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Rocket and Roll - A Homemade Rocket

This rocket is small. It only travels about ten feet or so, but that is approximately 150 times its length. It gets hot to the touch, and can blister a hand, so youe must only use it outdoors and on a fireproof surface such as a driveway.

This rocket is often inaccurate, so use the center of the driveway so they don't land in dry grass somewhere. As always when using something that burns, such as chemicals, a bbq grill, or science experiment a smart safety precaution is to keep a source of water, such as a bucket full of water or garden hose, nearby.

This rocket is made out of aluminum foil and match heads, and takes less than a minute to put together.


a book of paper matches (or a box of wooden matches)
a sheet of aluminum foil
a pair of scissors
a paper clip
a straight pin.  


1. Cut a narrow strip of aluminum foil, about 1 inch wide and three inches long.
2. Tear the head off of a paper match (or cut it off with the scissors), leaving as little of the paper as possible attached to the match head.
3. Set the matchhead on the foil near one end, with the top of the head facing down towards you.
4. Roll the edge of the foil over the match head, forming a tube with the match head in the center.
5. Unfold the paper clip and insert one end of the wire into the tube so that it touches the top of the match head (not the paper end).
6. Press the foil tube flat to hold everything in place.
7. Fold the foil over one or two more times.  Tear off the excess foil.
8. Twist the foil at the free end tightly.  Do not tear it.
9. Twist the end with the paper clip tightly about the paper clip wire.  Make sure that the paper clip wire stays in contact with the match head.
10. Cut off the excess foil from the end opposite the paper clip wire.
11. Now build your launcher.  It is a straight pin stuck through a piece of cardboard (such as an empty matchbook) or a wad waste or excess of aluminum foil.  The pin should point upwards at a 45 degree angle. 

Aim the prepared rocket in a safe direction.  This means away from the house and down the center of the driveway, if that is your fireproof service mentioned above.  Make sure anything it may come to rest on will not burn or melt.

Light a match, or use one of those nifty trigger charcoal starters.  Hold your heat source under your paper clip wire.  This will make the paper clip wire hot which will cause the match head that it is touching to ignite. The hot gases from the match head will have only one way to escape -- through the hole where the pin is. As the gases go one way, the rocket goes the other, with a sharp hiss, and a trail of smoke. Depending on how big the matchhead was, and how much foil was used, the rocket will travel anywhere from a few inches to 20 feet.

If your rocket does not fly, but instead bursts through the side of the foil, you need to build one with more foil (by rolling it one more time before tearing off the excess foil). If it hisses but doesn't leave the pin, check to make sure that the rocket slides easily up and down the pin. The pin should not block the tube completely, but should leave some space between it and the foil. In other words, the pin should be skinnier than the paper clip. Be careful not to squash the tube flat while handling the rocket.

Why? A matchhead makes a good rocket fuel because it carries both the burnable material and the oxygen needed to burn it. The burnable material in this case is the sulfur in the matchhead. The oxygen comes from compounds like potassium chlorate and potassium nitrate that are mixed with the sulfur.


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