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PVC Rocket

How To Build a PVC Rocket

This exploration is for all ages, as the colored smilies show. All ages of kids except the oldest teens will need to do this project with an adult helping. You can build the pvc rocket with your whole family!

1st thru 4th grades
5th thru 8th grades
9th thru 12th grades

Layers of Learning Unit 2-15
Unit 2-15: Mongols, Caucasus, Gases, Fun With Poetry

The pvc rocket is a physics experiment from Layers of Learning Unit 2-15 about motion. Layers of Learning has hands-on experiments in every unit of this family-friendly curriculum. Learn more about Layers of Learning.

This rocket is propelled with hairspray, which has a high alcohol content. The hairspray is sprayed into a chamber and then ignited. A little spark inside the chamber causes an explosion of rapidly expanding gases. The foam sleeve over the top if the ignition chamber flies up into the air.

Step 1: Library Research

Before you begin exploring, read a book or two about motion. Here are some suggestions, but if you can’t find these, look for books at your library about motion, physics, gravity, and friction. The colored smilies above each book tell you what age level they’re recommended for.

How Does a Rocket Work?

by Sarah Eason

Good, solid, basic information about how rockets work with lots of pictures.

Make: Rockets

by Mike Westerfield

A book that teaches you how to make all sorts of rockets from scratch. Good for all ages from 12 and up.

Backyard Ballistics

by William Gurstelle

If you’re into propulsion and mini-explosions, can we just suggest this book? For the cool people of the world.

Step 2: Build A PVC Rocket

You will need 4″ pvc pipe (3 feet long), 4″ pvc cap, pvc glue or superglue, foam (the kind used for sleeping mats), plastic 2 liter bottle, duct tape, screws, power drill, barbecue grill ignition switch, hot glue gun and glue, cheap hairspray (the more alcohol the better), scissors

You need 4″ diameter pipe, 3 feet long
BBQ grill ignition switch. This makes the spark that sets off the explosion.
You need a flat cap for the end of the pvc pipe.
Thin foam like this will become the body of your rocket.
This is pvc glue. You will need this or superglue to attach the cap to the pvc pipe.
The top end of this bottle will become the nose of your rocket.
A power drill is used to drill holes and insert the screws

This is what the finished ignition chamber and rocket will look like.

Start by making the foam rocket. Wrap the foam around the pvc pipe, trim it to fit and use copious amounts of duct tape to secure it. Then cut the top of a 2 liter bottle (keep the cap on!) and tape it to the top of your foam rocket. Next cut three fins and hot glue them to the base of the rocket. The fins will help the rocket fly higher and straighter.

Next assemble the ignition chamber. Glue the cap on to the end of the pvc pipe with pvc glue or superglue. Drill two holes about an inch apart, but angling slightly toward one another. The curve of the pvc pipe itself should take care of that angle you need. What you want is for there to be a tiny gap between the ends of the screws inside the pvc pipe.

Insert the screws most of the way into the pvc pipe through the holes you pre-drilled. Wrap bare ends of wire from the barbecue ignition switch around the screws, then tighten the screws slightly so the wires won’t slip off.

Now you spray hairspray into the top of the ignition chamber (the pvc pipe). Slide the rocket over the top and stand it upright. Click the barbecue lighter to create a spark and . . . liftoff!

Step 3: Show What You Know

Talk about the way the explosion is rapidly expanding gases that have to go somewhere. The only place to go is up, so the gases push the rocket into the sky.

Additional Layers

Additional Layers are extra activities you can do or tangents you can take off on. You will find them in the sidebars of each Layers of Learning unit. They are optional, so just choose what interests you.

Additional Layers

This experiment uses diffusion of gases. Usually we think of diffusion as a slow process, but in this case it is very fast.

Learn more about diffusion.

On the Web

Normally rockets use fuel to push gas out the back end and off the ground. This “rocket” is different because the fuel is pushing the vehicle up while the rocket itself stays on the ground.

Read about rockets from NASA.

Additional Layers

Why does the rocket need fins?

To fly high, a rocket must fly straight. To fly straight it needs fins to stabilize it.

Try building a foam rocket body that doesn’t have fins. What happens when you launch it?

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