Water rockets

Launching a water rocket, water jet clearly visible

I started building water rockets at age twelve, when I was still in primary school. Back then, my rockets consisted of soda bottles which I pressurised using a simple bicycle pump. I have built lots of water rockets since, and their performance has been improving steadily. I also did research on the flight characteristics of water rockets in high school. The goal of this research was to build a model that could describe the full flight of a water-powered rocket. I then verified this model by a series of experiments, and the model proved reliable.

My most recent rocket is as tall as an adult (1,70 m), and my current altitude record (rocket apogee) stands at approximately 140 m. Below is a video of one flight of my glass-fiber rocket. In this particular flight, the rocket reached an apogee of approximately 110 m.

A water rocket consists of two main parts: a pressure vessel with a nozzle at one end, and a payload area near the top. The payload area houses the parachute recovery mechanism, but also logging hardware such as an altimeter and camera. Using the altimeter’s sensors, rocket height can be accurately measured and graphed, as shown in the figure below. This is the flight characteristic of my current personal record. The blue line represents height, measured in feet.

Graph showing the evolution of height and velocity over time
Flight characteristic: height and velocity over time

Note that this graph shows a parabolic height characteristic, as opposed to the height characteristic in the video above. In this launch, the parachute failed to deploy due to a mechanical failure. This resulted in the rocket crashing into the ground, which destroyed the upper part of the rocket.

The nosecone of one of my rockets was signed by André Kuipers, who went to the International Space Station (ISS) twice. This nosecone flew on the crash flight mentioned above and was damaged quite badly as it drove itself into the ground on impact. However, Mr. Kuiper’s signature remained intact, which was quite surprising. I repaired the nosecone and resprayed it, and it looks like the original, except for some paint marks. It has now been retired and will only serve as a memorial to that fated flight :-).

Water rocket nosecone with signature of André Kuipers
Rocket nosecone with Mr. Kuipers’ signature
The damaged nosecone in the reconstruction process
Reconstructing the damaged nosecone
Respraying the water rocket nosecone
Respraying the damaged areas of the damaged nosecone

I haven’t launched any rockets recently, but I hope I find time to develop and build a new rocket in the future. I’ve learned a lot in the two years since my last launch, and I hope to put some of that and my existing rocket knowledge to practice to build a rocket that has a better overall quality, and is more reliable and safer to operate.

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