The Basics (FAQ)

If you are thinking you might be interested in this hobby or you are a brand new rocketeer, you probably have many questions. This page will answer some of the questions that are asked by aspiring rocketeers. If you have some starter questions that are not answered here, we can add them in. Go ahead and email (rockets(at)flythingz(dot)com) any questions that you'd like to see answered on this page!

Links to questions (and answers!)

Is this sport safe?

How long has model rocketry been a sport?

How many people participate in model rocketry?

What does it cost to get started?

What are the appropriate ages for someone interested in rocketry?

How high does a model rocket go?


Is this sport safe?

Well, sure it's safe. We wouldn't be here promoting it if it weren't. Seriously, though, according to Estes Rockets, there have been over 300 million safe launches of model rockets in the U.S. since the sport started getting popular. There are a number of factors that contribute to this excellent safety record:

  1. Safer equipment - you don't have to build your own motors or load fuel. You can buy inexpensive, reliable single-use motors that will propel your rockets to amazing heights.
  2. Safety in materials - modern models are constructed using only lightweight materials such as balsa, cardboard, and plastic.
  3. Safety systems - today's electronic launch controllers use safety keys to prevent a launch when you don't expect one. If you follow some basic procedures there is very little that can go wrong. The rockets use recovery systems, such as parachutes, so once they've been fired they are returned safely to the ground.
  4. Organizations that promote safety. The National Organization of Rocketry has created a safety code that its members sign and follow that will maximize their enjoyment and protect them. 

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How long has model rocketry been a sport?

Technically, the practice of building rockets started with the Chinese, hundreds of years ago. Generally credited with the invention of gunpowder, they packed this powder into tubes and made simple rockets that were used in military actions and during celebrations. Now, we fast forward to the beginnings of the sport in the United States....

In the U.S., model rocketry really got it's start in the late 1950's. Rocketry and space travel were very much on the minds of people in the era of Sputnik and the Mercury rockets. Many wanted to share in this by building and flying rockets of their own. Some of the early experiments in creating scratch-built rockets ended in disaster, as the builders often made bombs, not rockets. The sport really got its strong start with the development of safe and reliable motors that could be purchased commercially. We now have rigorous standards that define how these motors are manufactured and used. Today's hobby is as safe as any if you follow some basic safety guidelines in the construction and launching of your models.

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How many people participate in model rocketry?

It's difficult to say exactly how many people are enjoying this hobby, but the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) claims that over 80,000 people have joined since they got started in 1957 (this is for the United States only; the number worldwide would be much higher). In addition to the NAR members, there are thousands of others that are "casual rocketeers" and have not yet joined the organization.

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What does it cost to get started?

You can get your start in this hobby with a small investment. Most hobby shops, toy stores, and even some department stores have complete starter kits, many of which cost less than $40 (US). A starter kit will usually have a model rocket (some are even pre-assembled), a launch pad with launch rod, the electrical ignition system (with safety key), motors, igniters, and anything else you might need to launch your first rocket. Note: if the rocket in the starter kit is not pre-assembled, you will need some basic tools and supplies to complete it. See the Getting Started page for more on this.

If you know someone who already has a launch pad and ignition system, you can get started for even less money. In this case, you can go and purchase a kit, assemble it, and use your buddies launch equipment to get it off the ground. Kits start as low as six or seven dollars and a package of three motors is usually around five or six. This is a good way to go if you're not quite sure if the hobby is for you and don't want to make too large an investment until you know more about it.

Of course, if you're pretty sure this sport is for you, you can also spend more on your starter set to get higher quality and equipment that will work for you if you decide to build and fly larger rockets. These kits are priced in the range of $80 to $200 in most cases. They typically have slightly larger rockets and the launch equipment is usually more rugged. Get yourself some manufacturers' catalogs to get an idea of what these kits are about and how much they'll cost you.

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What are the appropriate ages for someone interested in rocketry?

As has already been mentioned, the hobby is a safe one as long as some basic rules are observed. If you're twelve or younger, you'll probably want to get the help of an adult. Building a model rocket is not difficult, but you do need to follow instructions closely and it helps to have someone with some experience looking over your shoulder. If you don't have an adult handy, you can always contact a local rocketry club and ask for some assistance. Most members will be happy to share what they know and get you off to a strong start in your new hobby.

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How high does a model rocket go?

Typical beginner rockets will travel as high as 300 to 1000 feet (100 to 330 meters). Advanced (high power) models commonly go higher than 5,000 feet (2300 meters), with some going much higher. The altitude of a flight depends mainly on the rocket design and weight and the engine used for the launch. Keep in mind that the higher a rocket goes, the larger launch site you'll need to make sure that you get it back after it returns to earth. 

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