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How to Make a Paper Rocket Ship

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

In this engineering project, we will be looking at some important structural features in a rocket ship. The purpose of this project is to build a rocket ship out of paper that travels as far as possible.

Introduction

Goal: To test various designs for a paper rocket ship to see which travels the farthest
Age: Upper Elementary
Time to complete: 1-2 hours
Safety concerns: Be sure not to hit anyone when you launch your rocket

Have you ever seen footage of a rocket being launched into outer space? It is truly an amazing sight - a sleek spacecraft speeding powerfully through the atmosphere.

How do scientists design and build rockets used today? In this engineering project, you will have the chance to design and build your own rocket, but on a much smaller scale. In fact, you will be building your rocket from a simple sheet of paper!

A rocket about to be launched into outer space
Rocket launch

You can test different designs to see which rocket travels the farthest. In pictures of actual rockets, you will see a bullet shape with a rounded tip. You may also notice triangular fins at the base of the rocket. These features help with aerodynamics and stability.

Aerodynamics deals with how efficiently something moves through the air. Stability has to do with the rocket moving in a straight line. Learn more with the lesson Aerodynamics Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts. Consider these concepts as you design your rockets.

Materials

  • Paper (smaller pieces of paper tend to work better, so cut an 8.5x11 sheet of paper in half)
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Drinking straw

Steps

1. Roll your piece of paper around the straw to make a tight cylinder.

2. Tape the edge of the paper in several places so that the cylinder stays together.

3. Fold one end of the cylinder and tape it shut so that it closes over one end of the straw.

4. Cut four identical small right triangles out of another sheet of paper to act as fins.

5. Tape these triangles at even intervals at the base of your rocket.

7. Blow through the straw to launch.

8. Measure the distance your rocket traveled and record the results.

9. Launch this rocket two more times and record the results to get a consistent reading.

10. Build another rocket, but this time choose a variable to change. For example, vary the length of the cylinder itself or the size of the fins.

11. Launch this rocket design three times and record the results.

12. Build one more rocket design and launch three times, recording the results.

Your paper rocket ship should look something like this
Paper rocket ship

Troubleshooting

If your rocket isn't traveling very well, be sure that the front tip is securely taped together so that air is not escaping. Also, be sure you have a large space in which to launch so that your rocket doesn't run into anything.

Discussion Questions

1. Which rocket design traveled the farthest?

2. Which variable seemed to be most important in the rocket that traveled the farthest?

3. How do the fins affect the movement of your rocket?

How it Works

In this engineering project, you built and tested several paper rocket ship designs. You made a cylinder shape for the body of your rocket with a narrow tip. Why is it important for the rocket to be shaped this way? The answer lies in the concept of aerodynamics.

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