PVC Rocket Launcher

Use compressed air and PVC pipes to create an incredible rocket launcher!

Use basic household supplies to create a quick and easy rocket launch pad that can send a rocket up into the air. This rocket is powered by air pressure that you release by jumping onto an empty soda bottle.  Who knew that jumping onto a plastic bottle could create so much fun?

Experiment Materials

  • Construction paper or tagboard
  • 5 x 2 foot sections of 1/2 inch PVC tubes
  • 2 PVC Caps (1/2 inch)
  • PVC 45 degree elbow fitting (1/2 inch)
  • PVC cross fitting (1/2 inch)
  • Modeling Clay
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Empty 1 or 2 liter soda bottle

Experiment

1

Create the rocket by wrapping the construction paper or tagboard around the outside of one section of PVC. Tape it to hold it in place. The paper should be able to easily slide up and down the PVC.

2

Plug one end of the paper roll with modeling clay.

3

Cut a circle from the construction paper or tagboard. Then, cut from one edge of the circle to the center. Roll it into the shape of a nose cone to fit your rocket and tape it to hold it in place.  Use tape to attach the nose cone to the end of the paper rocket with the modeling clay.

4

Test your rocket by blowing into the open end of the PVC. The rocket should shoot off of the other end.

5

Grab a new section of the PVC pipe.  Put one end about 5 inches into the empty 1-liter soda bottle.

6

Tape the soda bottle in place.  Be sure to use enough tape to create an air-tight seal between the bottle and the PVC.

7

Put the other end of the PVC tube with the bottle into the cross fitting.  Use the remaining three pieces of PVC to attach to the cross fitting and create the base of your launch pad.

8

Attach the 45 degree elbow fitting to the PVC section straight across from the bottle.  Attach the open end of your rocket PVC section to the other side of the elbow fitting.

9

Angle the rocket PVC section so that it is pointing up and away from the rest of the base.

10

Cap both open ends of the perpendicular tubes using a PVC cap or modeling clay.  It should be as air-tight as possible.

11

Place your rocket onto the end so that it is pointing upwards.

12

Set up the base in an open area (preferably outside). Jump onto the soda bottle and watch as the rocket launches into the air!

How Does It Work

Although the bottle and PVC tubes appear to be empty, they are actually filled with air. The capped ends on the base, along with the rocket and bottle on each end, keep the air sealed inside of the tubes and bottle.  When you jump onto the bottle, the air is quickly forced out of the bottle and rushes through the tubes.  Air pressure will find the place of least resistance to be released, and in this case that is the end of the contraption with the rocket on it.  The blast of air pressure comes out the end and pushes the rocket into the air sending it for a ride.

Science Fair Connection

Creating an air pressure rocket launch is pretty cool, but it isn’t a science fair project. You can create a science fair project by identifying a variable, or something that changes, in this experiment. Let’s take a look at some of the vari- able options that might work:

  • Try different sizes, shapes, or types of rockets. How does this affect the launch height or distance?
  • Try different types or sizes of plastic bottles on the jumping end.  How does this affect the air pressure traveling through the tubes?

That’s just a couple of ideas, but you aren’t limited to those! Try coming up with different ideas of variables and give them a try. Remember, you can only change one thing at a time. If you are testing different types of rockets, make sure that the other factors are remaining the same!

Special Thanks

Special thank you to Homer Hickman’s Rocket Boys for inspiring Steve to use this incredible teaching tool in 2001 while speaking at the U.S. Space Camp for Educators.

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