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# PREDICTING THE HEIGHT OF A ROCKET

Prepared for
Douglas Hendricks
Teacher, Physics Honors Period A2
Academy for Math, Engineering & Science

By

Michael Nehring
Student, Physics Honors Period A2
Academy for Math, Engineering & Science

## December 10, 2015

ABSTRACT
This procedure was done to demonstrate that the laws of physics, if applied correctly, can be used to
estimate the launch height of a rocket. A subject taught and discussed in class was the Impulse Momentum
Theorem (F t = m v ), which were used to solve for the impulse of the rocket to be launched. Thrust is the
force that launches a rocket; this is the force that gives the rocket a change in its momentum. The drag force/air
resistance (Fd=Kd*v) was also taken into account when solving for the max height for each rocket. Numerical
analysis is looking for patterns or correlation among numbers. Realizing the relationship with the numbers and
what they stand for is very important when using numerical iteration, which is a sequence of equations to
calculate for a final answer. Results from the equations came to be 70.83m, 219.19m, 63.09m without rounding
for the red/black, white, red/yellow rockets respectively. After each rocket was launched, the angle was
measured at a distance of 50m away from the launchpad. The final launch heights were 78.49m, 146.71m,
48.13m without rounding for the red/black, white, red/yellow rockets respectively.
red/black
white
red/yellow

70.83m
219.19m
63.09m

INTRODUCTION
Information learned in class used to solidify the understanding of kinematics and dynamics by deriving
and using Newtons 2nd law of motion, was used to find the maximum height of rockets. Kinematics is defined as
the branch of mechanics concerned with the motion of objects without reference to the forces that cause the
motion. Kinematics is not to be confused with dynamics which is defined as the branch of mechanics concerned
with the motion of bodies under the action of forces.
Other terms that will be used in this report are:
Impulse: The force acting briefly on a body that produces a finite change in momentum.
Momentum: The quantity of motion of a body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity.
Coefficient: a multiplier of factor that measures some property.
Drag Force: Also known as air resistance, describes an object moving through a medium which then faces an
opposing force.
Using Newtons 2nd law of motion, calculating the maximum height of a launched rocket seems inefficient. Once
derived into the Impulse Momentum Theorem, it is possible to calculate, with the help of using the drag force
equation, the maximum height of the launched rocket. The Impulse Momentum Theorem is derived as follows:
F = ma
a = ( v) / ( t)

## Knowing the Impulse Momentum Theorem, applying

how the term impulse is used would only be
necessary for understanding rockets. Rockets, in this
case, are labeled A2-4 for example. The A describes a
small group of numbers calculated to be the impulse,
measured in Newton-seconds. The grading scale goes:

F = m ( v) / ( t)
Multiply both sides by ( t)
F ( t) = m ( v)
m ( v) = ( p)
Therefore: F ( t) = ( p)

2.5N-s

5N-s

10N-s

Etc.

## (and it doubles from here)

ex. 20N-s, 40N-s etc.

## The 2 that follows the impulse is the average force in

Newtons. The last number is the time measured in
seconds. This rocket will have an impulse within 0-2.5Ns, a force/thrust of 2N, and will continue to fire for 4
seconds.

The act of repeating a process to reach a desired result is known as iteration. The difference between
iteration and numerical iteration is the use of numbers in the latter. This mathematical process was used in order
to calculate the height of each rocket tested. The reason to use numerical iteration makes sense because the
thrust and mass of the rocket is constantly changing once ignited and in flight. This can be known at a glance of
the impulse graph of the rocket, which will be shown in the Thrust Analysis section of this report.

## ENGINE THRUST ANALYSIS LAB

To measure the thrust force of the rocket engine as a function of time, a digital force gauge was
connected to a CBL, calculator-based laboratory. Before the main part of the experiment was performed, a
trigger system had to be set up so that the CBL didn't graph unnecessary numbers like the 0s before the rocket
engine fires. The trigger was a force that had to pass a certain threshold in order to activate and begin to graph
the results of the test. Once the CBL was connected to the graphing calculator, triggering was set up, and each
component was placed accordingly, the rocket was ignited. The CBL graphed the force in the time the engine
fired and gave pretty good results.
To the left is an image which describes what was
done to perform the experiment. Below is a graph of
the force (N-y axis) over time (sec-x axis). Each block
is a whole 1 unit.

