Picture of 100-Yard Paper Rocket Launcher

This is my take on the compressed air paper rocket launcher. Enjoy!

Intro Video

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Step 1: Make the launcher

Picture of Make the launcher

This launcher works up to 60psi. You can wire in a second 9V battery to get the launcher up to 100+psi. 60psi is enough to achieve spectacular results. Pressures above 60psi dramatically increase the risk of exploding the rocket.

(and by the way, you might want to protect your work surface a bit better than I did)

Step 2: Make the rocket

Picture of Make the rocket

All you need is cardstock, tape and scissors.

It's easy to build a rocket that can reach a distance of 50 feet. However, making an ultra-high-performing rocket is actually quite challenging because all aspects need to be designed to near perfection. At high speeds, tiny imperfections are quickly blown out of proportion because the forces acting upon the rocket are intensified. For example, a nosecone that leans slightly to one side may not significantly influence the rocket's performance at 40psi, however at 60psi that nosecone may create an imbalance of friction created by the air rushing by, causing the rocket to turn sharply and tumble to the ground.

For this reason, take your time while creating & attaching each part of the rocket. And with that in mind, here's how to make a high-performing rocket:

Step 3: How the valve system works

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marshall.hird2 months ago

hi , so i put everything together and have a problem the valve seems to release very slow. No sudden burst of air to shoot a rocket off. Is it a bad valve?

7417414522 months ago

i like it!!

7417414522 months ago

i like it!!

makeminefun4 months ago

Our Scout group had one of these lying around, which I very happily inherited and started playing with immediately. Of course, I tried to break it, which I did.

I have to agree with DanTDM and Masher007 -- and many thanks for the warnings; this can explode and potentially hurt bystanders or operators.

The device that failed on me was a couple of years old, and worked well until I pushed it past 40psi. Then then end cap blew off and sent shrapnel 40-50'. Thankfully I had laid a thick wool Scout blanket over the unit, so neither me nor my 3 year old son standing nearby were hurt.

I was operating the device in about 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) and had successfully launched it about a dozen times with 40psi charges, which resulted in flights over 200 feet.

So, be careful. Wrap the device in a heavy blanket or a shield that will contain any potential shrapnel. I really don't think duct tape is sufficient; it can fail too. This is especially important if the device is a few years old. It was the pipe cap that failed, not the glue, and I think the point of failure was where the inflating nozzle entered the cap; i.e., the hole that was drilled weakened the integrity of the PVC pipe cap.

A future improvement might be to add a gasket on the inside of the cap with the nozzle so that there is more support around the weak point.

Super fun project when it works, potentially very not fun when it fails. Take precautions and be dangerous safely.

I believe the addition of a streamer or something may improve visual recognition for students and other observers.
WYE_Lance (author)  OrigamiAirEnforcer3 years ago
The rockets are pretty easy to see in real life, though it's really quite challenging to capture a paper rocket on video. Streamers might look fun, but I think it would create too much drag. Perhaps a longer rocket would be more visible (and fun!)
Understandable, on both accounts. My experience has been that even paper airplanes which are comparably slow can be difficult to see. As for drag, I also know of the potential for drag in the streamers. Such decorations would involve those types of sacrifices.
WYE_Lance (author)  OrigamiAirEnforcer3 years ago
A fun idea would be to affix some sort of smoke-emitting device inside the rocket for a realistic trail! Anyone who figures out how to do this will be held in the highest regard. I'll give away a 3-month pro membership, too.

Use a thin piece of paper or saran wrap over the top of the tub and fill the nose cone with a white or colored poweder? The presure from the launch should puncture the barrier, and release the powder as the rocket launches...

Talc coul be your smoke. Perhaps in the nose cone you could mount a a small tapered tune containing talk. A large, relatively, opening in the front that would apply pressure to the talk and force it out a small exit at the back. Just a thought.
hmcbart made it!6 months ago

I made a few modifications to the original design and used it with my Cub Scouts at a kick off event.. Mostly cosmetic. I used the on/off switches from an old vacum cleaner. Wired in a re-purposed industrial fire alarm. Used about 20ft of wire to launch from a distance. The 1st switch is labeled ARM, it turns on the alarm to alert everyone that a launch is happening. The 2nd switch is labeled FIRE and it launches the rockets. It was a huge success and the kids loved it. The rockets (when sealed correctly) easily would withstand up to 70psi, the max we tested was 90psi, after the kids had all left (safety first). The rockets averaged about 75 yards (had to keep adjusting the launch angle). I had pre-printed rocket templates for them to cut out and decorate. Awesome idea, thanks for the instructable!

DanTDM10 months ago



diver dad11 months ago

PVC explosions are half the fun!

Masher00711 months ago

This is not spam, but a warning. PVC will fail suddenly after a while. This was band member that hurt badly by a T-Shirt launcher explosion.

See the pictures and never use PVC to hold air, Please.

