Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date


Publication Title

ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings



Conference Name

ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington, June 14-17, 2015


Model rocketry has been called miniature astronautics; a technology in miniature, a hobby, a sport, a technological recreation, an educational tool, and it is all of these things. This paper will describe student projects using model rockets and engines to learn engineering principles for launching rockets and determining the apogee. Model rocketry is a powerful tool for instructors who wish to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into a fun, engaging, and challenging activity for first year engineering students. The apogee can be determined using four distinct methods: trigonometry using hand held angle measuring tools, onboard altimeter devices, analytical calculations based on Newton’s second law and careful weight measurements of the models with or without payloads, and rocketry simulation software. Students get a practical introduction to many engineering concepts they will study later on. These concepts include thrust, impulse, drag, payload design and insertion, ascend and descend (with and without a parachute) times, speed, and acceleration. These activities constitute about one credit worth portion of a two-credit course in exploration of engineering and technology which includes laboratory and recitation components. The laboratory component is dedicated to rocketry only for certain sections with mechanical and aerospace areas of emphasis. All freshmen enroll in identical recitation sections. Students learn many skills they need later in their studies and professional practice. Teamwork is a skill that they acquire and they organize into a group with many specialized responsibilities for the purpose of launching their rockets and collecting valuable data to be processed and analyzed in the classroom. Students also learn or improve spreadsheet skills while performing data entry and necessary mathematical calculations. The outcomes include understanding of how each of the four apogee determination methods works, realization that results are often inconsistent, and appreciation for teamwork. Other outcomes include gaining a firm belief that engineering data is precious and it must be carefully recorded and saved for future use. All launch results are entered into a spreadsheet and posted on the blackboard. Documentation of lessons learned is a major outcome also. Just as in the real practice, model rocket launches are subject to many unexpected and surprising problems including loss of a vehicle with expensive altimeter(s) or other sensors onboard after a successful flight. Each team carefully notes and reports the problem encountered and remedy, if any, to the instructor who enters the information to the master flight log spreadsheet. The main assessment is the weekly group progress reports and the final team report on the construction and flight of a rocket. Weekly practice activities use ready to fly larger rockets that use progressively bigger engines with higher average thrust. A majority of students, even those with prior model rocket experience, have found this mathematical and practical rocketry based approach very interesting, worthwhile, and useful. This approach is very likely to increase retention also.


© American Society for Engineering Education, ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings, Seattle, Washington, June 14-17, 2015.

Posted with the permission of the publisher.

Original Publication Citation

Sarper, H., & Vahala, L. (2015, June). Use of single stage model rockets to teach some engineering principles and practices to first year engineering and engineering technology students. Paper presented at the 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington.