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Space Age Classroom Science Experiments

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By Tim Van Milligan

Are you looking for some topics to present that can add
excitement to your science classroom? Rocketry and space
exploration, like no other subject, have a way to captivate
students that makes it easy for them to learn science. They
are having so much fun, that they don't even realize they
are learning basic science concepts.

To leverage the benefits of this area of study, you can use
your school's computer to explore a lot of different science
topics. In the January 2005 issue of the education magazine,
"Tech Directions" (http://www.techdirections.com), there is
an article by Spencer C. Wilson of J.R. Fugett Middle School
in West Chester. In it, he describes how he uses a rocket
design software, called RockSim (http://www.rocksim.com) to
show students the process of engineering design.

In this article, I'd like to give you some other ideas on
how to use the model rocket design software to demonstrate
other basic science concepts. Here are some benefits to
using RockSim software:

1. Allows the student to simulate hundreds of rocket flights
very quickly -- this saves lots of money! Just think of the
time saved too. You don't have to spend hundreds of dollar
buying motors and hours-and-hours of time building different
configurations, launching, recovering, and repacking rockets
to test one control feature.

2. Safety. When you go out to fly rockets, knowing how
they'll behave is an important aspect of safety. Precautions
can be made. By running the simulations, the students learn
what concepts contribute to keeping the actual launch safe.

3. The scientific value is awesome. Each launch simulation
generates a mountain of useful data. Analyzing this data is
a fantastic way to teach the scientific method.

4. Students love software because it is fun! It has features
like a video game, so the students may not realize how much
they are learning at the same time.

5. The RockSim software is the same tool that is used by
real rocketry professionals - like NASA, military
contractors, and universities. So you can feel confident in
the results you get back from the program.

6. The software allows students to explore their creativity.
They can design vastly different looking models, while
learning engineering skills, assembly steps, and physics.

Here are just some of the many topics you can explore with

1. Aerodynamics and drag reduction.

2. Forces of flight: Lift, Drag, Thrust, and Gravity.

3. Projectile motion.

4. Rocket propulsion as used for space travel.

5. Atmospheric studies: how does temperature and pressure
affect performance?

6. Planetary differences: how does the same rocket perform
on different planets in our solar system.

7. Dynamics and harmonic motion with damping.

8. Engineering - how parts fit together.

9. Newton's Laws of motion.

10. Artistic expression because every student can design a
different looking rocket, and change colors of the
components to further increase the rocket's uniqueness.

11. Explaining distance, velocity, and acceleration.

12. Material properties, like density and volume.

13. The importance of weight and balance (CG position) when
designing rockets.

14. Explaining that Work = Force X Distance.

15. Explaining the concepts of Kinetic and Potential Energy.

16. Showing free-fall, and terminal velocity.

17. The importance of units and unit conversion.

18. The importance of following directions.

19. Exporting data and using spreadsheet programs to perform
data reduction and manipulation

20. To show why multi-stage and cluster motor rockets are
used in real rockets.

21. Concept of stored chemical energy (in the rocket
propellant) and how it is converted to mechanical energy.

22. Concept of efficiency - getting the most performance
from the least exertion of energy. Can be explained by the
different types of propellant formulations.

23. Showing the concept of momentum and how it affects the
optimum mass of the rocket.

24. Finding the optimal launch angle for breezy conditions.

25. Optimal launch angle for distance (ballistic curves),
and how it varies with the thrust curve of the motor.

26. Show how the distribution of mass affects the dynamic
stability of the rocket.

27. Demonstrating the concept of "Numeric Precision" -- the
more iterations performed, the better the accuracy.

28. Show how different shaped components affects the static
stability of the rocket.

29. Compare the thrust curves of different motors. This can
show how different geometries (hole size, location,
dimensions) affect the thrust produced by the rocket.

30. Concept of "Impulse:" which is a thrust force multiplied
by the time duration that thrust is created. The higher the
impulse, the more power the motor has.

As you can see, the RockSim software is a versatile tool.
You'll save hundreds of dollars because it can be used in a
variety of ways.

About the Author

Tim Van Milligan (B.S. Aeronautical
Engineering) writes articles about model rocketry for the
e-zine newsletter called: "Peak-of-Flight." He is also the
author of the book: "Model Rocket Design and Construction,"
which can be found on his web site:

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