Model rocketry is a hobby that involves the construction, launching, and successful landing of low power rockets, unmanned flying vessels that weight less than one ounce and may reach a maximum altitude of 1,500 feet. Low power rockets often have recovery systems that help launchers retrieve it after it has landed. Model rocketry enthusiasts may use a number of recovery methods, including featherweight recovery, tumble recovery, nose-blow recovery, and parachutes or streamers.
Enthusiasts may construct their own model rockets from paper, wood, plastic, or other lightweight materials, either from scratch or by assembling pre-packaged kits. In addition, enthusiasts may incorporate instrumentation that helps enliven the experience, such as aerial photography and electronic altimeters. Experienced model rocket enthusiasts may advance towards high-power rocketry. High-power model rockets follow the same principle as their low-power counterparts, except that they are constructed from heavier materials, such as fiberglass, aluminum, and composites. High-power rockets must also weight more than 1,500 grams, contain more than 125 grams of propellant, and have an impulse that lasts more than 320 Newton-seconds.
Model rocketry has origins in thirteenth century China, where the civilians used black powder to propel objects toward their desired destination. The Chinese referred to these objects as “arrows of fire,” and converted them to weapons of war. Over the course of a few hundred years, refinements were made in rocket design that improved the accuracy and distance achieved when using these modified flying objects. For instance, Jean Beavie developed the theory behind multistage rockets, or a sketched idea that incorporates multiple fuel pockets in line and then firing them in succession. Multistaging solved the problem of escaping the Earth's gravitational pull.
Other experimenters devised plans for building small model rockets; however, the first modern model rocket was not produced until much later. In 1954, Orville and Robert Carlisle developed the first model rocket motor, originally intended for educational purposes only until both brothers discovered the safety problems of young people trying to make their own model rocket engines with tragic results. In response to these accidents, the Carlisles marketed their model rocket engine as a safe outlet for the emerging hobby. They sent their model rocket engine design to Harry Stine, the Popular Mechanics author that wrote about the aforementioned tragedies in several articles produced in the magazine. Stine built and flew their rocket models, and then created a safety handbook, also known as the NAR Safety Code, for the rest of model rocket enthusiasts worldwide. This led to the development of model rocket mass production, which gave birth to Model Missiles Incorporated, Estes Industries, Centuri, Cox, and Quest Aerospace.
Each model rocket must conform with the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) Safety Code, which provides guidelines for rocket motor use, launch methods, launch site selection, launcher placement, recovery system design, and deployment. The majority of model rocket kits currently in production have a copy of the official NAR Safety Code to ensure that hobbyists understand the dangers associated with abusing the materials contained within the package. The NAR Safety Code was created to avoid injuries that previously haunted the pioneers of the sport. Modern model rocketry has been proven to be a safe hobby for people of all ages. In addition, many scholars cite the hobby as a major inspiration for children who eventually become scientists, astronomers, astronauts, and engineers.
Model Rocketry for Kids and Teens