June 17, 2024


The Gods Made Home

Classroom Science Experiments For The Space Age

Are you looking for some topics to present that can add

excitement to your science classroom? Rocketry and space

exploration, like no other subject, have a way to captivate

students that makes it easy for them to learn science. They

are having so much fun, that they don’t even realize they

are learning basic science concepts.

To leverage the benefits of this area of study, you can use

your school’s computer to explore a lot of different science

topics. In the January 2005 issue of the education magazine,

“Tech Directions” (http://www.techdirections.com), there is

an article by Spencer C. Wilson of J.R. Fugett Middle School

in West Chester. In it, he describes how he uses a rocket

design software, called RockSim (http://www.rocksim.com) to

show students the process of engineering design.

In this article, I’d like to give you some other ideas on

how to use the model rocket design software to demonstrate

other basic science concepts. Here are some benefits to

using RockSim software:

1. Allows the student to simulate hundreds of rocket flights

very quickly — this saves lots of money! Just think of the

time saved too. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollar

buying motors and hours-and-hours of time building different

configurations, launching, recovering, and repacking rockets

to test one control feature.

2. Safety. When you go out to fly rockets, knowing how

they’ll behave is an important aspect of safety. Precautions

can be made. By running the simulations, the students learn

what concepts contribute to keeping the actual launch safe.

3. The scientific value is awesome. Each launch simulation

generates a mountain of useful data. Analyzing this data is

a fantastic way to teach the scientific method.

4. Students love software because it is fun! It has features

like a video game, so the students may not realize how much

they are learning at the same time.

5. The RockSim software is the same tool that is used by

real rocketry professionals – like NASA, military

contractors, and universities. So you can feel confident in

the results you get back from the program.

6. The software allows students to explore their creativity.

They can design vastly different looking models, while

learning engineering skills, assembly steps, and physics.

Here are just some of the many topics you can explore with


1. Aerodynamics and drag reduction.

2. Forces of flight: Lift, Drag, Thrust, and Gravity.

3. Projectile motion.

4. Rocket propulsion as used for space travel.

5. Atmospheric studies: how does temperature and pressure

affect performance?

6. Planetary differences: how does the same rocket perform

on different planets in our solar system.

7. Dynamics and harmonic motion with damping.

8. Engineering – how parts fit together.

9. Newton’s Laws of motion.

10. Artistic expression – because every student can design a

different looking rocket, and change colors of the

components to further increase the rocket’s uniqueness.

11. Explaining distance, velocity, and acceleration.

12. Material properties, like density and volume.

13. The importance of weight and balance (CG position) when

designing rockets.

14. Explaining that Work = Force X Distance.

15. Explaining the concepts of Kinetic and Potential Energy.

16. Showing free-fall, and terminal velocity.

17. The importance of units and unit conversion.

18. The importance of following directions.

19. Exporting data and using spreadsheet programs to perform

data reduction and manipulation

20. To show why multi-stage and cluster motor rockets are

used in real rockets.

21. Concept of stored chemical energy (in the rocket

propellant) and how it is converted to mechanical energy.

22. Concept of efficiency – getting the most performance

from the least exertion of energy. Can be explained by the

different types of propellant formulations.

23. Showing the concept of momentum and how it affects the

optimum mass of the rocket.

24. Finding the optimal launch angle for breezy conditions.

25. Optimal launch angle for distance (ballistic curves),

and how it varies with the thrust curve of the motor.

26. Show how the distribution of mass affects the dynamic

stability of the rocket.

27. Demonstrating the concept of “Numeric Precision” — the

more iterations performed, the better the accuracy.

28. Show how different shaped components affects the static

stability of the rocket.

29. Compare the thrust curves of different motors. This can

show how different geometries (hole size, location,

dimensions) affect the thrust produced by the rocket.

30. Concept of “Impulse:” which is a thrust force multiplied

by the time duration that thrust is created. The higher the

impulse, the more power the motor has.

As you can see, the RockSim software is a versatile tool.

You’ll save hundreds of dollars because it can be used in a

variety of ways.