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Rocket Lab

By Dylan Hansen B3
Experiments Took Place at Mr. Hendricks’s Honors
Physics Class at the Academy of Math, Engineering, and
Science (AMES)
For this lab, there were four major sections.
First there was the Thrust Analysis, which
involved an experiment testing the thrust of
a rocket engine and some calculations to go
along with it. Then there was the Drag
Force section, which involved another
experiment and set of calculations, but
these ones were for a different reason than
the last. After that there was the Numerical
Analysis section, which involved combining
the results of the first two sections and
some extra calculations to make predictions
of the results of the next section. The final
thing done was the Flight Results section,
where the rockets were launched in the
main experiment this lab is based on.


The reasoning behind doing this experiment was to use it as a way to tie together the previously
taught concepts of physics all into one project. The experiment uses both kinematics, the study
of motion, and dynamics, the study of why properties of motion are true, to predict the maximum
heights the rockets would reach. The rockets used in the experiment either had an A8 engine, a
B6 engine, or a C6 engine. The letter of the engine tells the user what the impulse of the rocket
is. The impulse of an object is defined as the amount of force exerted on an object at a given
time (Force * time). The letter A on an engine means that the engine has an impulse of 2.5 Ns
(Newton-seconds), and each consecutive letter multiplies the previous impulse by two (so a B
engine is 5 Ns, a C is 10 Ns, etc). The number tells the user the average force of the rocket, so
a C6 engine has an average force of 6 N and a C4 engine has an average force of 4 N.

For this experiment lots of numerical iteration was used so that the math could be done in a high
school level physics course. This experiment also used the impulse momentum theorem, which
states that the impulse of an object is equal to the object’s change in momentum. Momentum is
defined as the quantity of the motion of a moving object, which is represented mathematically as
𝑃 = 𝑚𝑣𝑓 − 𝑚𝑣𝑖, where P is the momentum. The impulse momentum theorem can be derived,
and to prove that this theorem is true the derivation goes as follows:

1. Take Newton’s second law (𝐹 = 𝑚𝑎) and replace a with 𝑣/𝑡 using 𝑎 = 𝑣/𝑡
𝐹 = 𝑚𝑣/𝑡
2. Multiply both sides by t
𝐹𝑡 = 𝑚𝑣
3. Impulse is defined as F*t and Momentum is defined as mvf-mvi, which is equivalent to mv, so
therefore Impulse is equal to the change in momentum

Some of the calculations for the lab involved the rocket’s drag force and drag coefficient. The
drag force of an object is how much air resistance that object receives in motion, which is
defined mathematically as 𝐹𝑑 = 𝑘𝑑 𝑣 2. Fd in this equation is the drag force and kd is the drag
coefficient. The drag coefficient is a number that is determined by the size and shape of the
Thrust Analysis

The purpose behind doing this lab before launching the rockets was to do two necessities:
figure out the engine that we would be using and figure out how much thrust the engine puts out
at every tenth of a second interval.

For the experiment a program called

Logger Pro was used to record the
rocket’s thrust. On Logger Pro trigger
mode was used, which makes it so
the data starts recording once the
thrust reached a certain number. This
number was set at -1N, and the
reasoning for it being negative was
because the program had pulling
forces as positive and pushing forces
as negative. The thrust is a pushing
force, so thus it was negative. Before the thrust was tested, the force gauge was zeroed to
avoid recording errors at the beginning. The rocket was then taped down to a slider that was
pressed against a taped down block to avoid the engine moving.

After the data was recorded it was graphed (graph and data shown on next page) using
desmos. To figure out the impulse of the thrust the area under the graph was calculated, which
is the impulse because the graph is a Force over time graph, so the area is Force * time which
is what impulse is defined as. To calculate the area under the oddly-shaped graph, the graph
was divided into rectangular sections that add up to approximately the same area as the graph.
The area of these rectangles were added together to get a final impulse of around 5 Ns, which
is the impulse of a B engine. From this experiment the impulse data for a B engine is now
known and ready to use for later on in the lab.
Drag Force Analysis
Before the height of the rockets can be calculated, the drag coefficient needs to be known. The
drag coefficient is needed to determine the air resistance of the rocket, and the rocket moves so
fast that if air resistance is ignored then the predicted height will be inaccurate. Through
calculations, previous scientists have determined that the equation to figure out the force of the
air resistance on an object is equal to its drag coefficient multiplied by its velocity squared
(𝐹𝑑𝑟𝑎𝑔 = 𝑘𝑑 𝑣 2 ). The drag coefficient is a number that stays constant, as long as the same object
is used and its size and/or shape doesn’t change. Sharp surfaces greatly increase the drag
coefficient while smooth surfaces greatly decrease it (that’s why cars have smooth surfaces, it’s
to decrease the air resistance on the car), and increasing the size of an object also increases its
drag coefficient. Because the rocket’s size and shape stay constant throughout the experiment,
the drag coefficient will also stay constant.

