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Rocket Lab

By Rachel Rosenberg

For Mr Hendrick’s Honors Physics Class

At the Academy for Math, Engineering, and Science


During the rocket lab, the physics honors class was launching rockets and predicting heights of
different types of rockets to see how high the rockets would shoot up. Many steps were involved
in this process such as measuring thrust of a rocket, measuring drag force of a rocket, using a
numerical model to predict the height of the rocket, and finally launching the rocket. At the end
of the lab, the results of the height of the rocket and the predicted height of the rocket were
Measured in M A B C

Predicted 83 153 295

Actual 44 59 103


The rocket lab was a way to summarize everything that has been learned all the way since the
beginning of the school year up until this point. The rocket lab gave a real life experience that
ties together all of the concepts that have been learned so far this year. This project explored all
the topics of ​kinematics, ​which is the study of motion and acceleration, and ​dynamics, ​which is
the study​ ​of how forces affect kinematics such as Newton’s laws, Kepler’s Law, and the law of
conservation of momentum. ​Impulse ​is the product of the average force on an object and the
time interval over which it acts, or ​FΔT. Momentum ​is the product of the object's mass, m, and
the object’s velocity, v. Momentum is abbreviated as P. ​Drag Force ​is the resistance force
caused by the motion of a body through a fluid, such as water or air. The ​drag coefficient ​is used
to quantify the drag or resistance of an object in the equation F​drag ​= KV​2 ​.​ ​During this lab, the
drag coefficient is represented by k​d​. All of these terms that were just defined will play a key role
in this lab.
The impulse momentum theorem was one of the tools used to predict how high the
rockets would go when they were launched. Since impulse is defined as the force acting on an
object multiplied by the time that force acts on an object, that turns out impulse is also equal to
the change in momentum that the object is experience. One can combine impulse and momentum
and derive and equation which leads to the impulse momentum theorem. That derivation is listed
During this lab, numerical iteration was also used in order to predict the height of the
rockets when launched off. This was needed because the force from the engine changes in a
complicated way as a function of time. Also, air resistance changes as the rocket’s speed
changes. Therefore it’s not possible to create an equation that can be solved algebraically in
order to find the maximum height of a rocket. It must be done using numerical iteration. During
the entire beginning of the lab, air resistance is ignored because the math was very problems. But
since the rocket is moving at such high speeds, air resistance couldn't be ignored.To solve, the
flight was broken up into lots of very short time intervals. During this section, the assumption
was made that the rocket’s velocity is constant. Since the time intervals were very short, this
wouldn’t of been an issue

Thrust Analysis

During the thrust analysis section, a rocket engine was secured into a carton container
that was set on top cart that was placed on a track. Then the engine was connected to a bunch of
wires to set off the engine in order to calculate the thrust. Finally, with the thrust the type of
engine that was used in the cart was able to be calculated. The purpose of section of the rocket
lab was to find out how much thrust the engine puts out at each tenth of a second interval. The
thrust was going to be needed to predict how high the rocket would fly when set off. The
materials that was used for this lab was a container box that was used to hold the engine, a
specific type of engine that the type was unknown, a cart, a track, and a force sensor to measure
the amount of force the rocket engine set off.

The rocket engine was placed and taped inside the box which was placed onto the cart on the
track. The cart and box had to be held
down with straps because of how
powerful the engine blast was. The
force sensor was connected to the
computer which collected all of the
data. The computer recorded data every tenth of a second for seven seconds. The sensor used a
process called triggering to collect the data because the whole event happened too quickly for the
human eye to capture. Triggering was making the sensor start it self whenever it noticed a
change in force. When the force went below -.1N, the trigger would happen and the sensor
would start. Before the engine was set off, the force gauge had to be set to zero before recording
data. This means the number of force was set to zero so we could get the most accurate data. The
force gauge was set to zero because the track was on a slight tilt. The force data was recorded
with negative numbers instead of positive numbers. This was because the equipment that was
used (the digital force gauge) sees pulling forces as positive an pushing forces as negative. This
was a pushing force because the rocket engine was pushing on the box on top of the car.
To set off the engine, one couldn’t just use a lit match and hold it up to the end of the
battery. If this happened, a hand could of been burned because of how fast the sparks would
shoot out of the rocket engine. To start the engine, a battery was connected to an igniter wire
coated in phosphorus. This wire would flame up when an electrical current went through it. A
student would connect the end of the wire to the battery, and another student would connect the
opposite end of the wire to the batter.

