Is Model Rocketry Safe?

Estes model rocketry is one of the safest outdoor activities in the world. Over 315 million model rockets have been launched since 1958. Estes has provided over 50 years of education materials and innovative and breathtaking fun to people of all ages. Whether you are into flying rockets at school, for fun or competition, Estes rockets offer a truly rewarding experience.

Is Model Rocketry Expensive?

The initial cost to get started is less than might be expected compared to many other outdoor activities. Once you have acquired an Estes Launch Set, which includes a rocket or two, launch pad and electric launcher, your cost for your classroom is the additional Estes rocket and engine bulk packs.

How high can a model rocket fly?

Because of the variety of rocket designs and engines used, the height of rocket flights varies. Estes has model rockets that can fly from 100 feet to several thousand feet and all are reusable. Many Estes rockets have secondary features like payloads and multi-stages.

Can I fly my Estes rockets more than once?

Estes model rockets are designed to be flown over and over. After launching and recovery, simply repack the rocket with wadding, refold and insert the parachute or streamer, remove the used engine casing and insert a new engine, igniter and igniter plug. Now you are ready for another exciting mission!

Where can I fly my model rockets?

For launch information, look at the “NAR Model Rocket Safety Code“. You should always check with your local city or government for any special regulations that may apply to your area. Generally speaking, you can fly most Estes Educator model rockets on school property in a clear area the size of a football field or soccer field. Launch in little or no wind and make sure there is no dry grass close to the launch pad or in the flying field.

What is the general flight path of Estes Model Rockets?

After blasting off, your Estes Model Rocket will reach its highest altitude, called the apogee. It is at this point the delay should be burning, creating a nice tracking trail of smoke to enable you to see your rocket. After the delay is burned, the ejection charge will ignite, and this will force the recovery system to deploy. It is important to make sure your recovery wadding is properly in place to avoid burning up the recovery system.

Rocket Flight Path

How can I keep my rocket from drifting away?

Even when flying within the wind limits, lightweight rockets can drift significant distances. To reduce the effects of drift beyond what can be done by tilting the launch rod, the recovery system needs to be modified to descend quicker. Various methods are:

A. Cutting a spill hole: The top of Estes plastic parachutes have a circle that can be cut out. This allows air to flow through it quicker, increasing the descent rate. The drawback is that the modification to the parachute is permanent.
B. Reefing the parachute: Gather the parachute’s shroud lines together at the mid-point and wrap a piece of tape around it. This prevents the parachute from opening fully, thus increasing the descent rate. For calm days, remove the tape. This modification is temporary.
C. Switch to a streamer: Streamers generally descend quicker than parachutes. If the rocket has a parachute, remove it and attach a streamer. Using snap swivels is a great way to make recovery systems easily interchangeable.

How do I properly install my igniter in my Estes Model Rocket engine?

We have included an image below visualizing the steps necessary to install an igniter properly.

Igniter Plug

How do I order a catalog?

Our most recent catalog is available for purchase online, or you can browse and download all of our digital catalogs!

How do I get my light on my Launch Controller to come on?

If you are experiencing problems with arming your launch controller and your light is not turning on, please notice we have added a rubber stopper under the safety key cap that must be fully compressed in order to activate your launch controller.  To accomplish this, please follow the instructions below to test your Launch Controller: First, clip the alligator clips on to each other.  Next, insert the safety key into the keyhole and PUSH DOWN HARD to fully compress the rubber stopper under the safety key.  The key should now make contact and the light bulb should light up.  Now at the same time of pressing the safety key down and the light bulb lighting up, press the Launch Start button, the light should go out.  If this is true your launch controller is working correctly.  Always remove the safety key before approaching rocket and immediately after launching as an extra safety precaution.  If this still does not help please Contact Us.

What types for glues work best to build model rockets?

In general terms, adhesives that work well with porous materials (balsa for example) do not always work well for bonding non porous materials – like plastics. Some rocket builders recommend using glues like Elmers Carpenters Wood Glue and Titebond for bonding balsa and paper parts together, but these glues will not hold plastic nose cone parts together at all. For plastic, something like Testors Plastic Cement (red tube) works very well. Both of these glues are usually found on a model rocket builders bench along with some type of epoxy.

You can use some types of CA (Cyanoacrylate) glues for bonding both porous and not porous materials together. Several rocket builders use a brand called ZAP and it comes in thin, medium and thick viscosities…they recommend the medium (lime green label) as a glue that will bond various materials together. However, while the bond of the CA to plastics is good, they do not believe it to be better than solvent based adhesives, like Testors Plastic Cement or something else called Tenax 7R, which is a liquid that you brush on and it literally welds the plastic parts together…and it is super easy to use.

What can I do if the rocket lifts off slowly or gets stuck on the launch rod?

For a slow liftoff or rocket that hangs on the launch rod:

A. Clean the launch rod with steel wool. Exhaust residue can build up, preventing the launch lug from sliding over it easily.
B. Check the launch rod joint. If the connecting joint has a rough edge, it will catch the launch lug and prevent the rocket from passing that point. Lightly sand the rough edge until smooth.
C. Check the launch lug(s) on the rocket.

  1. If one launch lug is used and is not aligned with the body tube, the direction of the engine thrust is different from the launch rod and causes binding. Visually check the launch lug and make sure it is parallel to the body tube.
  2. If two lugs are used and are not aligned with each other properly, the rocket binds on the rod and won’t move. This can be checked while placing the rocket on the launch rod. It should slide easily.

What problems can happen with recovery wadding?

Recovery wadding problems are:

A. Scorched parachute. This occurs when the recovery wadding is crumpled into tight little balls and then inserted into the rocket’s body tube. This leaves gaps around the wadding permitting hot ejection gases to slip around the wadding. The correct way is to loosely crumple each sheet into a ball before inserting them. This fills the air gaps properly. To visually check the wadding, look down into the body tube to see if any light can be seen around the edges. If light shows through, repack the wadding.
B. Substituting tissue paper. Absolutely do not do this! Recovery wadding is specially treated to be flame retardant. When the ejection charge goes off, it produces hot expanding gases to push the parachute out. Recovery wadding provides a physical barrier between the ejection charge and the parachute to prevent the hot gas from melting it. If ordinary tissue paper is used, it will catch fire and burn as it floats to the ground.

My parachute did not deploy. How can I fix this?

There are several things that can cause recovery system failures:

A. Nose cone doesn’t come off— possible problems are:

  1. Too much recovery wadding or packed too tight.
  2. Parachute/streamer binding in the body tube, not packed small enough.
  3. Engine not tight enough in the friction fit engine mount, add more tape to tighten.
  4. Nose cone is too tight. Sand the shoulder. It should slide easily. Also check that parts of the shock cord or shroud lines are not caught by the nose cone.

B. Parachute/streamer fails to open:

  1. Cold weather — Plastic wants to stay in its confined shape when cold. Pack the system just prior to launch.
  2. Hot/humid weather—This causes the plastic to stick to itself. Dust with baby powder before packing.
  3. Insufficient amount of recovery wadding or wadding crumpled too tightly. Heat from the ejection charge melted the recovery system causing its failure.

How does an engine work?

When an engine is ignited, it produces thrust and boosts the rocket into the sky. After the propellant is used up, delay is activated, producing tracking smoke and allowing the rocket a brief coast. After the delay, the ejection charge is activated, which activates the recovery system.

Can I use my older engines?