## The thrust force was measured in 0.1 second intervals

for 3 seconds. The table can be seen below:

## Y-axis (0) Newtons

1.6

3.86

0.1

1.7

3.74

0.2

1.8

3.86

0.3

0.03

1.9

3.92

0.4

2.07

3.86

0.5

8.51

2.1

3.92

0.6

5.96

2.2

3.86

0.7

4.71

2.3

4.13

0.8

4.45

2.4

0.64

0.9

3.53

2.5

0.24

1.1

3.95

2.6

0.21

1.2

4.2

2.7

0.21

1.3

3.77

2.8

0.18

1.4

3.56

2.9

0.15

1.5

4.01

0.12

The impulse of the rocket engine was found by calculating the area of the graph. This was done by breaking the
graph into small rectangles and finding the area of each. Adding the areas together gave an approximate answer
to what the impulse was. The impulse was approx. 8.5, making the engine a C engine. Whats left to do is find
the average force in Newtons, which came to be 3.55 Newtons, rounding to 4.0 Newtons. It turns out that the
engine was a C6 engine, not a C4. The reason why it couldve been off is because of the unit size that was used
to find the area of the graph.

## DRAG FORCE (AIR RESISTANCE)

In order to accurately estimate how high the rocket will launch it is important to calculate for the drag/air
resistance. Air resistance can be thought of as an opposing force against an object. It is unrealistic to think that
Earth's air pressure remains the same at any given altitude, but for the rocket launch, the height won't be very
significant enough to calculate for.
It is known that drag is proportional to velocity, but to be used in an equation, there has to be a
proportionality constant included. The proportionality constant will be the drag coefficient (k d). So:
Fd v
include the proportionality consistent

## The drag force can be calculated as long as kd was

given prior. To find the drag coefficient the object would
be set in a wind tunnel and measured. By using
simple tools, i.e. protractor.

Fd = kd v
For this experiment, the object was placed in the wind tunnel and it was turned on. The wind velocity was
measured using a wind gauge, leaving the equation above with two unknown variables. With the wind pushing
the rocket (attached to the string above the protractor), it tilts it. In fluid dynamics, turbulence has chaotic
properties with its vectors. Anywhere a set of vectors are placed in wind experienced outside, the vectors will
not be uniform throughout. The opposite of turbulent flow is laminar flow. Laminar flow is exactly what is needed
to test for the drag coefficient in the rocket. Below is a figure showing a wind tunnel with a mesh extruded along
the desired vector redirecting the wind to move in one vector.

## By simply substituting in for Newton's 2nd, the

components' equations for the x and y axis become:
Tcos = mg
divide both sides by cos
T = (mg/cos)
For the y axis:
Tsin = Fd
Substitute T in the x axis here:
(mg/cos)sin = Fd
divide both sides
Fd = (mgsin/cos)
To finally find the drag coefficient, just solve for the last unknown variable. The equations listed above
will combine to form: kd = (Fd/v). So kd = ((mgsin/cos) / v). The angle can easily be seen if connected to a
protractor by a string. It is easy to forget that the protractor reads 90, so it is important to subtract by the
measured angle.
Some rockets were too large to fit in the wind tunnel and had to be approximated according to its size
and shape relating to other rockets that were able to be tested.

