Getting StartedROCKET LAUNCH

OK, maybe a few of your questions have now been answered. Now you'd like to know a little more detail about the hobby of model rocketry. This page will give you some more background and it will list steps that you can follow to get yourself started building and flying your own rockets.

Equipment You Will Need

To get yourself going, you'll have to stock up on some gear. Much of the equipment listed on this page you may already own. The additional gear that you purchase will likely last you your entire rocketing career. We'll start by listing the equipment, then give you some actual places to go to get it. So go out and do some shopping and get your rocket program started....


Required and Optional Tools

Most of the rockets you'll own will come to you in the form of kits. They are not difficult to construct, but you will need a few basic construction items in order to get them together right. Here are some to start with; you may want to add to this list some of your own favorites:


Ground Support Equipment

Once you've completed your first kit, you'll be anxious to find out how well it flies. You'll need some ground support equipment (GSE) before you launch. You can usually purchase most of this in the form of a starter set, which can cost less than buying the parts individually. However you get them, make sure you get good quality and they'll last you for your lifetime of rocketry. 

Here's what you need:


Rocket Construction Materials

Here's a quick overview of the materials used in today's model rocket kits. The actual materials used varies from one manufacturer to another, so these are only examples of what you might find in a given kit:


Typical rocket components (from Estes Educator pages)

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Technical - the physics of a rocket

Before we go on to the details of purchasing and building your first kit, you ought to know at least a little about model rockets and how they work. This is a very short overview; you'll find much more if you spend some time checking the Resources & Links page.

Physics of the motor

A model rocket (or a full-sized rocket, for that matter) is propelled forward by gases escaping from the engine (or motor). This is basic Newtonian physics at work: Newton's third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You see examples of this principle all the time in real life. When you inflate a balloon and then release it, it moves because of the air escaping from the opening. Many lawn sprinklers are turned by the force of the water escaping from small nozzles. The gases escaping from the rocket motor via the nozzle create a force in the opposite direction that drives the rocket upwards. We call this force "thrust".

Modern model rockets use disposable motors that are safe and reliable. These motors have the nozzle built into the motor casing (see graphic below). After an initial thrust phase (which usually lasts only about one second), there is a delay to allow the rocket to coast to maximum altitude. If things time out correctly, an ejection charge will fire as the rocket reaches its apogee and the recovery system will be deployed.

From the Estes Educator site

If you would like to know more about the physics of the motor and rocket flight, this NASA site has a lot of good information.


Flight characteristics

There are a number of principles at work once a rocket is launched. The design of the rocket will determine whether or not it is stable in flight. The four key forces involved with a rocket are thrust, drag, weight, and lift. See these NASA educational pages for more detail.

You won't need to worry about this much when building a kit -- these have been carefully tested and proven through multiple launches. If you decide at some point to create your own rocket design, you'll want to learn a bit about the aerodynamics and physics of the moving rocket. You'll also learn some ways to test your design prior to a real launch and this can save your rocket and maybe lower the excitement level just a bit.


Recovery systems

We've talked quite a bit already about launching a rocket. What about after it's sky-high? Then what happens? This is where recovery systems come into play. You'd like to get that fine rocket back to fly again. After all, you spent hours putting it together; you're not going to want it to be a one-shot wonder.

Recovery systems come in several types, but here are a few of the more common ones:


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Getting Your Starter Equipment

If you've worked your way through the Beginning Model Rocketry site, you now have a good idea of what the hobby is about. You may now be wondering what to do next. This page offers some ideas for you on how to proceed. Good luck in your rocketeering!

Choosing a kit vs. a starter set

Now you have a few choices to make. Do you want to assemble your rocket inventory by purchasing individual parts, or should you start with a complete kit? Going with a starter kit has the advantage of getting you going the fastest and it can also save you some money. On the other hand, if you select your equipment individually, you may be more satisfied with your gear. Our recommendation is go to with an inexpensive starter set first, then you can upgrade later if you find that this is the hobby for you. Here are some suggestions on starter kits...

Where to order


Some manufacturers sell direct to customers. If you're not too limited in hobby funds, a good intermediate starter set can be found at the Aerotech site. This set comes with the Initiator rocket and a medium-duty launch pad. The price will be close to $200 after shipping, which is more than the kit described below. But this gear appears to be top-notch and would last you a long time. You can also purchase this kit from a dealer online. See the Initiator System Starter Kit.


Dealers and Hobby Shops

Starter sets at the low end of the price range are often sold at hobby shops and larger department stores. Here's an example of a  starter set that is inexpensive and yet quite complete: Estes Stars & Stripes Starter Set.

Here are a couple of web-enabled hobby shops that can sell you a similar kit (the Alpha III Starter Set): Uptown Sales and Discount Rocketry . You may be able to find even better deals by doing a little searching on the web.



We won't have to help you with receiving the kit, doing the assembly, and that exciting first launch. The instructions that come with your gear will do just fine. Be sure to follow the instructions closely. If you have questions, most companies have support phone lines and email addresses that you can use to get help. If you take your time and do a good job, your first launch will go off smoothly. It could be the start of an exciting and life-long journey.


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