Impulse is found by ​F x ΔT. ​Since the x axis was time the y axis was force, the impulse was
able to be calculated by finding and calculating the area underneath the thrust (force) vs time
graph. Since the graph had a very odd shape, to find the area one would place rectangles
under the graph at each data point. Then, one would find the area of each rectangle by
multiplying the height (force) by the width (time). After finding the area of each rectangle,
the areas were added to find the area under the graph, the impulse. The impulse that was
calculated was ​3.89NS.
`In order to calculate what type of rocket that was used, we had to learn about the different types
of engines. Each type has a different each impulse. A type A engine has an impulse of ​2.5NS, ​a
type Bhas ​5.0NS, ​a type C has an impulse of ​10 NS, ​a type D has an impulse of ​20NS, ​and they
keep going down the alphabet with the impulse keeps doubling. For our purposes, we used an A,
B, or C engine. Because the impulse was 3.89NS, that was closest 5.0NS, a B rocket. Below is
the graph for the thrust of each different type of rocket engine.

Drag Force Analysis

During the Drag Force analysis, a rocket was placed in a wind tunnel which was used to
calculate the drag force of the rocket. The purpose of this section of the rocket lab was to
determine the drag coefficient of the rockets we would be launching off would be. A drag force
is a way to determine air resistance, which is why it’s an important thing to calculate since while
launching rockets air resistance would be used. The equation for drag force is ​F​Drag = kv². ​This
means the force of air resistance on an object is proportional to the square of the velocity. The
drag force needs to be calculated because if we ignore air resistance and how fast the rocket
moves there won’t accurately predict how high it will go. Drag coefficient depends on the size
and shape of an object. An object with sharp corners have larger drag coefficients than the same
size object with smoother corners. Many modern cars are designed with smooth lines and
rounded corners in order to reduce air resistance by reducing the drag force. By reducing the
drag force on cars saves gas.
The materials that were used for this section of the lab was a wind tunnel that contained a
honeycomb structure and fan, a protractor to measure the angel the rocket flew to, a rocket, and a
string to hold the rocket. The honeycomb structure was needed because the air would be very
turbulent without it. If the rocket was too turbulent, it would be almost impossible to to get a
accurate view of the angel the rocket flies to.
To solve for the drag force, it is necessary to derive an equation to solve. That derivation is listed

The mass of the rocket that was being used wad 43g, or ​0.043kg. ​The angel of that was observed
when the wind was turned on was measured three times, then found the average to get the most
accurate results. The first angle was ​38°, ​the second angle was ​34°, ​and the third angle was ​36°.
The average of all of the three trials was ​36°, ​which was used in the equation for drag force. The
next step was to put in 36° in the equation ​F​d​=mgtan𝚹 ​to solve for the drag force. One would
put in F​d​= (0.0043)(9.8)tan(36) and got a drag force .306N. The next step was to take the drag
force and put it in the equation ​F​d​= K​d​v² ​to solve for the drag coefficient. The velocity of the
rocket was​ 32m/s. ​After putting everything into the equation, there was a drag coefficient
of ​2.99 x 10⁻⁴NxS²/m².
The other degree measured that was collected were then put into the equation for
drag coefficient to see how it compared to the average one. When ​38° ​was placed into the
for F​d and
​ eventually k ​d​, a k​d​ of ​3.2x10⁻⁴NxS²/m² ​came out. When ​34° ​was placed into the
two equations, a k​d​ of ​2.8x10⁻⁴NxS²/m² appeared. ​The average wasn’t going to be good
enough to report for accuracy, so one listed the final k​d​ as ​2.8x10⁻⁴<​k​d​<​3.2x10⁻⁴. ​One
significant figure wouldn’t of been valued because the results wouldn't be precise or

