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 because club launches are carefully supervised and insured. At club launches your rockets will be checked by a Range Safety Officer and 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 3 things:

  1. A rocket
  2. A pack of motors
  3. Flameproof recover wadding or “dog barf”

Below we will look at each these 3 items in more detail:

Components of a typical model rocket.

Rockets

As a beginner you are going to start with low power rockets. Rockets that require A, B or C motors are a good place to start – See motor section below for more details. Estes and Quest are the two biggest manufacturers of low power 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. Beginner rockets are broken down into three categories “Ready to Fly” or “Almost Ready to Fly” or “Easy to assemble”. 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 usually start with rockets that require 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 B4 and an Estes B6 motor both have similar total impulse because they are both B motors. However the B6 motor burns faster, because it has an average thrust of 6 compared to the B4 motor’s average thrust of 4.

The final number in the rocket motor code 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 B6-4 has a 4 second delay and a B6-6 has a 6 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. Ignitors and ignitor plugs are included with the motors.

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

Recovery Wadding or Dog Barf

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

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

The motor’s ejection charge is a small black powder 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, so they don’t get burnt. Recovery wadding or dog barf is inserted into the rocket’s body tube before the parachute or streamer.

Estes recovery wadding and dog barf.

Where to buy

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

  • Altius Gold – Sam from Altius Gold attends most of our launches and sells a wide range of rocket motors. Sam also stocks some more advanced rocket kits.
  • 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.

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