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Water Rocket Instructions

Water Rockets are made from 2-liter soda bottles and can be as simple as an empty bottle or embellished to include fins and even a parachute. We will launch the water rockets that the boys have made and brought with them to the camp out.

Water Rockets can go extremely high dependent on the amount of water in the chamber, the pressure, the weight and the aerodynamic stability of the rocket.

Building a Rocket

Start with a 2-liter soda bottle. Don't use a water bottle; soda bottles are built to withstand greater pressure. Take off the wrapper. It's very important that you do not cut the plastic of the bottle at any time during construction so be careful when taking off the wrapper.

You can decorate your rocket any way you would like. Some paints might work but they must be flexible as the bottle will expand and contract quite a bit under pressure and during launch. I have found Sharpie markers to work well. You could also decorate a piece of paper and then tape the paper to the rocket with clear packing tape.

You can be finished with your rocket at this point if you would like. However, an empty bottle like this is not aerodynamically stable. Once the water is gone the bottle will cease to fly in a straight line and will flap around like a leaf. It will still make a big noise and go high, but not as high as it could.

Fins can be added to make a Rocket aerodynamically stable. A stable rocket continues to fly straight and gain altitude long after the water is gone.

Construction Techniques

Fin Material
Foam Core (or Foam Board) to work very well. It's the material used to provide backing to pictures before framing. It's light weight, easy to cut, rigid and inexpensive. You can find it at most art supply stores

Adhesion Techniques

Clear packing tape works well.

Several glues have also worked very well. PL Premium Construction adhesive (a polyurethane based glue), or E6000. Both are available from hardware stores. The problem with these is that they take time to dry but they are very strong.

Hot Glue can also work. It's important to use a Low Temp glue and gun. A high temp glue gun can melt the bottle. You may find that even a low temp glue gun will warp the plastic of the bottle but don't worry, it won't weaken the plastic.

Use a sharpie marker to mark the location of the fins. First take a plain piece of paper. Cut the paper long ways and tape the paper end to end to make a strip long enough to make it around the bottle. Make sure the two pieces are straight in line. Wrap the paper around the bottle and draw a line on the paper where they meet. Take the paper off the bottle and lay it on the table. The distance from one end of the paper to the line where it met will be about 13.5". Draw two points on the paper tape, one 4.5" from the end and then next 9". Wrap the paper around the bottle again and tape it together. Put three marks on the bottle. One where the paper is taped together, the second at the 4.5" mark and the third at the 9" mark. Take the paper off the bottle. Place the bottle against a door jam, or some other corner to act as a straight edge and use it to extend the marks along the bottle.

Fill the bottle with cold water. With fine sandpaper lightly rough up the area to be glued. Apply the glue to the fin material and then attach the fin to the body of the rocket. This technique works great because the glue dries very fast, the weight of the water provides some stiffness to the bottle while attaching the fins and there is no warping (again, slight warping of the bottle with low temp glue will not affect the strength of the bottle).

Glue the fins to the rocket trying to keep them as straight as possible.


Aerodynamics

To be stable the center of gravity of the rocket (where the rocket balances) must be in font of the center of pressure (if you put a rocket in a wind tunnel sideways and held it at this point the rocket would not turn. The force of the air pushing against the front of the rocket is the same as the force pushing against the back of the rocket). To move the center of pressure backwards you make larger fins or move the fins toward the tail, or even behind, the rocket. To move the center of gravity forward you make the rocket longer or add weight to the nose. I use a small piece of clay stuck to the front of the rocket.

Testing a Rocket for Stability
Find the center of gravity by balancing the rocket. Tie one end of a long piece of string (6-10') around the rocket and tape it at this point. Swing the rocket at the end of the string around your head and notice its flight characteristics. If it flies nose first all the way around then it's stable.