Numerical Flight Model and Height Prediction

The importance of the of the numerical flight model section was to be able to use
physics principles and equation to be able to solve, calculate, and predict how high the
rockets would go when they will be launched off. The entries in each column of the
spreadsheet with all of the data was able to be calculated by relating thrust, drag and net
force, velocity, and final height. Each different cell had a different equation that was used
to calculate each variable that it means.
To calculate the average thrust, the equation (​Thr​1​ + Thr​2​)/2 (thrust 1 plus thrust
2) divided by 2) ​was used. ​ ​That numbers that were put in for Thrust was the thrust
measured for each time. The value for Thr​1​ and Thr​2​ is the last thrust that was used and the
current one you are on. To calculate the drag force that was used is ​F​d​=k​d​ * v² (the drag
coefficient multiplied by velocity squared) ​ The value of k​d ​ ​was always 3.0 x 10⁻⁴. The
value of v would always be the prior v final from the first column above the one that was
being worked on. The equation for the average net force was ​Thr​avg​ - mg - F​d​. (thrust average
minus mass time gravity minus drag force).
Solving for net impulse was solved by the
equation ​F​net​ * 𝚫T (net force time delta
time). ​In this equation T was always .1
seconds. The initial velocity of every tenth of
a second was the last rows final velocity. The
final velocity was calculated by the equation
V​i​+F​net​ * 𝚫T/m (velocity initial plus net
force times delta t divided by the mass.
Once the final velocity was collected, the
average velocity needed to be calculated in
order to find the final velocity. The equation
for average velocity is ​(v​i​+v​f​)/2 (velocity
initial plus velocity final divided by 2). ​Now
that the average velocity was founded, the
prediction of the final height could be
calculated. The equation for final height is
h​i​+v​avg​*𝚫T (height initial plus the velocity
average times delta t. ​The height initial is the
height final that was used in the previous
column and delta time was equal to .1S.

On excel, with the use of spreadsheets the maximum height was able to be predicted. Each
different cell was a different equation in order to solve for the variables that was needed to find
the maximum height. Once all the data was put in and the maximum height for each tenth of a
second was recorded. In order to see what the full maximum height of the rocket was, one had to
look through all of the max height for each specific second. Once the height that was the biggest
was founded, that would be the total max height of the rocket. One would know that they found
the right max if the numbers will
go up, then finally back down,
representing the rocket is falling
back down.
Engine Type Predicted height Predicted time

A8 83m 4.0 seconds

B6 153m 5.1 seconds

C6 296m 6.8 seconds

During this section of the lab report, it was vital to include air resistance in the equations when
solving for the predicted height. The air resistance pushes down on the rocket that slows down
the velocity, causing the rocket to eventually stop and fall back down. Without air resistance, the
rocket, according to our calculations, would go much higher. If air resistance was ignored, the
calculation for the predicted height of how high the rocket would go would be not accurate. Air
resistance is seen most effectively on rocker C. Air resistance made much more of a difference
with a C engine because with a C engine the rocket moves at a much higher speed than it does
with the less powerful engines. When working with air resistance in rocket C, the value for the
predicted height was ​296m. ​(air resistance is the drag force which value is .0003) However,
when the air resistance was set to zero and drag force was put in as zero, the predicted height for
rocket C was ​1325m ​at 12 seconds. (the spreadsheet could of kept going) This shows how much
of a change a height can be if air resistance is put in or not.
The spread sheets were able to estimate how many seconds will elapse between the time
the rocket engine burns out and the time that the rocket reaches its maximum height. To find this
value, the row with the thrust at zero (this means the rocket ran out of engine to burn) and the
row with the maximum height time value are subtracted from each other. In this case, when the
thrust went to zero the time was 2.0 seconds, and the maximum height was 6.8 seconds, so the
change in delay would be 4.8 seconds.
One final aspect that was important to keep in mind during this section was how during
the calculations, the mass changing was being ignored. It was set up that the mass was constant
through the entire spreadsheet. In reality, the mass was changing. The mass of the engine
changes as its fuel is expelled because the change in mass is being ignored, it will throw off the
predictions for final height and make it less accurate.