Engines do not have a shelf life, so if they have always been stored in a cool dry place, and not exposed to excessive humidity, and temperature cycling [extreme heat or cold (140 degrees to 32 degrees Fahrenheit)] the engines should perform properly. However, you will have to watch for erosion of the clay cap and the dark propellant showing on the sides. If the engines appear to be damaged, such as bulging, loose or unwrapping of the casing, crumbling nozzle or if they have been subjected to temperature cycling, you should dispose of them in accordance with the instructions below

Disposal of Estes Pro Series II composite motors

Any Estes Pro Series II composite engine (motor) may be safely disposed of by digging a small hole in the ground, placing the Pro Series II composite motor vertically in the hole, nozzle up and packing the soil back around it. The composite engine or motor should then be ignited in the normal fashion using an igniter and an electrical launch controller with 30 feet of cable. When ignited, all pyrotechnic components of the motor will be consumed. Never place any part of your body above the motor during the disposal process. You and all others should remain at least 30 feet away during the process. Do not approach the motor for 1-5 minutes. The casing may be very hot. Protect your hands with gloves or other appropriate tool when handling a Pro Series II motor after firing. The spent Pro Series II motor casing may be disposed of in any outside trash receptable and provides no additional harm to the landfill.

Disposal of standard Estes engines

Soaking a small quantity of model rocket engines in water until they disintegrate will render the engines harmless. The non-colored paper casings will become unwound. The glue with which they are held together is organic and non-toxic. The intimate mixture comprising the propellant, delay and ejection charge will separate and fall to the bottom of the water as will the natural clay material comprising the nozzle and cap. These remnants can be safely disposed of in an outside trash receptacle. Each of the components is basically harmless alone and is not dangerous to people or the landfill in small quantities. If the components are left together to dry completely, the remnants are likely to be very flammable but should not pose a great hazard so long as they are not “remixed”.

What do the engine codes mean?

Each engine has a letter-number-number code (e.g., B6-4).

The letter indicates total impulse. This is the total power (in Newton-seconds) produced by the engine. Each succeeding letter has up to twice the total power as the previous letter. For example, a ‘B’ engine has twice the power of an ‘A’ engine.

The first number in the code refers to the average thrust of the engine. Average thrust is the engine’s average push, or how fast the engine powers the rocket to go. The higher the number, the faster the speed. Higher thrust engines may be the best choice for heavier models or models with higher drag factors such as a larger diameter.

The final number in the code gives you the time delay in seconds between the end of the thrust phase and the ignition of the ejection charge. Selecting the correct delay allows your rocket to reach apogee which is most instances is the best time for the recovery system to be activated. Engine types ending in ‘0’ have no time delay and are used for booster stages and special purposes only. Engines ending in ‘P’ have no time delay or ejection charge and the forward end is “Plugged” so that no hot gases are released from the forward end.

More Information

What should I do if the engine fails to ignite?

If the engine fails to ignite, remove the safety key and wait one minute before approaching the launch pad.

A. If the igniter worked, the igniter wasn’t touching the propellant. Install a new igniter. When you insert the igniter, do not bend the wires at all. With the igniter wires sticking straight out, insert the correct sized plug for your engine (color-coded). After the plug is firmly seated, you may then bend the wires. If you bend the wires prior to plug insertion, the bending action has a tendency to draw the igniter tip up and away from the propellant resulting in a misfire.
B. If the igniter did not work:
1. Check the batteries. Weak batteries will illuminate the continuity light, but not have enough power to ignite the igniter.
2. Check the battery contacts in the launch controller. If the batteries rattle when shaking the launch controller, the contacts have compressed. The continuity light won’t illuminate. Open the controller and spread the contacts out.
3. Check the igniter clips.
A. Exhaust residue will build up on the clips preventing contact. The continuity light won’t illuminate. Clean the clips with sandpaper or steel wool.
B. If they are touching each other, the system has shorted out. The continuity light will illuminate. Separate the clips and launch.
C. If they are touching the blast deflector plate, the system has shorted out. The continuity light will illuminate. Separate and launch.
4. Check the igniter.
A. Usually a broken igniter is indicated by the continuity light not illuminating.
B. If the igniter wires near the tip touch each other, the system shorts out. The continuity light will illuminate. Gently separate and reinstall the igniter plug. You may need a new igniter.

