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How Does a Model Rocket Engine Work?

Updated on January 4, 2011

Making and using model rockets is one of the most enjoyable hobbies any one can do. But, to become a model rocket engineer you need to first learn a little bit about the history and internal workings of the model rocket. With the Carlisle brothers first development of the model rocket engine this is a very safe and enjoyable hobby for all.

Who Invented the Model Rocket Engine?

There is a little history behind the development of the model rocket engine that you should be come familiar with. The rocket engine was first created in the early 50s by a man names Robert Carlisle. Robert and his brother were both into separate hobbies one was a pyrotechnics hobbyist and the other was into model airplane hobby. They were the first to develop the small amateur rocket for the general public even though large scale war rockets had already been developed for military purposes. Many folks during that time had already tried to create ea small amateur rocket and a lot have been injured or killed in the process using homemade rockets sand gun powder. The development of the prepackaged model rocket engine changed all this and overnight they created a safe and effective way to enjoy a great hobby. They became cheap and are easily obtained at most hobby shops.

Parts of the Model Rocket Engine

Most of the modern model rocket engines are pre manufactured at the factory. They are designed to allow single use to blast of the rocket from a small pad with electricity. They have allowed people to fly their model rockets without having to handle dangerous combinations of chemicals and propellants. The model rocket engines consist of several parts. The first part is the casing it is typically very light weight and made out of wood or pressurized paper. On either end of the engine there is a clay or sometimes ceramic nozzle. Between the two centers there are combinations of propellants already set inside ready to activate. The charge that the rocket gets as it leaves the ground into the air. Once the first charged is used up it will then light the second and third and so forth each stage allows the rocket to jump up to the next height.

At the height of the rocket stage the last combustion will ignite a smoke signal so you can see the rocket and then it will eject the recovery stage of the rocket. It usually produces a small explosion in which the nose cone deploys a small parachute that has been stuffed inside the rockets cone. Which then it will gently glide back down to earth so that you can get the second engine packaged up and ready again for take off.

Model Rocket Performance

There are different categories of model rockets and different size engines for others. These all depend on how the rocket is built, how fast it will travel from point a to point b. How high the rocket goes into the air and how far it goes all depend on the type and size of engine that is being used in the model. The better the ingredients in the prepackaged model rocket engine the better performance you will get out of it every time.

There are several classes of engine that you will notice when you purchase a model rocket engine. Each engine is given a number and all of them correspond to example c6-4. The letter helps you indicate the rocket engines total range with A being the lowest and o being the highest. This range is defined in Newton seconds which is a measure of motion according to Isaac Newton. The first number equals the pounds of thrust that it will give off when the rocket engine is activated. The heavier the rocket that you are looking to have take off from the ground the higher that number should be. The second number is a indication of how many seconds the delay is between each of the burn stages in the rocket it is good to know this number so that you don’t pick a engine that is going to allow the parachute to deploy to quickly when it leaves the ground that way you can get maximum performance out of your newly designed rocket.


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  • Dobson profile image


    8 years ago from Virginia

    My son got a model rocket set for Christmas 5-6 years gao and we have shot it off several times. Unfortunately our lasy launch last year went awry and now we have an unusable rocket. I was just thinking earlier today I need to get a replacement rocket.

    Thanks for this informative hub!


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