Flight Results

To prepare for the launch off, the rockets needed some modifications to make a safer process. A
process called wadding was used in order to protect the parachute from getting burned. Wadding
was a piece of a square material pressed into the rocket. Next, the selected rocket engine (A,B, or
C) was placed inside and an igniter was inside the small hole in the bottom of the engine. A
small plastic plug was also placed on the engine’s hole to prevent the igniter from falling out. In
order to actually launch the rocket, the igniter
wires was connected to a battery in order to
ignite the engine. The battery was connected
to an igniter wire coated in phosphorus. This
wire would flame up when an electrical
current went through it.When the rockets
were launch, there was three students standing
at different sides of the rocket. Each student
was ​50m​ away. It was necessary to use three
students to collect data because rockets rarely
go straight up and therefore one person alone
would not be able to get reliable

The students standing at each of the line would measure the angle they saw the rocket fly
up at. The angel would then be place in the equation ​h=50tan𝛉 + 1.5 ​in order to solve for the
height. The 50 comes from the distance away from the rocket and the 1.5 is the average height of
one highschool student in meters. The derivation of that equation is shown below.

Once the rockets were launched, recall there were three students recording angels and not
just one. There was a difficulty of accurately measuring the angle when the rocket went really
high. First off, it was hard to see once the rockets went high and second, the rocket didn’t go
straight up. After each student would get the angels, the average would be found of all three and
that's what angel was used for the equation related to height. Whatever the number the protractor
got, the number 90 always had to be subtracted from it because when the protractor was at the
horizon, that would be 90 degrees in this lab.
Angle A B C

Jacob 38 50 49

Paulina 53 57 63

Donovan 36 40 75

Average 42 49 62

Each average was put into the equation ​h=50tan𝛉 + 1.5 ​solving for height. The height of rocket
A was ​44m, ​rocket B was ​59m, ​and rocket C was ​103m.


When comparing the actual results of the height of the rocket to what the predicted height

Predicted 83 153 295

Actual 44 59 103

There are many possible reasons why the predictions were so off from the actual height
of the rocket launch. One is the rocket was actually losing mass from the engine fuel of the
rocket, but during all of the predictions, mass was staying constant. If mass changing was put
into the calculations, there would of been more of a accurate prediction. Another reason would
be that the rockets didn’t go straight up. In the predictions, the height was calculated for the
rocket going straight up, but in the actual lunch it went at more have a curve. One final possible
reason is there could of been human error. For the people finding the angel. It could've been
difficult to see the rocket go into the sky, one because it was cloudy, but two the rockets went
fast up and made it hard to see. What we could've done differently to get more accurate results
was launch the rockets on a day less cloudy, and also take account for the mass changing while
calculating the prediction and taking account that the rocket wasn't going to go straight up when
making a prediction.


I really enjoyed the Rocket Lab. I think it has been my favorite activity we have done all
year in honors physics. It was so interesting to notice how every unit that we learned in physics
can come back and connect to each other. I think one of the most challenging part of the report
and lab was keeping in tack every little detail. During all the math that was used, it is so easy to
make one minor error that would mess up the entire results. This activity taught me to be extra
careful with my work and to check each equation twice for the most accurate results. This lab
was super beneficial because it gave me a real life scenario and taught me and how to use
different parts of physics to relate to one common goal. Overall, I am so glad I was able to
participate in this experience and I will always remember through my junior year.