In order to figure out the drag

coefficient the drag force and
velocity need to be known, an
experiment using a wind
tunnel was used to determine
the drag force. The wind
tunnel blows air at the object
through a honeycomb
structure, and the protractor
measures the angle that the
wind moved the object at. The
honeycomb structure makes it
so the air is not turbulent,
because if the air is turbulent
then the object will bounce around so the angle will be very difficult to read accurately.

The equation to figure out the drag coefficient is 𝑘 = 𝑣2
(the derivation of this equation can
be found below), so to solve for k the mass, angle, and velocity of the rocket need to be known.
The rocket used in the wind tunnel had a mass of 61g and a velocity of 32m/s. To figure out the
angle an experiment using the wind tunnel was used. Once the wind tunnel was turned on,
three different people looked at the protractor and tried to determine what the angle of the
rocket was. The average of those three angles were used for the calculations, which was 23°.
Once the calculations were finished, the calculated drag coefficient was 2 ∗ 104 𝑁 ∗ 𝑠 2 /𝑚2 . For
the black and gold rocket, an assumption was made that it had around the same drag coefficient
as a ping pong ball, which is approximately .0005 𝑁𝑠 2 /𝑚2. For the red and silver rocket, the
drag coefficient was estimated based on the assumption that it was halfway between the drag
coefficients of the rocket estimated to be .0002 and the one estimated to be .0005. From this
assumption, the drag coefficient of .00035 was used.


1. Use Newton’s second law 4. Use Newton’s second law

in the vertical direction in the horizontal direction
𝛴𝐹𝑣 = 𝑚𝑎𝑣
𝛴𝐹ℎ = 𝑚𝑎ℎ
2. Replace 𝛴𝐹𝑣 with the vertical 5. Replace 𝛴𝐹ℎ with the
forces, and ma with 0 (because forces, and replace ma with 0
the a is 0 and 0*any number is 0) 𝑇𝑐𝑜𝑠𝜃 − 𝑚𝑔 =
𝑇𝑠𝑖𝑛𝜃 − 𝐹𝑑 = 0 6. Isolate
3. Solve for Fd 𝑇𝑐𝑜𝑠𝜃 = 𝑚𝑔
𝐹𝑑 = 𝑇𝑠𝑖𝑛𝜃 7. Solve
for T
------------------------------------------------ 𝑇 = 𝑐𝑜𝑠𝜃
8. Plug 𝑇 = 𝑐𝑜𝑠𝜃into the T above
𝐹𝑑 =
9. Since sinθ/cosθ=tanθ, replace
sinθ/cosθ with tanθ
𝐹𝑑 = 𝑚𝑔𝑡𝑎𝑛𝜃

10. Solve 𝐹𝑑 = 𝑘𝑑 𝑣 2 for kd

𝑘𝑑 = 2
11. Plug 𝐹𝑑 = 𝑚𝑔𝑡𝑎𝑛𝜃 into Fd
𝑘𝑑 =
Numerical Analysis
For this section of the lab, a spreadsheet was used to predict the heights the rockets will go. On
the spreadsheet of the rocket’s predicted heights, there are columns that are results of certain
calculations that are used to determine the heights. The data in the Thrust column was provided
by the manufacturers of the engines used for the experiment. The data in the Average Thrust
column was calculated by taking the average of the thrust between the .1 second interval before
and after it. The data in the Drag Force column was calculated by multiplying the drag
coefficient by the previous row’s final velocity (which is the initial velocity of the current row)
squared (𝐹𝑑 = 𝑘𝑑 𝑣 2). The data in the Average Net Force was calculated by combining all the
forces, which is Average Thrust + the force of gravity + Drag Force (𝑇ℎ𝑟𝑎𝑣𝑔 + 𝑚𝑔 + 𝐹𝑑 ).
However, mg and Fd are going in the negative direction (downwards), so a more accurate
equation (and the one that was used) would be 𝑇ℎ𝑟𝑎𝑣𝑔 − 𝑚𝑔 − 𝐹𝑑 . The Average Net Impulse
was calculated the same way impulse is calculated (𝐹 ∗ 𝛥𝑡), but the net force calculated from
the previous cell was used for the force in this equation, resulting in the final equation of 𝐹𝑛𝑒𝑡 ∗
𝛥𝑡. The initial velocity is the final velocity of the previous row, and the final velocity is calculated
by using the equation 𝑣𝑓 = 𝑣𝑖 + 𝐹𝑛𝑒𝑡 𝛥𝑡/𝑚. This equation is the result of solving the Impulse
Momentum Theorem (𝐹𝑛𝑒𝑡 𝛥𝑡 = 𝑚𝑣𝑓 − 𝑚𝑣𝑖 ) for the final velocity. The average velocity was
calculated by taking the averages of the initial and final velocities. The final height, the number
that is used for the rocket predictions, was calculated using 𝐷 = 𝑅𝑇, in which the average
velocity is R and the change in time is T. The previous row’s height also has to be added to the
final height, so the final equation used was ℎ𝑓 = 𝑣𝑎𝑣𝑔 ∗ 𝛥𝑡 + ℎ𝑖 .

