either with or without contact.

    Launch Lug

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

    Launch System

    Stable launching rod, remote starter system, and other components needed to launch a model rocket.

    Nose Cone

    The forwardmost part of the rocket.

    Recovery system

    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.

    Recovery Wadding

    Non-flammable paper that protects the recovery system from melting the parachute when the ejection charge occurs.


    An object or system that is in the state of minimal unbalanced forces


    The speed of an object in a specified direction

    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!