Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by rockets and astronauts and dreamed of being able to go into space one day. I loved Star Wars and Star Trek and I still dream of being able to experience the grandeur of my home planet by having a view from up above one day (after the kids are grown of course). Until then, one of the best ways my son and I can experience the thrill of space travel with some added science lessons thrown in to the mix is by building and launching model rockets. From the initial idea to five foot three-stage rockets, here is your guide to some of the best products you can get for a very enjoyable amateur hobby.
Model rocketry as a hobby has been popular ever since the space race began in the 1950s and kids began dreaming of being in Earth orbit and beyond. It’s pretty simple. Make an aerodynamic rocket of lightweight materials, launch it with an engine, and then recover it. But the enjoyment of the hobby goes far above just a ten second rocket flight.
First you craft your rocket and paint it. Then you need a launch pad, an open field with no trees, and little or no wind. Then watch your creation soar to the heavens. The complexities of making your rocket stable, what type of engine to use, and the type of recovery used on your rockets are all things to discuss when you start your hobby.
Aerotech Rocketry is a company that is perfect for more advanced and hard-core rocketeers. Their Mantis launch system is heavy duty enough to handle smaller beginning rockets all the way up to the much larger and taller systems used for major competitions. Combine it with the launch controller and you’ll be ready for liftoff.
The Mantis launch pad can be adjusted for wind and the launch controller has forty feet of cord so you can be far enough away from your launch. Four lightweight aluminum legs are sturdy for heavier rockets and stable for all kinds of turf. You can bring your own size launch rod depending on the size of the rocket. Discount Rocketry is currently selling the Mantis for $92.
Estes Rockets are probably the most well-known of any model rocketry company and they have some very basic rocket kits that will get any kid instantly interested. They do make some ready to fly models which I would suggest for children ages eight to ten, but for kids who love to build things their easiest skill level rockets are the best you can get.
The Cosmic Explorer is a rocket about two feet tall that requires you to glue the fins on the bottom of the rocket, attach a balsa wood nosecone, and you’re ready to go in a few hours after the glue dries. You even have the glory of an 18-inch parachute to bring your ride safely back to the ground after a nearly one thousand food flight. Estes sells this product for $22.
Apogee Rockets has some cool designs and bright colors. For something a little different try the Texas Twister rocket painted in yellow.
At skill level 3 it’s an intermediate rocket with fins that act as a helicopter on the way down and doesn’t even have a parachute. As such, you’ll need smaller engines for its lighter overall weight but you’ll still get some spectacular flights.
For something really challenging, Quest Aerospace has a space shuttle for you to fly. Piggyback the shuttle component onto a rocket and watch it glide back to earth as the rocket booster parachutes back like a normal rocket.
Small and compact, don’t let the size of this kit fool you as you’ll have fun trying to keep up with a rocket that splits into two pieces. Kits can be bought for around $15 from the Quest website.
As you become even more proficient at your launches and recoveries, consider even designing your own rocket from scratch without a kit. I suggest mimicking some of the same materials you can find on the market today such as plastic-coated paperboard and balsa wood so as to avoid any weight distribution or thrust problems. Once you become enamored with earth-bound rocket launches your life will never be the same.
You can have all kinds of fun with model rocketry no matter the age. Launch an egg, insects, even have multi-stage rockets that soar multiple thousands of feet in the air and take minutes to come back down. The possibilities are endless with this perfect hobby for kids who love to build things and be outdoors.