Because these calculations would take a lot of time to do by hand, they were calculated using
an Excel spreadsheet. On the spreadsheet, the final heights were looked at until the highest
height was concluded upon. After the highest point has been reached the numbers start to
decrease rather than increase, so it was clear which one was the highest point once that point
had been reached. The predicted highest point for the B6 engine on the red/yellow rocket was

For this experiment, taking the air resistance into account was vital to insure accurate results.
When doing calculations on objects moving at small and medium velocities, the air resistance
doesn’t alter the results a significant amount. However, when there are calculations done on an
object with a large velocity, such as a rocket, the air resistance alters the result by a huge
margin. To show how much air resistance affects the rockets’ height predictions, the results of
the C6 engine on a red/yellow rocket is going to serve as an example. The predicted highest
point on that rocket with the drag coefficient taken into account was 349m. However, if you
predict the highest point ignoring air resistance, the predicted highest point is at least 964m. The
highest point occurs sometime after the time included in the spreadsheet, so the highest point if
the air resistance is ignored is a number that’s greater than 964m. This is a difference of at least
615m. This is why it was crucial to include the air resistance into the calculations, because
without it the results would be very inaccurate.
Flight Results
After the heights were predicted, the rockets were
ready to be launched. There were several steps
required to make the rocket launch successfully.
First, the engine needs to be inserted into the bottom
of the base. Then, an igniter needs to be inserted in
the hole on the engine, and a pin needs to be used to
keep the igniter from falling out. The rocket needs to
be placed on a launch plate with a vertical rod in
place to keep the rocket straight for the first few
milliseconds of the launch. After that, connect the 2
rods on the igniter to an engine. Once those steps
have been completed, there was a countdown to
launch the rocket. Once the timer reached 0, the
engine was turned on and off to launch the rocket.

For this experiment, there were 3 angles for each launch because we had 3 observers measure
the angle that the rocket goes up at (shown above). There were 3 observers to make the results
more accurate by measuring the angles from 3 different positions. Because the rocket curved
when it launched, measuring the angle from one position would be inaccurate. Another reason
there were 3 observers was to have the angles on the higher rockets be more accurate. When
the rocket goes really high, it can be hard to see and thus it is hard for the observer to get an
angle measurement as accurate as it would be otherwise. After the angles were measured, the
averages of the 3 observers’ angles were used for the calculations. By taking three angle
measurements and averaging them, the angle for the calculations become more accurate and
thus there are better results to the experiment. The average angle can be used to form a
triangle where the height is the opposite side and the distance is the adjacent side (triangle
shown on next page). To solve this for h, the trigonometric function tangent was used.

ℎ = 50𝑡𝑎𝑛(𝜃) + 1.5 DERIVATION

1. Use trigonometry to connect 𝜃, h, and d

𝑡𝑎𝑛(𝜃) =
2. Multiply Both Sides By d to solve for h
𝑑 ∗ 𝑡𝑎𝑛(𝜃) = ℎ
3. The distance in the experiment was 50m,
so replace d with 50
50𝑡𝑎𝑛(𝜃) = ℎ
4. The observer's eyes were approximately
1.5m above the ground, so add 1.5m for a
more accurate h
50𝑡𝑎𝑛(𝜃) + 1.5 = ℎ
5. Flip the equation
ℎ = 50𝑡𝑎𝑛(𝜃) + 1.5



Red/Yellow A 46 44 70 53 68m

Red/Yellow B 65 65 70 67 120m

Red/Yellow C 70 73 70 71 147m

Black/Gold A 26 28 32 29 30m

Black/Gold B 50 45 52 49 60m

Black/Gold C 70 70 70 70 139m

Red C 80 70 75 75 189m
Rocket and Measured Predicted
Engine Type Heights Heights

Red/Yellow A 68m 65m

Red/Yellow B 120m 135m

Red/Yellow C 147m 282m

Black/Gold A 30m 28.2m

Black/Gold B 60m 71.9m

Black/Gold C 139m 179m

Red C 189m 182m

Some of the measured heights were pretty close to the predicted heights (especially the rockets
that had the shortest max heights), but other measured heights were very far off from the
predicted heights (especially the rockets that had went the highest). The biggest source of error
came from the rocket curving when it launched rather than going in a straight line. This created
error in the predictions because all of the predictions assumed that the rocket was going to
launch in a straight line. This ended up being a very false assumption because the rocket
curved when it was launched. To get better results, the calculations for the predictions should’ve
been for a rocket that curves rather than a rocket that goes straight.

I thought that this was a really cool experiment that gave more insight to what a real scientific
experiment is like. The experiment focused on the experiments and calculations that could be
present when trying to figure out a way to come up with a prediction for the big lab. It also
focused on the process of coming up with an educated prediction, the running of the actual
experiment, and how to compare and contrast the results of each and reflect on it. Another main
part of it was this lab report, which showed us the process of writing and editing a scientific
report based on the experiments you have just done. So overall I thought that this was a very
interesting and insightful lab, even though there was a lot of work involved in the whole process.