Be a rocket scientist with this super easy project that uses only common household items to create a tiny rocket and launch pad! Then you can put Isaac Newton to the test and see if your paper match rocket really flies.

What You Need:

Paper Match Rocket Supplies

  • Aluminum foil
  • Book of matches (wooden matches will work, too)
  • Needle or pin
  • Paperclip
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Lighter
  • Outside area free of flammable debris
  • Adult supervision

What You Do:

  1. Get an adult helper.
  2. Tear a match from the book
  3. Cut or tear a piece of aluminum foil that is about 1″ by 1.5″.
  4. Fashion the paperclip into a launch pad by bending its outermost prong out to an angle and bending its innermost prong to approximately a 45-degree angle.Paperclip launch pad
  5. Place the match head on the foil, so the head is in oriented in the middle perpendicular to the width of the foil. Carefully fold it over, smoothing out the air and creases.
  6. Insert the pin along the stick of the match and gently but tightly creases the foil around it. Now, carefully roll the foil around the match, getting it as tight as possible.Make a nozzle
  7. Remove the pin and pull the match stick out a little, then squeeze the foil tightly around the head. Gently reinforce the channel left by the pin, but make sure the rest of the foil is snug and tight.
  8. Set up your launch pad in a clear outside area that’s free of debris and flammable objects.
  9. Position the rocket in the launch pad so its trajectory is facing away from your helper, yourself, and any possible obstacles.Paper Match Rocket
  10. Standing clear of the rocket’s trajectory, light the match using the lighter.

What Happened:

Newton’s Laws of Motion help explain rocket flight. Newton’s First Law states: Objects at rest will stay at rest and objects in motion will stay in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This means that the forces pushing a rocket up must be stronger than the force of gravity pulling it down. Newton’s Third law explains: For every action there is always an opposite and equal reaction. With rockets, this means that when an action occurs, like gases escaping from the rocket through the nozzle you made with the pin, a reaction follows—the rocket rises in the air.
In its simplest terms, a rocket is a chamber filled with pressurized gas. For this rocket, the chamber is the foil wrapping the head of the match. To gain thrust and propel the rocket into the air, the pressurized gas must escape. For this match rocket, the nozzle was made by wrapping the foil around the pin then removing it. The channel that remained allowed the gases to escape.

Trouble Shooting & Further Study:

  • If you don’t use enough foil, the gas can escape through the head of the rocket instead of the nozzle. Likewise, if your nozzle is too wide, it won’t produce enough force to propel the rocket upward.
  • If you use too much foil, it will make your rocket too heavy to fly.
  • How far did your first rocket fly? Can you think of ways to improve the paper match rocket design to make it fly farther? What about the launch pad? Could you tweak its design to launch your rocket higher? What about farther?