When it came time Wednesday to launch the two-liter bottle rocket they built in science class, Antilles sixth-graders Maggie Klotzbach and Eesha Ved didn’t think they would have much luck on the field.
But, as Star Wars fans would say, the “force” was with them, and the rocket – named for data recording purposes as “Dancing Pop Tarts” – actually made it a little more than 280 feet in the air, only to land in the middle of a soccer goal on the western end of the Antilles field.
“That was so cool,” Klotzbach said afterward, as her classmates cheered on the sidelines. “We didn’t even think it was going to launch, but I think it went really well.”
This is the second year that Antilles space science teacher Jeannine Wilson has given her students a chance to learn about everything from aerodynamic forces to the basics of rocketry through this hands-on project planned for the last six weeks of the school year.
According to Ved, assembling the rocket is the easy part. Learning the science, how to make the rockets fly and completing exercises on a simulator to find out how high the bottles would go, took way more time.
“It was hard work,” Ved said. “But it was also a lot of fun. Even when we were doing the simulations, it was interesting learning how high we could make the rocket go.”
Speaking later, Wilson said the students’ interest makes it easier to teach them the rocketry basics. “We start with the basics of thrust, force, drag and lift. Once they learn those four forces, we talk about Newton’s three laws of motion, action and reaction and gravity, and we start putting it all together,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that when it comes to designing the rockets, the “sky is the limit” for the students, who have stuck to using recyclable materials, such as cardboard and ping pong balls along with the two-liter bottles. But using the simulator also teaches them how to refine the design so the bottles stay airborne, while a template made by Justin Wilson, Antilles instructional technology director, also helps with the aerodynamic placement of the rockets’ fins.
Justin Wilson has also designed a deployment system for each rocket over two liters, which includes a microcontroller, barometric pressure sensor and a servo motor, along with a key chain camera that records each rocket’s launch, flight and ascent.
Jeannine Wilson said, “It’s really one of the greatest things we’ve done as a class.”