Fun at Home - Calling All Rocketeers

Calling All Rocketeers

The challenge

Build and launch paper rockets at home and continually test and improve your design. 

This isn’t about how far your paper rocket can fly, after all we don’t want it landing in your neighbour’s garden. Instead this is all about predicting, testing, observing, recording and then refining your design. Can you make your rocket fly exactly where you want it to every single time? 

Design Thinking Process

Time to do and skill level

20 to 30 minutes for the Simple rocket launcher Mk 1, longer for the Mk 2 version. This activity can be extended if you want to experiment with different materials or methods of launching.

Easy to Medium - depending on which rocket launcher you choose to build.

Simple rocket launcher Mk1

Let's start with the simplest version to get you going.

For Simple Rocket launcher Mk 1 you will need:

Simple Rocket Launcher - You will need

  • Design Thinking Process PDF  - download here
  • Plastic drink bottle
  • 30cm of reticulation hose or similar
  • Scissors
  • Sticky Tape
  • Gaffer Tape or fabric tape
  • Paper 


Step 1- Check your equipment list and print off your Design Thinking Process or have it on screen.

Step 2- Clean and dry your plastic drink bottle thoroughly, choose a bottle that you can easily squeeze but also one that will return to its previous shape. You don’t want your rocket launcher to be single use. Cut a length of reticulation pipe or garden hose to approximately 30cm. If you don’t have a hose, then see if a plastic drinking straw will work. 

Step 3– The mouth of my bottle was wider than the reticulationhose I was using so I cut a crude circle from cardboard to help hold it in place. I inserted around 8cm of the hose into the neck of the bottle and then used gaffer tape to hold it in place. I would advise using small pieces of tape at a time and squeeze the bottle gently as you go, testing for any escaping air. 

Simple Rocket Launcher Mk1 - Step 3A Simple Rocket Launcher Mk1 - Step 3B

Step 4 – To make the body of my rocket I wrapped a piece of paper approximately 10 x 15cm in size around the end of the hose. I taped along the seam of the paper but made sure I didn't wrap it too tightly or stick it to the hose by accident. The paper rocket should slip off the hose easily at this stage.  

Simple Rocket Launcher Mk1 - Step 4A Simple Rocket Launcher Mk1 - Step 4B

Step 5 – To make the nose cone for such a small rocket I simply cut the end of the rocket to a point and then taped up the seams. I then cut some triangles from paper to act as tail fins and taped them into place.  

Simple Rocket Launcher Mk1 - Step 5A Simple Rocket Launcher Mk1 - Step 5B

Step 6 – Now it's time to test your rocket and refine your design.  


What's the science behind the rocket? Newton’s Third Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. When we squeeze the plastic bottle the air inside is forced at speed from the bottle, through the hose and pushes the rocket into the air.  

If you’ve had a go at making the balloon car then you've already seen this principle in action. It's very simple but can give great results. 

Simple rocket launcher Mk2 

Now you're ready to push your engineering skills.

For Simple Rocket launcher Mk 2  you will need:

  • Design Thinking Process PDF - download here
  • Foot pump for air mattress
  • 1 x 30cm length of 25mm diameter PVC pipe
  • 1 x 20cm length of 25mm diameter PVC pipe
  • Scissors
  • Sticky Tape
  • Gaffer Tape or fabric tape
  • Timber for base or building bricks, stack of books as alternative 


Step 1 - For my design I settled on a foot pump that is typically used to inflate air mattresses. The foot pump is acting like a reservoir and bellows combination, that’s the bit that fill us up with air and then you stamp on it to force the air out in an explosive action. This is identical to the bottle version above but this time I have a larger reservoir of air acting as fuel so I should be able to launch a rocket further. 

Simple Rocket Launcher Mk2 - Step 1

Step 2 - I cut down a length of 25mm diameter PVC pipe from the local hardware store. I then attached the pipe to the flexible hose that comes from the foot pump with a strip of gaffer tape. I want to make sure that no air is escaping as that will stop my rocket launching effectively.  

Simple Rocket Launcher Mk2 - Step 2

Step 3 - I constructed a rudimentary wooden base for the rocket launcher itself to sit in. There are a couple of reasons for this but the main one is it allows me to change the angle the rocket is launched at and be consistent when I do it. It’s not a good scientific approach to just guess what angle you are using for the launch. If you don’t have wood and tools handy then what could you use from your own house? A stack of books or maybe some Lego bricks. 

Simple Rocket Launcher Mk2 - Step 3

Step 4 - Remember that 25mm diameter PVC pipe that I attached to the foot pump? Well I kept another length of that aside because I need to use it whenever I form a new rocket. Take a piece of paper roughly A5 in size and wrap it around pipe, not too tightly though! Follow the steps from the previous Mk1 design and you will have a paper rocket ready to launch. 

Step 5 - Your rocket is now ready for its maiden flight. Carefully slide it on to your launcher and push or step firmly down on the reservoir. 


What did you observe? The chances are that the rocket spiralled or maybe didn’t launch at all. Have you made sure there are no air gaps? Did you design and attach fins at the back of the rocket to help stabilise it as it travelled through the air?  

If it did fly successfully what elements of your rocket design can you now change to alter its flight path? More fins, a different nosecone, can your rocket carry weight, how about putting a tiny piece of plasticine inside the nose cone and seeing what happens. You can place a bucket at one end of your garden or suspend a hoop from a tree and see if you can launch the rocket through the hoop and into the bucket. Don’t forget that you should only change one piece of design at a time and record your observations otherwise you’ll never know why the rocket has behaved differently.  

Will it launch at all if we press down on the reservoir slowly?  

Contact Us

I would love to hear your answers or questions and see what design solutions you come up with, remember this is not rocket science ………no wait it is, it is rocket science!  

Email me at:

This Fun at Home activity is presented by:

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