I would really like to make this rocket, but cannot find a solenoid. I searched the itsablast website and could not find one anywhere. i also searched ebay and the internet in general, but only found motorbike starters. Please help.
YOu buy a water sprinkler valve at Lowes or Home Depot for $13.
WYE_Lance (author)  Thekellygang2 years ago
Hi there,

The solenoid is included when you purchase the modified valve. The valve that I used in this design can be bought here.

Have fun!
I'm looking forward to running this project with my middle-schoolers!

Here's an easy math extension: if launched at 45°, the ballistic trajectory reduces to a simple equation that can give you the average velocity of your paper rocket (ignoring air resistance) as follows:

SQRT(Distance x Gravity) = Velocity

So if your rocket travels 27 meters: (27m x 9.8m/s2)0.5 = 16m/s

If you've got the right math crew, you can also show how the equation yields m/s from m and m/s2. Or, if you're using feet, how taking the square root of the distance in feet multiplied by 32 ft/s2 gives you ft/s
legoman1111 year ago
Cool! Exploding rocket!
bhavesh14402 years ago
what is the difference between modified valve and air actuated valve? and which we use in doing this paper rocket lancher?
Fast React2 years ago
If i use a bigger persure chamber and more presure whould i go farther ?
WYE_Lance (author)  Fast React2 years ago
I don't think so. A bigger chamber just takes more time to fill up to the max PSI.
Tanks for the il just use the regular chamber
tbrockert2 years ago
This is a wonderful project that worked just perfectly! The kids were very impressed by how far the double launcher worked.

I have some troubleshooting I was hoping I can get help with. After leaving the launcher alone for about a month, I tried it out again with some difficulties. Beyond the pressure of 30-40 psi the trigger won't work properly and won't expel the air from the barrel. Only after loosening the trigger from the chamber, will the air escape through the pvc. I don't know if this has occurred before in any of your models, but if so or not, do you have any tips?
WYE_Lance (author)  tbrockert2 years ago
Great to hear that! If the trigger won't work as well as before, try replacing the battery. If the battery is low then it won't have the power to activate the solenoid and release the valve.
That was it! The 9v had only 75% of the max charge, which I guess wasn't enough to pull the trigger fully under high pressure. Much thanks! Now I can use this even more!
ryanmudry2 years ago
How is the "modified sprinkler valve" different from a home depot sprinkler valve?
WYE_Lance (author)  ryanmudry2 years ago
I don't know exactly how to mod a valve, but I do know that the valve is modded to allow the air to escape more rapidly.
hm you need this device to shoot the rocket darn!
You should try a whistle in the cone...
maintann3 years ago
A serious suggestion - put a safety switch in the circuit - perhaps a toggle switch with a flip up cover. This way firing requires three actions ,flip cover, toggle circuit on , press fire button. It's never too early to impress safety on kids
WYE_Lance (author)  maintann3 years ago
That's a great idea! It would be pretty easy to splice in a second switch, perhaps something that only the teacher can control. I like that it allows students to be in control of the launch without the risk of a misfire. Although my safety talk has so far been effective, it is indeed better to be safer than not.
I like the idea of a second switch in series with the firing switch.
On the idea of teaching safety and responsibility; assign one student as a safety officer for each team. The safety officer would make sure all students are clear behind the safety line before calling range clear and pressing their button to enable the firing button. (does my military background show with this suggestion?)
tbone19063 years ago
You should also think about wrapping the PVC with several layers of duct tape. Overtime the PVC may weaken and the high pressure could rupture the pipe sending possible shrapnel into the crowd. The duct tape would contain any flying debris in the event of a failure. Or you can use metal pipe for the pressure vessel. With kids its always a good idea to be extra safe. Keep up the good work, I love it when kids get excited about science!
rocklocker3 years ago
I have to agree with THAYRAY. Some of those kids were too close to the launcher. Perhaps a line which every one must be behind before launching. It's no fun going through life with one functioning eye, I know.
On the other hand this is really cool and is going into my grandpa projects to amaze the grandkids as soon as my kids make one for us. Maybe they need an instructable on how to make bqabies.
WYE_Lance (author)  rocklocker3 years ago
Thanks for the kind words and your concern for the kids. I'll admit that it is difficult to keep kids at a safe distance - everyone wants a good view of the launcher. I constantly remind kids to back up, but your comment gave me an idea for a better solution: I think it would be easy to use a brightly colored rope to create a safety zone around the launcher. I am conducting this project at many schools this week, so I'll try this out today and let you know how it goes.
WYE_Lance (author)  WYE_Lance3 years ago
I bought some thick and bright yellow rope to define a clear safety zone - it worked very well! Kids were even reminding each other to "Stay behind the rope." I've updated this Instructable with a photo of the rope being used in step 4. Very simple, easy-to-implement solution until I install a second safety switch.
Yeah...the mom in me cringed when I saw the kids so close but other than that this seems really fun! My munchkin is a bit young yet but someday...someday...
It does seem quite dangerous, though so far I've conducted hundreds of launches with no injuries. I thought about excluding some clips from the video because it looks dangerous, but showing true footage has prompted concerned members of the community to voice their ideas for safety improvements :)
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