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Use of Single Stage Model Rockets to Teach Some Engineering Principles and Practices to First Year Engineering and Engineering Technology Students

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Aerospace Technical Session 3

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1643.1 - 26.1643.31



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Paper Authors


Hüseyin Sarper Old Dominion University

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Hüseyin Sarper, Ph.D., P.E. is a lecturer in the Engineering Fundamentals Division at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He was a professor of engineering and director of the graduate programs at Colorado State University – Pueblo in Pueblo, Col. until 2013. He was also an associate director of Colorado's NASA Space Grant Consortium between 2007 and 2013. His degrees, all in industrial engineering, are from the Pennsylvania State University (BS) and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (MS and Ph.D.). His interests include Space, reliability, economic analysis, and renewable energy.

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Linda Vahala Old Dominion University

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Dr. Linda Vahala received her from the University of Illinois in 1969, an M.S. degree from the University of Iowa in 1971, and a Ph.D from Old Dominion University in 1983. Her publications include articles in both plasma physics and atomic physics with an emphasis on laser interactions with plasma and with neutral/rare gas collisions. She has presented her work at various international workshops and meetings, both in Europe and in the United States. She is currently Associate Dean and Director of the Engineering Fundamentals Division at ODU. In 1995, she received the Peninsula Engineer of the Year award.

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Use of Model Rockets to Teach Engineering Principals and Practices to First Year StudentsModel rocketry has been called miniature astronautics; a technology in miniature,a hobby, a sport, a technological recreation, an educational tool, and it is all ofthese things. This paper will describe student projects using model rockets andengines to learn engineering principles for launching rockets and determining theapogee. Model rocketry is a powerful tool for instructors who wish toincorporate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into a fun,engaging, and challenging activity for first year engineering students. The apogeecan be determined using four distinct methods: trigonometry using hand heldangle measuring tools, onboard altimeter devices, analytical calculations based onNewton’s second law and careful weight measurements of the models with orwithout payloads, and rocketry simulation software. Students get a practicalintroduction to many engineering concepts they will study later on. Theseconcepts include thrust, impulse, drag, payload design and insertion, ascend anddescend (with and without a parachute) times, speed, and acceleration. Theseactivities constitute about one credit worth portion of a two-credit course inexploration of engineering and technology which includes laboratory andrecitation components. The laboratory component is dedicated to rocketry onlyfor certain sections with mechanical and aerospace areas of emphasis. Allfreshmen enroll in identical recitation sections. Students learn many skills theyneed later in their studies and professional practice. Teamwork is a skill that theyacquire and they organize into a group with many specialized responsibilities forthe purpose of launching their rockets and collecting valuable data to be processedand analyzed in the classroom. Students also learn or improve spreadsheet skillswhile performing data entry and necessary mathematical calculations. Theoutcomes include understanding of how each of the four apogee determinationmethods works, realization that results are often inconsistent, and appreciation forteamwork. Other outcomes include gaining a firm belief that engineering data isprecious and it must be carefully recorded and saved for future use. All launchresults are entered into a spreadsheet and posted on the blackboard.Documentation of lessons learned is a major outcome also. Just as in the realpractice, model rocket launches are subject to many unexpected and surprisingproblems including loss of a vehicle with expensive altimeter(s) or other sensorsonboard after a successful flight. Each team carefully notes and reports theproblem encountered and remedy, if any, to the instructor who enters theinformation to the master flight log spreadsheet. The main assessment is theweekly group progress reports and the final team report on the construction andflight of a rocket. Weekly practice activities use ready to fly larger rockets thatuse progressively bigger engines with higher average thrust. A majority ofstudents, even those with prior model rocket experience, have found thismathematical and practical rocketry based approach very interesting, worthwhile,and useful. This approach is very likely to increase retention also.

Sarper, H., & Vahala, L. (2015, June), Use of Single Stage Model Rockets to Teach Some Engineering Principles and Practices to First Year Engineering and Engineering Technology Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24980

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015