Why doesn’t my rocket need an engine hook?

The Wizard, Viking and Bull Pup 12D kits are designed with out an engine hook. If the engines are loose in the body tube, wrap tape around the engine to friction fit it into the body. The engine must not eject from the rocket during flight.

What is engine clustering?

Engine clustering is using two or more engines (or the simultaneous ignition of more than one engine in a model) in a cluster to provide greater thrust for single or first stage lift-off and acceleration of rockets and rockets with payloads. NASA used this technique to launch the Saturn I and Saturn V among others. Generally, a model rocketeer should use a maximum of 4 engines in a cluster, since more engines make ignition less reliable.

A successful engine cluster must be carefully set up. The thrust of the engine arrangement must be balanced around the centerline of the rocket, or the rocket will veer off course. Similarly, all engines away from the centerline should have the same thrust. Also, all engines should be located fairly close together.

Ignition is the most important part of clustering. All engines must ignite at once or within fractions of a second of each other. The only ignition system proven safe and reliable is direct ignition using standard igniters. This is done by linking igniters together in a parallel manner so that each engine is ignited at the same time without igniters burning one by one.

Unusual engine arrangements should be developed carefully. If the thrust is out of balance, or ignition fails, the rocket may fly off course making it unsafe.

More Information (pages 21-24 of “The Classic Collection”)

What is multi-staging?

Multi-staging is when two or more engines coupled together are used in stages (or ignited consecutively or one after another) to propel a rocket higher and faster. Lower and intermediate stages always use engines that have no delay and tracking charge and no recovery system ejection charge. There is no delay so that the next engine can receive the maximum velocity from its booster. The engines which are suitable are those ending in zero, such as C6-0.

In the upper stage, an engine with a delay and tracking charge and recovery system ejection charge is used. An engine with a long delay should be used as the rocket must lose velocity before activating the recovery system. This will give you greater altitude and avoid damage to the recovery system.

Before attempting to build a multi-stage rocket, the rocketeer should build and fly several single stage rockets to familiarize themselves with the principles involved. The reliability of a two stage rocket is always less than a single stage rockets, and as more stages are added the reliability drops even farther. Hence, more building and flying skill is required as the rockets become more complex.

More Information (pages 3-6 of “The Classic Collection”)

How do I prepare my multi-stage rocket for flight?

Use cellophane tape to tape booster engine on the bottom to the upper stage on the top together. Wrap masking tape around rear of upper stage engine and front of booster stage engine to friction fit into the engine tubes. Push upper stage until it stops against engine block and fits snugly. Slide booster stage onto assembly until booster engine stops against the engine block. Continue preparing the booster engine with an igniter for launching.

The balsa fins won’t stay on my rocket when I glue them. How can I keep them on?

To keep the fins on until the glue dries:

A. The best glue to use is carpenter’s wood glue. This glue will dry quicker.
B. Fin gluing techniques:

  1. To create a tight bond, first apply a thin layer of glue to the root edge of the fin and work it gently into the pores and grains of the wood.
  2. Repeat this for all the fins.
  3. By the time you finish the last fin (1-2 minutes), the first fin has become tacky if not nearly dry. Apply another thin layer to the first fin.
  4. Hold the fin’s rear part of the root edge in position on the body tube and with gentle pressure, rotate the fin up until the entire root edge has made contact. Hold the fin in position for 10 seconds. This rotating action acts like a squeegee to force out any trapped air at the connection which will weaken the joint.
  5. Release the fin and you’ll find it secure.
  6. It is best to hold the rocket vertically when the fins are drying. Stand the rocket on its nose (without the nose cone in place).

To learn more about model rocketry visit the Teachers and Educators section. There you’ll find tons of educational resources and publications!