How to Make a Match Rocket

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Match Rocket Introduction and Materials

All you need to build a match rocket is a match and a piece of foil.
All you need to build a match rocket is a match and a piece of foil. I used a straightened paper clip to form the engine, but there are other ways to form the tube. Anne Helmenstine

A match rocket is an extremely simple rocket to construct and launch. The match rocket illustrates many rocketry principles, including basic jet propulsion and Newton's laws of motion. Match rockets can several meters, in a burst of heat and flame.

How a Match Rocket Works

Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The 'action' in this project is provided by the combustion that occurs in the match head. The combustion products (hot gas and smoke) are ejected from the match. You will form a foil exhaust port to force the combustion products out in a specific direction. The 'reaction' will be the movement of the rocket in the opposite direction.

The size of the exhaust port can be controlled to vary the amount of thrust. Newton's Second Law of Motion states that the force (thrust) is the product of the mass escaping the rocket and its acceleration. In this project, the mass of smoke and gas produced by the match is essentially the same whether you have a large combustion chamber or a small one. The speed at which the gas escapes depends on the size of the exhaust port. A larger opening will allow the combustion product to escape before much pressure builds up; a smaller opening will compress the combustion products so they can be ejected more quickly. You can experiment with the engine to see how changing the size of the exhaust port affects the distance the rocket will travel.

Match Rocket Materials

  • matches - either paper matches or wooden matches will work
  • foil
  • paper clips (optional)
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Build a Match Rocket

You can construct a launch pad for your match rocket using a bent paperclip.
You can construct a launch pad for your match rocket using a bent paperclip. Anne Helmenstine

A simple twist of the foil is all that is required to build a match rocket, though you can get creative and play with rocket science, too.

Build a Match Rocket

  1. Lay the match on a piece of foil (about 1" square) so that there is a little extra foil extending beyond the head of the match.
  2. The easiest way to form the engine (the tube that channels the combustion to power the rocket) is to lay a straightened paper clip or a pin alongside the match.
  3. Roll or twist the foil around the match. Gently press around the paperclip or pin to form the exhaust port. If you don't have a paperclip or pin, you can loosen the foil around the matchstick slightly.
  4. Remove the pin or paperclip.
  5. Unbend a paperclip so you can rest the rocket on it. If you don't have paperclips, make do with what you've got. You could rest the rocket on the tines of a fork, for example.
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Match Rocket Experiments

A match rocket is ignited by applying a flame underneath the match head.
A match rocket is ignited by applying a flame underneath the match head. Be sure the rocket is pointed away from you. Anne Helmenstine

Learn how to launch a match rocket and devise experiments you can perform to explore rocket science.

Ignite the Match Rocket

  1. Make sure the rocket is pointed away from people, pets, flammable material, etc.
  2. Light another match and apply the flame just under the match head or to the exhaust ports until the rocket ignites.
  3. Carefully retrieve your rocket. Watch your fingers - it will be very hot!

Experiment with Rocket Science

Now that you understand how to make a match rocket, why don't you see what happens when you make changes to the design? Here are some ideas:

  • What happens if you make 2 engines instead of one? You could lay a pin along either side of the match to form twin exhaust ports.
  • Vary the diameter of the engine. How does the engine formed by a thin pin compare with that formed using a thicker paperclip?
  • How is the rocket's performance affected by the length of the engine? You can end the engine just past the match head or extend it all the way to the end of the matchstick. Keep in mind, what you do with the foil alters the weight and balance of the rocket, not just the engine length.