Design a Custom Model Rocket

Introduction: Design a Custom Model Rocket

Nearly every kid born after the advent of the space program has dreamt about becoming an astronaut (some more passionately than others). If space camp is out of reach, you might try designing your own custom model rocket for scaled-down space play. Designing toys is a great way to get students excited about science and engineering, and it can encourage them to express creativity in new ways. (Note: Final product not intended for use by children)

If you’re a teacher, this project is a great vehicle for teaching students some of the principles of science and design thinking. More specifically, designing a rocket can be a great way to encourage students to gain a better understanding of the effects of friction. For a video on the topic of friction within design thinking, see the video below. You can also find a complete lesson plan devoted to these topics, as well as instructional materials such as learning objectives, test materials, and evaluation rubrics here.

Step 1: Download Autodesk 123D Design

Before you start, download and install Autodesk 123D Design (it’s totally free). 123D Design makes it easy to manipulate all kinds of shapes and create viable designs using numerous materials.  For a general tour of the interface and commands, see these short tutorials:

Step 2: Model Your Rocket

Using the Sketch>Polyline tool, draw 3 lines: 1 representing the full height of the rocket, the diameter of the base, and the 3rd representing the diameter of the base of the rockets nose.

Using the Spline tool, draw one curved line connecting the 3 open points. (Note: The more control points you set while using the spline tool, the easier it is to adjust in the future if you need to.) The top of the nose shouldn’t come to a perfect point, but should almost flatten out.

This should create two separate, closed profiles (the nose and the rest of the body). If necessary, adjust the curve by zooming in and moving the control points you set on the spline. For a step-by-step video tutorial on this stage, see below.

Step 3: Revolve Profiles

Select the first of the profiles, and select Revolve. Select the axis of revolution, and enter 360 degrees for a full revolution. Repeat this with the nose cone.

Now, hide sketches. With your rocket body largely designed, add materials to make it start looking that way! You can choose metals or plastics in a number of colors by simply selecting faces, choosing a material, and applying it. For a step-by-step video tutorial on this stage, see below.  

Step 4: Design the Supports

Start by showing the sketches, going to the top view, and hiding the solid, so that all you see is the first sketch you made. Using the Sketch>Polyline tool, sketch the profile of the support. Use Modify>Fillet to round off the corners.

To give the support some thickness, select Extrude, and extrude the support the same distance in both directions. Use Modify>Fillet to round off all the sharp edges.

Hide the sketches and turn on the solids to see the rocket body with 1 support. Using the Circular Pattern tool, select the one support you designed, and use the circle at the base of your rocket body as the axis. Increase the number to the number of desired supports to create duplicates of the support.

Add material by selecting all the supports, choosing a material, and assigning it. For a step-by-step video tutorial on this stage, see below. 

Step 5: Print!

In order to print parts from 123D on your MakerBot you will need to install the Autodesk 3D Print Utility which will prepare your parts for printing. For more information on the Autodesk 3D Print Utility click here.

You will also need to download and install the latest version of the Makerware™ software from MakerBot. The software is free of charge and can be downloaded here.

Once a part has been created and is ready for printing you can select 3D Print option from the 123D Menu. This will bring up the 3D printer dialog where you can select your printer and options for printing.

After setting up your printer options, you will be given the choice to save as a .stl file or send directly to the Makerware software for printing. 

If your printer is not listed in the Autodesk 3D Print Utility, you can still export to a .stl file directly. This will allow you to use any software your printer requires. This can be done by selecting the Export STL option from the 123D Design menu.

Lastly, if you don’t have a 3D printer, places like TechShop have the tools to turn your design files into physical objects, and staff the people who can show you how. Places like Shapeways can even print them for you.

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