Introduction: Paper Mini-Rockets

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Build a pocket-sized rocket launcher!

This is one of the 48 projects for our Instructables: Made In Your Mind (IMIYM) exhibition at the Children’s Museum of Houston showing from May 26, 2012 - November 4, 2012. Produced in partnership with Instructables, IMIYM is an exhibit where families work together to build different fun, toy-like projects that help construct knowledge and skills related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while instilling a “do-it-yourself” attitude in kids so they feel empowered to explore, tinker, and try to make things themselves. To learn more, check out the article here.

This project was originally conceived of and created by Children's Museum of Houston staff. In a search, we weren't able to find a similar project, but there may be some in which case please share them through comments. Often, the materials and process for building our projects are designed for use with a large number of visitors (we see over 800,000 annually) and the need to ensure safety in a mostly non-facilitated environment. So, yes, many of these projects have room for improvement in both materials and methodology, which is PRECISELY what we want to encourage the kids to do. So please do share your ideas for improvement and modifications!

Step 1: What You Need:

We are selective in our materials for cost, ease of use, and safety due to our high traffic (800,000 visitors annually). So, for our purposes, this design worked best. But you may have other ideas - please share!

1 – 3½” paper square (memo pad paper and Post-It Notes work great)
1 - Straw (bendy straws work well, too, and allow you to create an angle control to explore trajectory)
Masking Tape

Step 2: The Video

We offer optional video segments of each step for this project in the actual exhibit. Here is a compilation of all the steps.

Step 3: Step 1 - Fuselage

Lay the piece of paper onto the table. Starting on one edge, roll the paper around the straw. Keep it tight, but not so tight you can’t slide out the straw. If using a Post-It note or other sticky paper, place it sticky-side up and roll towards the sticky edge. Put a piece of tape along the seam so it doesn't unroll.

Step 4: Step 2 - Nosecone

Slide the paper off the straw and fold over the tip of one end of the paper roll. Tape it down to make the nosecone.

Step 5: Step 3 - Fins

To make a fin, cut out a small piece of tape, about 1/4-1/3 of an inch. Fold it in half, sticky side in the middle, starting in the center of the piece. LEAVE THE TIPS UNSTUCK. Stick the fin to the other end of the paper roll. Repeat to make 2-3 more fins. Make sure to space them out evenly around the bottom edge of the roll.

Step 6: The Launch

To launch, slide the rocket back onto the straw. Don't jam the straw all the way into the nosecone - the rocket likely won't launch. Push it in until you just begin to feel resistance. Aim the rocket away from others (safety first, right?) and blow through the straw.

The Paper Mini-Rocket launches due to air pressure and Newton's Third Law of Motion. When you blow into the straw, pressure builds up behind the rocket. Once the rocket slips free of the straw, the force of the pressure pushes it forward. The tape you added on as fins help to stabilize its flight. Without them, the rocket would tumble through the air.

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