(Physics for ages 8+)
Have you ever wondered how a rocket actually makes it to space? Rockets are huge and heavy, so how do they have enough power to hurtle all the way off the planet? Well, in general, there are three types of rocket engine, solid fuel, liquid fuel, and hybrid.
The video above shows an activity to create a very simple hybrid engine to better understand the science behind how this type of engine works. Here’s how you can do some beginner-level rocket science at home:
Small mason jar
Active dry yeast
Uncooked tube pasta (like ziti or rigatoni)
Lighter or match
Adult supervision (Adult supervision at all times)
- First, you will need to punch a hole in the middle of the mason jar lid that is no more than 1/8 inch in diameter. This can be done several different ways, but we recommend using a drill or hammer and nail. This step is best suited for an adult.
- Fill the mason jar about ¾ full of hydrogen peroxide.
- Add ¼ teaspoon of dry yeast to the jar and stir gently.
- Set the lid (with the hole in the middle) on top of the jar. Do NOT use the threaded part of the lid to secure the lid on the jar. The oxygen gas produced by the hydrogen peroxide and yeast reaction can build lots of pressure, so it is important that the lid just be set on top of the jar to allow pressure to be released.
- Stand an uncooked noodle up on the lid so that the hole lines up with the hollow middle of the pasta.
- Be sure there are no flammable items near this experimental set-up!
- Using a lighter or match, light the top of the noodle like a candle. It may take a little longer to keep the flame going than a candle, but you will know when it is lit because it will look a bit like a torch.
- Watch as the noodle burns steadily until it burns all the way out. (It will not take off like a rocket, but it does show how a rocket’s engine works.)
A hybrid engine works by burning both a solid fuel source (the noodle) and a liquid oxidizer (the hydrogen peroxide-yeast reaction). The oxygen gas is fed into the combustion chamber (the hollow middle of the noodle) where it is ignited (the flame you lit) and burns steadily along the grains of the solid fuel source (the noodle).
This is a very, very simplified version of a hybrid engine, and real rockets are not powered by pasta, of course. With the right fuels, some valves and nozzles to direct the energy created by the combustion of fuel, and on a much larger scale, a hybrid engine has the thrust and power to propel a rocket into space.