Five types of rockets you can build at home

These helpful tricks and tips make building a home-made rocket – whether it be matchbox-based or sugar-fuelled – a fun way to spend an afternoon

Father and son building a homemade rocket

A quick rummage around in drawers at home should provide you with the materials needed to build a rocket Photo: Getty

#WhyNot get moving and build a homemade rocket?

The saying “It’s not rocket science” is bandied around all too often – but just how hard is it to build a rocket in the first place?

Not very, is the simple answer.

The best advice is for you to set your sights low, experiment and follow the right scientific steps In fact, crafting a functioning rocket is a great activity to do with your kids – and one that will see them putting their school science lessons into practice in a fun, interactive way.

From paper aeroplanes to drones, our fascination with flying is as timeless as it is varied. While an expertly folded piece of paper is arguably a bit too humble for today’s iPad-armed children, forking out for electronic flying devices of dubious moral provenance and questionable safety is not for every parent, either.

Luckily, building a rocket is a decent compromise. Indeed, a quick rummage around most drawers at home should provide you with the materials needed to reach liftoff – provided you have the skill to put them all together. After that, it’s a question of how far you can make it go.

Whether you’re a Nasa engineer trying to fire a rocket into space or an eager dad vying to launch a water bottle into the orbit of the local park, the principal obstacle remains the same: gravity.

To overpower the gravitational force you need a thrust-providing engine of sorts – and once you’ve mastered this, well, the rocket world is your oyster. Just remember to wear safety glasses and keep little ones away from the blast.

Here are some of our favourite methods…

Matchbox rocket

The humble matchstick rocket – made from a couple of matches, some tin foil, a safety pin and a paperclip – helps demonstrate the scientific principles behind take-off. But tweak this slightly and you’ll be able to make a rocket that shoots for more than 40 gravity-defying feet with speed, power and a satisfying trail of smoke.

Water bottle rocket

A bike pump and an adapted plastic water bottle are the main materials for this take on physical propulsion. Make a few adaptations – like these guys – and you’ll should be able to send your rocket more than 50 feet into the sky.

Baking soda and vinegar rocket

Mimicking the chemical reaction between a fuel and an oxidiser, this method provides the kind of thrust and combustion combo that you usually associate with rockets. And to prove it’s easy – here’s a video of a six-year-old giving it his best shot.

Sugar rockets

Also known as Caramel Candy rockets, these sugar and potassium nitrate-fuelled flyers are also powered by a chemical reaction – and have been known to soar more than 2,000 feet high. For serious rocket enthusiasts only!

Cola and sweets

For a much more unpredictable blast – and one you should absolutely not try with your kids – there’s always the old chewy-sweet-in-a-coke-bottle trick.

There are countless videos online with tips on how – and how not – to make your own rocket. The BBC has a detailed page on how to make most of the above rockets in a safe and responsible way. Those who are really serious about the task should watch this 45-minute documentary about firing a professional-looking home-made rocket into space.

Of course, the best advice is for you to set your sights low, experiment, follow the right scientific steps, take care and have some fun. And if you do succeed in hitting the heights then you’ll actually have the pleasure of being able to say, smugly, “Well, yes, it actually is rocket science”.


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