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Beginner's Guide to model rocketry

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Where can model rockets be launched?

In Canada, you must follow the model rocketry safety rules available here.
Section 7 specifies the requirements for the location you choose and this table further specifies the requirements to the size of the launch site.
Canadian Aviation Regulations prohibit launching the model rockets into a cloud or in a manner that is or is likely to be hazardous to aviation safety.
There are no other federal or provincial restrictions applicable to model rocketry. There could be local park or city by-laws limiting this activity, which could apply to park or city property.
Be respectful to other people and do not launch your rockets in crowded places like public beaches or picnic areas.

To launch the rocket you need:
  1. Rocket
  2. Rocket Engine
  3. Launch Pad
  4. Launch Controller and battery
  5. Igniter
  6. Wadding
  7. Launch Site

Let's look at each of the items in more details. Or skip to "what to expect during a first launch".

Rocket

Model rocket is built from lightweight materials like paper and plastic. It can be pre-assembled, or will require some work on your part. You will know how much work is required by looking at the "skill level". Skill Levels are: RTF (Ready to Fly), E2X (Easy to Assemble) and Level 1 through 5. Here is the information about skill levels in more details.

A Rocket can be reused again and again.

When you launch the rocket - it will be propelled by the engine up to the sky. After the engine fuel is spent (burnout), rocket will still coast higher, slow down and start falling back. At some point after the burnout the engine will push forward the parachute or streamer that was packed inside the rocket. The parachute will deploy and slow the rocket down. In a few more seconds the rocket will gently fall to the ground. After re-arming the rocket the process can be repeated.

The main challenge during the launch is the wind. It can change the path of your rocket after the liftoff, or blow it away during the descent. Since the descent is pretty slow and rocket is now attached to a parachute, the rocket can be carried away by several hundred meters. It is not uncommon to lose your rocket in windy conditions. With experience you will learn to deal with the wind, though.

Rocket Engine / Motor

A Rocket Motor is a device that produces energy by burning propellant stored inside. Rocket Motor cannot be reused, unless it is a reloadable motor in which case the motor casing can be re-used. While engine is burning it produces flame, heat and sparks, flame an heat, so you need to stay away from the launch pad.

There are lots of different engines. Apart from being produced by several different companies, they are also built to produce different amount of energy. The amount of energy stored is indicated by the first letter. "A" is a - the smallest, and with each next letter the amount of energy is up to twice more. The "G" engine is the most powerful we use in model rocketry, anything above that is a "high-power rocketry". The amount of average thrust produced is indicated by the number following the first letter. The higher the number - the higher is the average thrust of the engine.

An engine also serves another purpose, it is responsible for deploying the parachute or streamer. After the burnout and a specific delay the ejection charge explodes inside the rocket and pushes the parachute from the rocket. The last digit on the engines indicates the time (in seconds) between the burnout and the ejection.

Despite producing flame and heat, engines and the hobby itself is safe, if all components are used as intended and safety rules are followed. Canadian association of rocketry has developed safety rules that can be found here.

Engines are sold individually, or in packs. Smaller engines always come in packs. Most common is a 3-pack, but you can also find 24 engine packs, also called Bulk Packs. Buying bulk packs has 2 advantages: Lower per-engine price and the fact that wadding and extra igniters are included.

Launch Pad

Launch pad is a device that holds and points your rocket up to the sky. It also deflects the flame from the ground thus reducing the risk of starting the grass fire. The launch pad allows to change the angle slightly, to make adjustment for the wind.

Different rockets can be launched from the same launch pad. For bigger rockets you might need to place bigger launch rod. If this is the case - it will be indicated in the rocket description.

If you launch E through G powered rockets, you will need a bigger launch pad. And as usual, it will be indicated in the description of the rocket kit.

The one thing on the launch pad that may need a replacement is a deflector plate. The flame produced by the engines is so hot, that in time, you will find a hole in the thick metal plate. This will not happen very soon, though.

Launch Controller

Launch controller is your control centre. Its purpose is to send electrical current to the igniter and start the rocket engine. The controller has safety key and push button. The engine will ignite when both safety key and launch button are pressed. The controller is connected to the igniter with electrical wires. The wires are long enough to make sure you are positioned at the safe distance from the launch pad. Some controllers have audible signal to warn you and others about the launch, and indicate that wires are connected properly. Launch controller must be connected to external battery or has the battery inside. You can find more information about Launch pad and controller here.

Launch Controller is something you use again and again, just make sure you have fresh batteries.

Bigger rockets may require more powerful launch controller. If this is the case it will be indicated in the rocket description.

Igniter

Igniter is a little wire that produces heat when electric current passes between its terminals and ignites the propellant inside the engine. You place the igniter in the engine when you are ready to launch the rocket and connect it to your launch controller. Igniters are included with all engines you find on this site. Igniter is fragile and if you break it, you need a new one. (Estes bulk engine packs include extra igniters).

Wadding

Wadding is a non-flammable paper you put inside you rocket between the engine and the parachute or streamer (recovery system). Its purpose is to prevent hot gas from the engine's ejection charge from melting your rocket and recovery system.

You need to put more than one sheet of paper in your rocket and it largely depends on the diameter of your rocket. You should never replace the wadding with any other paper or material that is not built specifically for this purpose. (It will catch a fire and may spread it)

Launch Site

Launch site is a large space free from trees, cars, buildings, flammable materials and overhead wires. It should also be away from the roads. Public park or sport field is the best place. Farm field is even better, but make sure you have owner's approval to use the property. The size of the launch site depends on the engine and starts from 100 ft square for A engines and up to 1000 ft square for G powered rockets.

The place where you position your launch pad and the ground within 2 meters around it - should be free from dry grass. When the rocket lands after the successful launch engine is not hot enough to start a fire, therefore having dry grass away from the launch pad is not a problem, although sometimes people bring fire extinguishers or water with them.

What to expect during first launch?

5,4,3,2,1 There will be loud sound coming from the rocket lasting for about a second. The rocket will reach its apogee and if you packed the parachute properly, it will be deployed (if not, warn others about incoming missile). The wind will pick up your rocket and you or somebody else will need to follow it. The rocket will descent slowly. The engine will still be hot for another minute after landing.

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