Water Bottle Rocket Science Kit

A modular STEM kit (for youth and adults) built around Water Bottle Rockets

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The Water Bottle Rocket STEM Kit is a modular set of instructions, electronics, software, designs, and teaching plans that support the fun and science behind water bottle rockets. The kit is modular enough to be used with K-12 grade, civic groups, science clubs, or individuals. It's simple enough for a five year old and has enough modularity to keep the most experienced makers engaged.

The hope is that we build a community of users that contribute to, leverage, and use this 100% open source kit.

In addition, the kit heavily leverages the open source projects/expertises of others. We use (and reference) designs from the U.S. Water Rockets Team, Adafruit, and Arduino.


The Water Bottle Rocket STEM Kit (still working on a better name) is meant to be a repository to tools, electronics, lesson plans, kits, models, designs, etc, for any and all people interested in building Water Bottle Rockets. My desire is to build on the code/models of others to extend the use of Water Bottle Rockets for STEM education purposes.

In a perfect world, people from all background would add to this repository:

  • Teachers and science clubs can share lesson plans
  • Civil leaders (Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc) can share how they used this for merit badges or advancement
  • Makers can share updated 3D printed designs, or electronics


At a high level, I want to design the kit around these five principles.

  1. Versatility - works for different age groups, different designs, and different technologies
  2. Extensibility- easily add pieces or build your own
  3. Useability - should be accessible to the non-tech savvy yet provide challenges/interested to experienced makers
  4. Open Collaboration - anyone can build their own, improve code/modules, access code/modules. We'll heavily leverage existing open source repositories to build on
  5. Accessibility -  build with components and software that are low-cost/no-cost


I'm still ideating the components; at a high level, I think I'll break the design and build of the project into three parts

Basic - DIY or Assembled Kit

  • Launch Base
  • Fins and cones
  • Four 1-liter bottles
  • Measuring cups and funnels
  • Scale
  • iOS/Android App
  • Online dashboard
  • Altitude Sensor

With this basic kit (and user-provided bicycle pump or air compressor), the user can:

  • Launch a water bottle rocket
  • Determine altitude of flight
  • Derive rocket acceleration, thrust, and water exit velocity
  • Plot flight

In addition, there will be bolt-on modules as well

Bolt-On Modules - purchase or build ala carte

  • Auto Parachute Deploy (freefall sensor, servos, parachute)
  • Auto Launch (pressure sensor and launch - via solenoid)
  • Flight Camera - onboard
  • Flight Tracking Camera - on the ground

In theory, anyone can build a bolt-on module, or improve on a basic module. 

Considerations/Thoughts/Other Stuff

  • Makers, designers, teachers, etc should have the ability to make money (if they desire) on their contributions. At the same time, I want to keep the spirit if open source. That works for hardware (Adafruit and Arduino are great examples).... I don't know how that would work for someone submitting a lesson plan

  • Testing Altitude Proof of Concept

    Darian Johnson05/07/2019 at 21:12 0 comments

    Last weekend, I decided to build a simple proof of concept that:

    • Measured the altitude of a rocket at launch
    • Send the peak altitude to a iOS device via Bluetooth
    • Recorde altitude versus time (for later use in calculating velocity and acceleration)

    The Build

    Altitude Monitor

    I decided to use an Adafruit nRF52 Bluefruit LE Feather as the BLE and MCU for the PoC. My rationale was that it expect to use a similar System on Chip device for the final product.

     All of the components used for the PoC test are Adafruit products (wishlist here-> 

    • Adafruit nRF52 Bluefruit LE Feather (will use this same SoC for the final product)
    • FeatherWing proto
    • BMP280 Altitude Sensor
    • MicroSD card breakout 
    • Battery and Stacking Headers


    I used a 3D printed nose code and wings from the US Water Rockets website. I used a 73 mm diameter 1 liter bottle for the body of my rocket.


    Finally, I built a makeshift launcher using:

    • Scrap wood
    • three 3D printed rocket stabilizers
    • Cork
    • Bicycle pump and needle

    Instructions to assemble the cork, needle, and pump can be found here:

    Note: This is not an optimal launching solution, as the rocket will launch before adequate pressure is built. For this flight, I was only testing recording altitude, so I didn't care about getting a lot of "air"

    The Flights

    Going in, I knew there were going to be a few problems:

    • My rocket launcher was not optimized for pressure build-up, so I wasn't going to get a lot of altitude
    • I chose not to build a parachute deployment mechanism for this PoC, so my rocket 3D printed parts wouldn't last long
    • My SD card might eject on landing

    Given all that, I was able to get 5 test runs in before I destroyed all my nose cones. This was enough to validate the proof of concept. Each flight was about 2 seconds, and I was able to record altitude every 300 ms. In addition, I was able to send the peak altitude to by phone via BLE.

    Time (ms)Altitude (m)


    The current PoC can accurately indicate top altitude, but the data increments (300 ms) is wider that I would like. 

    The SD card did eject on landing, so either we have to make the landing more stable or move to SPI flash (and sync data via BLE).

    I also have a problem in that I am not able to start the test at launch (primarily because I start recording data, then I start pumping, and the rocket launches whenever the pressure imbalance forces the cork out).  To fix this, I need to hold the rocket in place, achieve the designated pressure, then start the measurements at the same time of the launch, with smaller data increments.

