Beginner’s Guide

So you want to get started in the wonderful hobby of model rocketry?

Great, we are here to help.

We always recommend flying rockets with a club. Club launches are awesome for beginners because:

  • The launches are supervised and insured.
  • There will be lots of experienced people who can offer you help and advice.
  • Your rockets will be carefully checked during a Flight Safety Review.
  • You can use the club’s launch equipment.

Many beginners are tempted to buy a Rocket Starter Kit. But these kits include a launch pad and launch controller that you won’t need if you fly with a club.

Before buying a Rocket Starter Kit consider if you need the launch pad and controller.

To get started launching rockets with NSWRA you only need 2 things:

  1. A low power rocket
  2. A pack of low power motors

Below we look at the key rocket components is more detail and explain how to prepare and fly your rocket.

Components of a typical model rocket.

Rockets

Rocket kits are classified based on how difficult they are to build. If you have no previous experience building models then the Estes “Beginner” rockets are a good place to start. The fins typically come attached and often the tubes are pre-finished, so no painting is required. You may need some glue, but no specialist tools.

If you have some experience building models then you may wish to consider Estes “Intermediate” rockets or Quest “Skill Level 1” rockets. These rocket kits require some basic construction techniques, some basic tools, glue and paint.

Estes have been producing the Alpha rocket for more than 50 years and they claim millions of people have flown it as their first rocket.

Motors

Beginners typically start with rockets that fly using A, B or C motors.

The letter at the start of the motor code denotes the total impulse or power rating. Each time you move up a letter the total impulse doubles. So a B motor is twice as powerful as an A motor and a C motor is twice as powerful as a B motor.

The first number in motor code is the average thrust of the motor. This number takes into consideration how quickly the motor burns.  So for example an Estes C6 and an Estes C11 motor have very similar total power (total impulse) because they are both C motors. However the C11 motor burns faster, because it has an average thrust of 11 compared to the C6 motor’s average thrust of 6.

The final number in the rocket motor code (after the dash) is the time delay before the ejection charge is fired. The ejection charge will eject the parachute or streamer out of the rocket, so you want this to occur when the rocket slows down at its highest point in the flight (Apogee). A C6-5 has a 5 second delay and a C6-7 has a 7 second delay.

This may all appear a little overwhelming, but the good news is rocket manufacturers will provide you with a list of motors that work well in the rocket. So follow their advice and you should have a good flight.

Motors typically come in packs of 2 or 3.

If you want to get a deeper understanding of rocket motors codes then this Apogee newsletter or Apogee video provide lots more information.

Igniters

When you purchase a pack of rockets motors you will find igniters and igniter plugs are included with the motors. Igniters are used to light the motor and igniter plugs hold the igniter in place.

Before installing the igniter check that the igniter wires are not touching. Igniters can get bent and this may cause the wires near the tip of the igniter to touch, which will prevent the igniter from working. Also check the that tip of the igniter is not damaged and the wire isn’t broken.

To install the igniter gently insert the pointy end of the igniter into the hole in the motor’s clay nozzle, then insert the igniter plug to hold the igniter in place. Bending the igniter wires into U shapes will provide a more secure connection when you connect the alligator clips at the launch pad.

Ensure there is a gap between the igniters wires. If the wires are touching the igniter will short and won’t light your motor.

How to install an igniter in a rocket motor.

Recovery Wadding or Dog Barf

The motor’s ejection charge creates a small explosion that pressurises the rocket’s body tube. This pressure forces the nose cone and parachute or streamer out of the body tube.

We use recovery wadding or dog barf to protect the parachute or streamer from the hot gases of the ejection charge.

Recovery Wadding – A tissue that has been treated to make it flame resistant. It looks a bit like toilet paper.

Dog Barf – Flame resistant cellulose roof insulation. Often used as a cheaper alternative to recovery wadding. NSWRA provides a small amount of free dog barf for members to use at each launch.

Estes recovery wadding (left) and dog barf (right).

Parachutes or Streamers

Most rocket kits include a parachute or streamer that is ejected from the rocket to slow its descent.

It’s important to pack the parachute or streamer carefully so that it doesn’t get stuck inside the rocket.

There are lots of different techniques for packing parachutes, but we found this that this technique works well.

A well packed parachute will significantly increase the chances of you recovering your rocket safely.

Launch Officials

Experienced members of NSWRA volunteer at each launch. The key positions are:

  • Range Safety Officer (RSO) – Responsible for range safety.
  • Launch Control Officer – Responsible for launching rockets.
  • Flight Safety Review – Responsible for checking rockets before they fly.

Preparing your rocket for flight

If you follow these simple steps hopefully you will have a successful flight:

  1. Insert the rocket motor into the rocket and check that it is retained properly. In most entry level kits the motor is retained by a metal clip or a plastic screw-on retainer.
  2. Remove the parachute or streamer from the rocket and add some wadding or dog barf into the rocket’s body tube. The amount of wadding or dog barf required will vary depending on the rocket, but a depth of 1 to 2 times the diameter of the rocket is a good rule of thumb.
  3. Carefully fold the parachute or streamer and insert it into the rocket’s body tube. The parachute or streamer should be quite loose so that it can be easily ejected.
  4. Insert the nose cone and check the fit. The nose cone should be tight enough that it doesn’t fall out when the rocket is turned upside down, but not too tight that it can’t be easily ejected.
  5. Insert the igniter and igniter plug.
  6. Complete the Flight Card. Ensure you carefully complete all sections.

Setting up your rocket on the launch pad

  1. Take your rocket and Flight Card and present it for the pre-flight safety review. If your rocket passes the review your Flight Card card will be signed.
  2. Take your rocket out to the launch pad and find a rod that is the appropriate size for the launch lugs on your rocket. Slide rocket down the launch rod. Check that it can move up and down freely.
  3. Attach the 2 alligator clips to the igniter wires. Ensure that the alligator clips are not touching each other.
  4. Write the pad number on the bottom of the Flight Card.
  5. Check the igniter continuity by pressing the button on the pad box that corresponds with the pad number. The red led should light and you should hear a continuous beep if the igniter has continuity.
  6. Attach your Flight Card to the clip board marked “To Launch” on the LCO’s table.
  7. Retreat behind the orange rope and wait for the LCO to commence the launch.
  8. Enjoy watching a successful flight.

After the flight

  1. If your rocket descends a significant distance away watch it all the way to the ground and then look for a landmark in the distance that is in line with where the rocket landed. For example a tree, building or power pole.
  2. Once the LCO has declared that the range is open you can go and retrieve your rocket. Walk in a straight line directly towards the landmark and you should easily find your rocket.
  3. Remove the motor and dispose of it in the bin.

Congratulations you have successfully completed your first flight!

Where to buy

Many hobby shops sell rockets and motors, but here’s our suggestions to get you started:

  • Berg’s Hobbies – Based in Paramatta, Berg’s hobbies has an excellent range of rocket kits and motors.
  • HobbyCo – Their flagship store in the Sydney’s Queen Victoria building stocks a good range of motors and some rocket kits.
  • Frontline Hobbies – Based in Newcastle, Frontline has an excellent range of rocket kits and motors, and an online store.

Alternatively rockets and motors can be purchased on Ebay or Amazon, but postage can be expensive.

Large selection of rockets at Berg’s Hobbies in Parramatta.