How to Make a Soda Bottle Rocket Launcher With Your Kids
Want an outdoor adventure that’s part mechanics, part crafts and all fun?
Build a rocket launcher with your kids and every time you finish a 2-liter bottle of soda pop, you can send it soaring.
In this article I’ll show you how to launch a bottle rocket adventure with your family. Start with a root beer float, add some arts and crafts, bring on a few building tools and create some high-flying fun.
Why Build a Pop Bottle Rocket Launcher?
Pop bottle rockets provide hours of fun for kids of all ages and all personalities. Got a future engineer? She’ll love to build the rocket launcher. An artsy-craftsy kid? Watch him create the coolest rocket ever to grace a soda bottle. Are you a little competitive? Launch your rocket again and again to see just how high you can make it go.
A rocket launch is great fun for everyone. And it starts with a delicious root beer float. (Or, your budding environmentalists can search through the recycling bin for a bottle to repurpose into a rocket.)
The best part is that once you build the rocket launcher, you can use it over and over again. Just add a new pop bottle rocket for another day of fun with your kids.
This adventure ends with you being the coolest parent ever. It’s the whole package!
Check out this video for an overview of this project. Pop bottle rocket launchers are pretty simple to make and they’re always exciting to watch!
Get a sneak peek at how to build a pop bottle rocket launcher with this video.
Everything you need to build a pop bottle rocket launcher can be found at your local hardware or home-improvement store. You probably have some of the tools and supplies at home already, like 2-liter soda bottles and a bicycle pump. (Don’t let the supply list scare you away. Really—it’s simple!)
Any project where you can reuse and upcycle is a good one.
Most people are familiar with pop bottle rocket launchers from summer camp. There’s nothing like launching a rocket and seeing how high it can go! It’s just so cool!
This project will definitely elevate you to “coolest parent ever” status, at least for a little while!
Ready for liftoff?
10… 9… 8…
#1: Gather Your Supplies
Start by preparing the rocket itself. We recommend using a root beer 2-liter pop bottle. Why? Well, you might be thinking, “it must have better plastic” or “the neck is different.”
NOPE, we say this for one reason and one reason only: root beer floats are awesome!
Grab your pop bottle and some ice cream. In the process of emptying the bottle, enjoy some treats.
Note: If you have multiple children who want to build their own rocket, either have a root beer float party with friends or neighbors OR start planning the rocket launch a few weeks in advance. This way you have time to drink enough soda for multiple rockets. Yes, parents, we know you want to design your own rocket too!
After you’ve emptied and rinsed out the primary element (the pop bottle), gather the rest of the needed supplies. As previously mentioned, some of these you will have at home.
After you’ve gathered all of the supplies, grab the tools you’ll need and head to your “rocket-assembly headquarters.” If you’re building this at your dining room table, we recommend putting down a cloth of some sort to protect your table from the tools and wood.
#2: Prepare Launch Pad Components
Before you construct the launch pad, there are a few pieces you’ll have to assemble.
First, prepare the stopper. Use a drill with a 3/8″ drill bit to put a hole through the bottom of the stopper.
Second, prepare the tire stem. Cut off the big “bulb” end that goes into the tire. Then use a 7/16″ drill bit to punch out the inside of the tire stem.
Next, drill a 3/8″ hole in the center of the mending brace.
Finally, tie each end of the cord/rope to two of the tent stakes. These are the “pins” that hold your launcher on the mending brace.
Parents, most of these preparation steps can be done beforehand or with your young helpers. Depending on the age of your kids, they can assist by handing you the delicate pieces.
Another option: your kids can draw designs for their rockets while you do the prep.
#3: Build the Launch Pad
Here are the basics:
For the base, take a piece of wood (approximately 1 x 2 feet (30 x 60 cm) and at least 1/2″ (1 1/4 cm thick).
Lay the mending brace on the center of the wood platform. Then, mark the two end holes with a pen. Mark the center as well. Set the mending brace aside.
Use the 5/16″ drill bit to drill the two holes on either end. Run the two carriage screws up through the holes. Use a 5/16″ nut on each carriage screw to secure each screw in place. Then run another 5/16″ nut down each carriage screw about halfway.