    Next Steps

    • Plot data into online graphics tools to determine acceleration and velocity
    • Ideate on the correct location for the altitude sensor for the final product.
    • Work on parachute deployment
    • Determine if we should stay with SD card or move to SPI Flash
    • Determine best way to synch launch with data capture

  • Design decisions - Wireless connectivity

    Darian Johnson05/03/2019 at 03:45 0 comments


    There are a lot of connectivity options out there, each with their pros/cons. At the end of the day, based on my project guiding principles, I wanted to choose an connectivity option that

    1. Could easily be coded/leveraged- e.g. large amount of learning material and examples available
    2. Supported easy configuration the sensors and the ability to sync data via a phone app

    I ultimately decided on BLE (and saving the data on-device to an SD card prior to transmission). Here's my thinking:

    Wired connectivity (part of the solution) -

    Sometimes the best answer is the simplest answer, so I considered going with a "wired" solution... meaning that data was either saved to a flash drive and downloaded, or saved to a memory card. I decided to incorporate an SD card as part of the solution as a secondary option of getting data. That being said, I knew I would need a wireless solution as well. If nothing else, I envisioned some of the sensors being inside the rocket, and I didn't want someone to have to un-assemble/re-assemble part of the rocket if they had to reset or configure a device. 

    Bluetooth LE (the current decision, with an SD card) -

    BLE only works short range (30m)... a rocket could travel 80-100+ meters (depending on the size)... so I knew that I couldn't stream data via BLE. Instead, I determined that I could save in-flight data on the device (via an SD card or flash drive). I could then use BLE to send the data (via a phone app) to the cloud. I could also use the app to initialize the device before flight. 

    Wifi -

    Most flights will be done in parks or school playground (where there will be limited/no wifi available), so I knew pretty quickly that wifi wasn't the right solution to get data directly to the cloud. I considered setting up a local wifi network, where each sensor/device would join the wifi network AND the user would join their phone to the wifi network to control the devices. I may fall back on this approach, but for right now, it's not my preferred option.

    LORA (Long Range) or RFM69 radio/radio packets -

    I really wanted to go with either of these options (no issues with range and some really cool technology), but at the end of the day, I would have to build a hub (with either BLE or Wifi) to communicate between the phone app and the device. It would ultimately be a solution that was too costly.

  • Why Water Bottle Rockets: Family and Cub Scouts

    Darian Johnson05/02/2019 at 22:59 0 comments

    I built my first water bottle rocket six and a half years ago, as a weekend project with my kids. We loved it; we didn't do anything fancy - just made fins out of cardboard, attached them to a 2-liter soda bottle, filled it with water, and used a cork and air pump to launch the device.

    Johnson Family Water Bottle Rocket Launch
    Our first water bottle rocket launch - 2012!!!

    A few years later, I became a leader in our local cub scout pack, and started incorporating water bottle rocket design and launched in our camping trips and pack meetings.

    Pack 891 Water Bottle Rocket Launch
    Pack 891 Water Bottle Rocket Launch

    In both cases, the kids loved it. They got a chance to make something with their hands, apply simple science principles (fins and nose cones for better flight), and immediately see the output of their design.

    Last year, I decided to industrialize my designs - building a fleet of launchers so that all of my Cub Scouts would get multiple chances to launch their rockets. That got me thinking:

    1. Was there a way that I could make it a contest and award a prize to the rocket that went the highest?
    2. Was there a way to record flight data and give to to the kids for additional activities (plotting graphs, comparing their flights against the amount of water they used)

    From there, I started expanding my thinking: could this be used in the classroom? How can I incorporate 3D printing, coding and electronics? How does Newton's Three Laws of Motion apply? 

    All that ideation lead up to this - a Water Bottle Rocket STEM Kit (still looking for something that's more catchy). My hope is that there are others out there like me - people that are passionate about making, science, electronics, and learning - and have a desire to contribute to a repository of tools, designs, lesson plans around these topics.

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Julius (Mr. Seeker) wrote 05/23/2019 at 13:43 point

What I would love to see (and that is something I rarely see these days) is some sort of "retainer", to keep the rocket from firing too soon. One of the things you can consider is using gardena connectors to keep the rocket in place while being "charged". There is also a tonne of information on this website:

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Darian Johnson wrote 05/24/2019 at 04:26 point

I've been thinking of that next; specifically: can I connect a pressure sensor to a gardena connector to launch only once a pre-set pressure is reached?

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Julius (Mr. Seeker) wrote 05/24/2019 at 13:26 point

The danger of that idea is "misfire". You cannot control when it activates, and you want to relieve the pressure in a safe way when something goes terribly wrong. I always use the analogy with showing fireworks to kids. As soon as you light the fuse, its considered to be a "live weapon". Same goes when you start pumping, it's a pressurized container. If you happen to be too close while it goes in the air, you will end up getting blasted in your face. I have seen rockets aim for the head while people were pumping, and I seriously considered better ways to hold the bottle in place while it was being pressurised. There are multiple factors that go into rocket science, one of them being safety. I am looking at something that uses a gardena valve to connect the rocket, and a pressure relief valve to control the pressure, since you never want to exceed 100psi with bottle rockets. That said, if you can pump the pressure to the point where the valve starts hissing, that means that you can safely assume that you eliminated the "pumpmaster" as the one who failed the rocket to launch...

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Keith Olson wrote 05/23/2019 at 07:17 point

If I may add an idea, a bunch of flat plastic coffee stir stick (or w/e) in the nozzle would ensure a laminar flow for the water to guarantee the molecules are all fired straight back.  Does that make sense or is my sleep-deprived brain missing something?

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Darian Johnson wrote 05/24/2019 at 04:27 point

That's an interesting thought. I don't know if having a nozzle attached to the end would improve rocket flight. Something to test...

  Are you sure? yes | no

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