NUMERICAL MODEL
In order to calculate the anticipated heights for each rocket, the average thrust for 0.0-0.1 (onward for
other sets of heights at a time), the drag force, avg. net force, avg. net impulse and avg. velocity must be
calculated to determine the final height for each rocket.
Time
(sec)

Thrust

Given

Measured

Avg.
Thrust

Drag
Force

Avg. Net
Force

Avg. Net
Impulse

Initial
Velocity

Final
Velocity

Avg.
Velocity

Final
Height

## (Thr1+Th Fd=kd*v^ Thr(avg.)r2)/2

2
mg-Fd
(use last
Vf)

Fnet*t

Given(/la
st row of
Vf)

Vi+Fnet

(Vf+Vi)/2 V(avg.)*
t
height)

This set of equations seem fool proof, but if these equations are used infinitely, the max height will
indeed appear, however the drag vector is still applied in the same direction as it was while the rocket was
traveling upward. This is problematic because the numbers will show its maximum height, slowly decline, and
suddenly pass 0 into negative numbers. Once the maximum height is found, the numbers afterward shouldnt be
used as accurate numbers.
Mass (with rocket body and engine)= 0.102kg
Drag coefficient = 0.0003
Time
Thrust
Avg.
Drag
Avg. Net
(sec)
Thrust
Force
Force

Avg. Net
Impulse

Initial
Velocity

Final
Velocity

Avg.
Velocity

Final
Height

The spreadsheet below has 0.000 set for the drag/air resistance for the same rocket. It can be seen that the max
height is much greater than the predicted maximum height for the rockets. This would be very similar to
launching the same rockets on earth without any atmosphere and having gravity be the only opposing force
acting on the rocket itself.
Mass (with rocket body and engine) = 0.102kg
Drag coefficient = 0.0003
Time
Thrust
Avg.
Drag
Avg. Net
(sec)
Thrust
Force
Force

Avg. Net
Impulse

Initial
Velocity

Final
Velocity

Avg.
Velocity

Final
Height

FLIGHT RESULTS
The flight results were off by quite a few meters, probably because of inaccurate measurements, the arc
of the rocket (rockets rarely fly straight up), or because of a hardware error, which is unlikely. Inaccurate
measurements doesnt seem like it would be the problem since there were three measurers who listed the
results of each flight. The angle was listed and then averaged to get a closer answer to the true angle.
If only one person used a protractor to measure the height of the rocket, the answer would surely be off
because of the rockets arc. Three people would be set 50 meters away from the Launchpad divided 120 apart
from each other to get the most of the measurements.

## The angles measured for the rockets were:

Rocket
Engine
Angle 1
Red/Yellow
A
40
Red/Black
B
47
White
C
48
Red/Yellow
C
65

Angle 2
44
50
70
87

Angle 3
45
74
95
91

Average
43
57
71
81

Now that the angle is averaged, the distance known, all thats left to do is find the height of the
rocket. To do that, the tangent trigonometric equation will be used.
Multiply both sides by the adjacent number (50m)
50tan = opposite
i.e. 50tan43 = 46.626
ans + 1.5 2(persons height)
total rocket height = 48.125

## It is easy to just plug-in the average angles and

find the height of the rocket.
One vital piece of information is the persons
height to add to the rockets height. The person
measured the rocket a certain distance from the
ground, in this case it was 1.5 m.

CONCLUSION:
The final heights for the rockets turned out to be:
Rocket
Predicted Height (m)
Red/Yellow
63.09
Red/Black
70.83
White
219.19
Red/Yellow 2
280.85

## Final Height (m)

48.125
78.493
146.711
317.188

Although these numbers seem a bit off, they are well in the boundaries to call acceptable. There
couldve been many things that may have gone wrong whether it be inaccurate measurements, etc. To
make the results better for another experiment, perfectly made rockets, an indoor rocket lab, and better
measuring tools/more measuring people would be needed for the experiment. Not having access to this
kind of equipment, it was a well-performed lab which applied every topic covered (so far) in physics H.

REFLECTION
I really liked how this project was organized and executed. The timing in the year was great and
the project definitely made me apply everything I know about physics to this point. If the wind was
more prominent in a single direction, I still think I couldve solved for the maximum height because I
learned about vectors. By using these concepts, I feel like I can officially call myself a physics honors
student.