Now, put the future rocket (pop bottle) on that center spot, so you can figure out the spacing for the corner braces.
Set two corner braces next to each other on either side of the pop bottle. Mark the places for the holes and remove the pop bottle. Use the drill to put a screw into each hole of the corner brace on the wood.
Remember the launcher prep you did in the previous step? Now it’s time to add the components to the launcher.
Insert the tire stem into the leg tip. You want the threads on the tire stem (the part that you would normally put the little cap on) sticking out of the button of the stopper as if you had pushed the stopper onto the chair leg too far.
Now, put the threaded part of the tire stem through the hole you drilled in the center of the mending brace and attach the tire pump to the thread.
Place the mending brace onto the carriage screws.
There—the hardest part’s over! If you have any questions about building your launch pad, refer to the video again or feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once built, you’ll have years of rocket launching fun with this launch pad. We have easily launched more than 500 rockets off of the launch pad in the video.
#4: Make Your Rockets
This is the part where your kids can unleash their creativity by decorating their rockets.
Option one is for younger kids: draw pictures on construction paper, and then tape them around the bottle. Another method: tape the paper around the bottle first and then do the decorating with markers, crayons or glitter.
Next, cut out three fins from the cardboard and attach them to the bottle with duct tape. (The bottom of the rocket is actually the top of bottle—the end with the spout). Your kids can decorate the fins first, if they’d like.
It’s also highly advisable to have your kids name their rockets. We’re not saying we know this for sure, but it’s probably against NASA regulations to fly an un-named rocket. The name should be written on the side of the rocket.
Finally, use a paper cone cup or make a cone out of paper to use for the nose cone on the top of the rocket (which is the bottom of the pop bottle). You’ll also want to experiment with a bit of weight inside the nose cone.
Each rocket flies differently, so the weight needed to keep a rocket steady will vary.
We always start with two or three pieces of gravel and go up from there, one piece of gravel at a time. You can replace the cone as many times as needed.
Keep a log sheet of each flight to track how far the rocket flies. After a number of launches, you’ll be able to work out how much weight makes your rocket fly best.
#5: Launch Day: Make Launch Pad Adjustments
Using the other two tent stakes, secure your launch pad to the ground with tent stakes, as seen in the video at the beginning of this article.
Use a cup (or pour from the bucket through a funnel) to fill the rocket halfway with water. Quickly load the rocket down onto the stopper. Slide the other two tent stakes (the ones with the rope connecting them) over top of the lip of the bottle rocket, making sure you pass through the holes at the top of each inside corner brace.
Add just one or two pumps of air to the rocket. You’ll have to adjust the height of the crossbar so the rocket stays firmly seated on the stopper while you do it.
#6: 3, 2, 1, TAKEOFF
Now that the rocket is securely in place, you’re ready for takeoff. Have your kids hold onto the rope. They should be standing about 6 feet [1.83 metric] back from the rocket launcher. Slowly add air. Start with 20 psi for your first launch. For each successive launch you can add 10 to 20 psi.
When all systems are go, count down together and launch your rocket!
Take pictures and video if you can.
Write each launch down in a log book. Track the weight in the nose cone, amount of water in the rocket, the amount of air pressure, distance of flight, stability of flight and any other variables.
After your rocket launch adventure, talk to your kids about it. Ask about their favorite part of the process, and where in space they think the rockets go. Have younger kids draw pictures of the rocket launch and older ones write a story. It’s a great way to remember your first launch as a family!
Some Final Thoughts…
Once you have your launcher built, you can fly rockets at any time. Feel free to try different pop bottle sizes and styles to see which one flies the best, highest, farthest, etc.
This is a great activity for involving other families. Have each family design its own rocket and see whose flies highest in the sky.
What do you think? Have you ever built a rocket before? Are you going to? What’s your favorite part of this activity? Decorating? Building? Flying? It really has it all, doesn’t it? We’d love to see a picture of your rocket and launcher, or if you want bonus points, show us your rocket flying in the air!
Images from iStockPhoto.
Marissa and her husband Eric have two kids and love to spend time outside. They founded FamilyLifeUniversity.org whose mission is to inspire Christ-centered Meaningful Marriages, Proactive Parenting, and Family Fun. Other posts by Marissa Dingler »