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The physics of launching an ultra light fishing line

Spaceflight Introduction If you have ever watched a rocket launch on TV, you might have noticed that rockets have multiple stages. Some parts of the rocket fall off and burn up in the atmosphere whereas the rest of the rocket keeps going. Why does this happen? Try this activity to find out and build your own two-stage rocket using balloons! Background Imagine you are carrying a heavy backpack while hiking up a mountain.

That takes a lot of energy, right?

Go from Quantum to Cosmic

The same concept applies to launching rockets. It takes a great amount of energy to loft things into space. Rather than building a single, huge rocket that goes all the way into orbit, scientists and engineers have developed multistage rockets.

When the first stage is done burning its fuel, it breaks away and falls back to Earth. This allows the smaller, lighter second stage of the rocket to keep going, without carrying the weight of the first stage. This approach requires less fuel overall to boost something into orbit.

In this project you will build your own two-stage rocket with balloons. When you inflate a balloon and then release the nozzle, air is pushed out the back of the balloon.

This allows you to make a simple and safe! Materials Two modeling balloons These are the long, skinny kind used to make balloon animals, not the round kind. Two straws Two large binder clips Paper towel tube Fishing line or the physics of launching an ultra light fishing line A fishing line will generally work better because it has lower friction.

Scissors One other person to help set up the rocket Balloon pump, to make it easier to inflate the balloon optional Two sturdy pieces of furniture at least several feet apart to which you can tie your fishing line or string —The farther, the better! Thread the fishing line through the two straws. Tie the ends of the fishing line to two sturdy pieces of furniture and make sure it is pulled tight. The longer you can make the line, the better.

Cut a small ring less than one inch long from the cardboard tube. Stretch the balloons to loosen them before inflating. Procedure Inflate the first balloon about three quarters full. Optionally, you can use a binder clip to pinch the nozzle and prevent the balloon from deflating. Make sure you do not let the balloon deflate. Thread the second balloon partially through the cardboard ring, so its nozzle is facing the same direction as the first balloon.

Carefully inflate the second balloon about three quarters full. Your goal is to inflate the balloon such that it presses up against the inside of the cardboard ring, and squeezes the nozzle of the first balloon shut. This can take some practice—be patient! It will be much easier if you have one person hold on to the cardboard ring and the first balloon while another person inflates the second balloon.

If you do this perfectly, you should be able to release the nozzle of the first balloon without deflating it. Keep the nozzle of the second balloon pinched shut, either with your fingers or a binder clip. Tape the balloons to the drinking straws, with the balloons pointing along the fishing line.

Do your best to make sure the balloons and straws are in a straight line. If the balloons are very curved and the straws are twisted at an angle, this will cause extra friction along the fishing line and slow your rocket down.

What do you think is going to happen when you release your balloons? Pull the balloons to one end of the line and release both nozzles. How are your two balloons similar to the two stages of a rocket?

How much farther did your two-stage rocket go than it would have gone if you had had just one balloon? Try adding additional balloons to make a three- the physics of launching an ultra light fishing line more stage rocket. Try tying your string vertically instead of horizontally. How high can you get your rocket to go? Do a test to compare different types of rockets. What happens if you compare a two-stage rocket like the one you built to a single rocket with two balloons next to each other that deflate at the same time?

Can one type go farther than the other?

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Observations and results You should observe that your two balloons behave like the two stages of a rocket. So, that balloon deflates first—acting like the first stage of the rocket and pushing both balloons along the string. Ideally this should allow the second balloon to travel farther than it could if it had to continue dragging along the weight of the first one.

Fishing rod

As noted above, however, this can take some practice to get right. You might accidentally have both balloons deflate at the same time. Just like a real engineer, you can learn from your mistakes and try again. After a couple tries, especially if you have someone else to help keep the balloons pinched shut, you should be able to get your rocket working.

Cleanup Take down your fishing line as soon as you are finished with the activity; reuse other materials as possible or throw away.