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How to Make a 3D Printed

Model Rocket
Background Information
What is computer aided design?
Computer aided design or CAD modeling is a
method of creating detailed designs of 3D or 2D
models using computer software. SolidWorks is one
of the most popular and accessible softwares used
for CAD modeling. SolidWorks is a good software to
start with to learn how to model objects or create
designs. CAD modeling is commonly used in the
automotive, aerospace, and architectural
industries. This method of design helps engineers
create, modify, analyze, and optimize designs.
What is a model rocket?
Model rockets are small rocket designed to fly at
low altitudes and be recovered. They are typically
made of cardboard or lightweight plastic. Model
rockets usually are designed in 3 parts: nose cone,
body tube, and fin base. Rockets normally have 3
or 4 fins, which are used to reduce drag during
flight. These rockets use specialized engines that abide by the National
Association of Rocketry (NAR). WARNING Only use prepackaged engines to
avoid explosion.
Figure 1. Image of completed
What is 3D printing? 3D printed model rocket
3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process made of PLA
used to create a 3D model by a means of adding
material layer by layer in succession. This new,
innovative process can be used to create complex
shapes and geometry as well as rapidly prototype
designs. The increasing accessibility of low cost
3D printers makes it easy for anyone to learn engineering design,
prototyping, or just creating object for fun!
Who is this for?
This instruction set is meant for Penn State students interested in pursuing
engineering or learning more about 3D printing between the ages of 18 - 21.
A moderate to advanced knowledge of SolidWorks is required. Students will
find this instruction set helpful in gaining a basic knowledge of additive
manufacturing and engineering design.

What youll need: WARNING
Be sure to follow
Access to CAD software (SolidWorks)
design and assembly
Access to a 3D printer (PSU Maker
guidelines as stated.
Deviation from the
Access to slicing software (Makerbot
guidelines could
result in injury during
Open Rocket
launch. Model
Motor Mount (optional)
rockets can fly
Motor Lock (optional) anywhere from 0
Super Glue (optional) 1,000 meters high.
Estes D12 Engine (optional)
Parachute (optional)
Launch Pad (optional)

Step 1: Design
Design Constraints:
Wall thickness anywhere should be > 1mm to ensure quality printing
Maximum height for each stage should be < 145mm
Fin base must be designed to accept the motor mount and lock
Make sure all angles are less than 45 degrees to reduce the need for
Be sure to airfoil the fins to increase aerodynamic stability

1. Open SolidWorks and create a new part.

2. Change the units to millimeters (MMGS).
3. Using the Estes Design Catalog, use the designs as an inspiration to
model the 3 components. The example design modeled in this
instruction set uses the 2132 Banshee as inspiration.
4. Using SolidWorks design techniques, created a model rocket design
from detailed drawings below that fits all criteria. (i.e. Include launch
lug, fins, and baffle/wadding and make sure the motor mount interlocks
in the fin base.)
NOTE: Instead of creating a model rocket design from scratch, use the
drawings on page 6 and model them in SolidWorks according to the

Figure 2. Design intent for 3D printed model rockets from

Figure 3. Tolerance for nose cone, body tube, and fin base from

Figure 4. Launch lug dimensions for body tube from

Figure 5. Tolerance between fin base and motor mount from

Figure 6. Example drawings of shock cord mount and ejection baffle/wadding from

Figure 7. Nose cone constraints from

5. After completing the design of the model rocket components, assemble
the pieces and make sure all tolerances and constraints are met.
CAUTION Failure to do so will result in improper printing tolerance.
This means that your components might not actually fit together once
6. Once all tolerances and fits are correct, save each of the SolidWorks
components as STL files to the desktop.

Figure 8. Image of example CAD drawing of a possible nose cone design.

Figure 9. Image of example CAD file of a possible body tube design with fins, wadding,
launch lug, and parachute attachment.

Figure 10. Image of exmaple CAD file of possible fin base design with 4 fins and motor
mount configuration.

Step 2: Rocket Analysis

1. Download Open Rocket here.
2. Download example file of Open Rocket here and save it to the desktop.
3. Open the example file and change the design settings to replicate the
3D model of the rocket. Manually change the weight of the
components. The weight can be found under Tools Mass Properties
Mass in SolidWorks.

Figure 11. Image of how to override the mass in Open Rocket.

4. Change the design features of each component by double clicking on

the component name. (i.e. Nose Cone Edit Dims and Override Mass)

Figure 12. Image of how to change fin design in Open Rocket. Use the same techniques
to change the design of the nose cone and the fin base.

Figure 13. Completed simulation of flight stability and mass analysis for the example
provided in Open Rocket. The higher the stability, the more stable the flight!

NOTE: In order to achieve flight stability, the center of pressure must be

below (closer to the fin base) than the center of mass.

Step 3: 3D Print
1. Download Makerbot Desktop here. Makerbot Desktop is available only
on some campus computers, but if it is not on a computer it can be
easily installed on a personal laptop. Just simply email yourself the STL
files and complete the following steps on a personal laptop.
2. Open the software and upload one of the STL files into the work space.
Click ADD FILE and select the STL file of one of the components.
3. Once the component is inserted, use the left tabs to change the
orientation so that the component is standing straight up. Be sure to
select LAY FLAT so the object is flush with the printing bed.
Figure 14. Image of inserted components into Makerbot Desktop. To the left of the
image are the tabs to change the object orientation.

4. Click on SETTINGS. Make sure the EXTRUDER TYPE is set to Smart
Extruder + and select rafts. Adjust all other settings according to figure

X below.
Figure 15. Image of the PRINT SETTINGS dialog box to change the infill and support

5. Click PREVIEW. This will develop a tool path and estimated printing
time based one the STL data. By using the left scroll bar in the dialog

box, you can change the layers to see how the object will be printed.
Click EXPORT. Save the .makerbot file.

Figure 16. Image of the PRINT PREVIEW dialog box to show the estimated print time
and layers.

6. Repeat steps 2 5 for each component.

7. Once all .makerbot files are completed, they are now ready to be sent
to the Maker Commons here. Simply create and account and upload
your files to be printed! The figures below are completed prints of the
example model rocket printed by Makerbot.

Figure 17. Image of 3D printed nose cone with shock cord attachments.

Figure 18. Image of 3D printed body tube with revovery wadding and launch lug.

Figure 19. Image of fin base with motor interlock and fins.

Rocket assembly (optional):

1. Install the parachute into the nose cone.
2. Super glue the body tube and the fin base together.
3. Place the Estes D12 engine into the motor mount and attach the motor
lock to the bottom.
4. Place the motor mount assembly into the fin base and turn it to lock it
in place.

Helpful links:
(1)Model Rocket Design by NASA:
(2)Design Intent for 3D printed model rockets:
(3)Estes design catalog:
(4)Model rocket designers manual: