“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” – Carl Sagan
Let’s face it, Instructables community, rockets are cool!
Every type of rocket, from the AWESOME new SpaceX rocket that can actually land, all the way down to the tiny rockets like the Matchstick Rocket by IbniH, is amazing!
I have always wanted to have my own rocket. So, I did what any individual with imagination does, I built one. I used PVC pipe for the launch pad and rocket, and for my fuel, I use vinegar and baking soda.
This is how it was done.
Step 1: Materials
- ½” PVC pipe
- 4 – ½” PVC T-joints
- 2 – ½” PVC ball valves
- 1 – ½” PVC elbow joint
- 1 – ½” PVC end cap
- PVC Cement
- Poster board
- Blade or scissors
- Ruler or straight edge
- Latex (or latex free) gloves
- Baking Soda (fresh and powdery, not clumpy)
The PVC Cement I used is a two step kit. The first step is primer (purple), the second step is the cement (orange). Both connecting pieces will have the primer, but only one will be cemented. For the purpose of simplicity, I will just use the term "cement" to mean primer and glue. It is very VERY messy stuff. I recommend using gloves!!
Step 2: Cut the Pipe
With the hacksaw, cut the ½” pipe into the following lengths:
- 5 pieces of 3”
- 4 pieces of 1 ½”
- 2 pieces of 4”
- 1 piece 8”
Use the file to smooth off the rough edge of each cut. This will insure a clean seal.
Step 3: Building the Rocket - Stage 1
There are three stages to building the rocket.
Stage 1 - Marking:
- Insert one end of the 8” pipe into the end of a t-joint.
- With a pencil, mark where the t-joint and the pipe line up. This will indicate where to attach the fins.
Step 4: Building the Rocket - Stage 2
Stage 2 - Fins: (I included a template in centimeters that makes three fins.)
- Print and cut out the template.
- Trace the template onto the poster board.
- With the blade and ruler, cut chevron shapes from poster board.
- Fold the fins over at the dotted lines.
- With the super glue, glue the fin halves together.
- Allow to dry completely.
- Gently and carefully bend the tabs into a slight curve. This will help them adhere to the fuselage better.
Step 5: Building the Rocket - Stage 3
Stage 3 - Attach the Fins to the Fuselage:
- Glue the fins to the 8” fuselage pipe of the rocket about ½ inch beyond the mark create on Step 3. Space them out to insure they are equidistant from each other. I recommend sticking the end into a t-joint with the fins up to hold the fuselage while the fins dry in place.
- Set aside to dry.
- In a well ventilated area, with the PVC Cement, cement the ½” end cap to one end of the 8” pipe.
Step 6: The Launch Pad Base Assembly
This is the lower section of the launch pad.
Author’s note: I chose NOT to cement the base assembly pieces so it can be disassembled and packed for easier transport.
- First, secure the 4” pipes to the opposite ends of a t-joint.
- Next, attach the perpendicular opening of two t-joints to the ends of the 4" pipes. Make sure the center t-joint is vertical while the two end t-joints are horizontal.
- Then, add the 3" pipes to each of the horizontal t-joint openings.
- Finally, insert the 1 1/2" pip into the vertical opening on the center t-joint.
You should now have a structure that looks like an emaciated Tie Fighter.
Step 7: Fuel Mixture Chamber
This will build the chamber where the baking soda and vinegar will combine to make the fuel. It is important that all pieces fit tightly and do not leak.
- Cement one of the 1 ½” length of pipe to one end of the ball valve.
- Cement one end of the t-joint to the 1 ½” length of pipe with the ball valve.
- Cement one 1 ½” length of pipe to each end of the elbow joint.
- Cement a 1 ½” section on the elbow joint to the perpendicular opening of the t-joint. Make sure the elbow points away from the ball valve.
- Cement the other ball valve to the 1 ½” section on the elbow joint. Make sure the valve handle knob is opposite to the rest of the assembly.
- Cement the 3” section of pipe to the other end of the ball valve that is attached to the elbow.
- Set aside to dry completely.
Make sure the cement does NOT glue the valves open or shut! You may need to open and close them several times right away to make sure they are not set.
Do not cement the fuel mixture chamber to the base assembly. It will be easier to clean and use if they are able to separate.
Step 8: Prepare for Launch!
- Close both the ball valves.
- Attach the fuel mixture chamber to the base assembly.
- Add a scoop or so of baking soda into the main vertical pipe.
- Wipe away any excess powder from the opening.
- Fit the rocket onto the main vertical pipe. Push in to make it tight, but not too tight. (It may take a few lift-off attempts to get it just right!)
- Fill the second vertical pipe with vinegar.
Step 9: LAUNCH!
- Quickly open the secondary vertical pipe ball valve to drain all the vinegar into the mixing chamber.
- Just as quickly close the ball valve to seal it and build pressure.
- You may want to take a few steps back at this point. You know, for safety!
The science behind this is simple: Baking soda and vinegar react with each other because of an acid-base reaction. Baking soda is a bicarbonate (NaHCO3) and vinegar is an acetic acid (HCH3COO). One of the products this reaction creates is carbon dioxide. The build up of the created carbon dioxide is what causes the thrust.
Step 10: Post Launch Procedure
- Remove the fuel mixture assembly from the base assembly.
- Open both ball valves.
- Rinse out all the pipes to clear away any unspent baking soda and vinegar.
- Shake to dry or let air dry.
- Ready for launch again!
Try different amounts of each fuel ingredient to get the most efficient thrust. I was able to get about 10 feet up, but with some more adjusting, I know it will do even better.
AUTHOR'S EDIT: After messing with it, I figured out the secret to a stronger launch! It was not the fuel mixture as the issue. It was the size of the chambers. The rocket itself, being hallow, served as part of the mixing chamber. This made too much open volume for pressure build up. I overcame this by adding some "Great Stuff" expanding foam into the fuselage to take up empty space without creating more weight! This created a smaller space for the CO2 buildup. The result was a much MUCH more impressive launch. Try it and let me know your thoughts!
There you have it, Instructables community! You now have your own reusable rocket! Now, go forth, explore the stars! Well, not literally, but create, build, enjoy, and let your imagination fly!
And as always, thank you for checking out my Instructable!