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STEMingBoredom 30: hybrid fuel rocket engines

This is one of the most amazing experiments we’ve ever done.

It is possible to create a rocket engine that behaves in exactly the same manner as a NASA space rocket engine. In your kitchen...

Of course, this is not one to do alone, nor without a responsible adult present. It will involve flame and chemical reactions, so we advise caution. But the results for what you can achieve at home are incredible.

And when people ask what you’ve done over the summer holidays, you can tell them about the experiments and say, “it’s not rocket science. Apart from that final experiment, that actually rocket science.”

You are going to create a hybrid rocket engine. It’s a solid fuel source and a liquid or gaseous oxidiser (to create the right mixture of oxygen to burn fiercely).

The pure oxygen needed to burn the solid fuel – the pasta – is created when two chemicals mixed and decompose; hydrogen peroxide and yeast.

How to do it:

You are about to do impressive science here, but there should be an equal amount of preparation and caution that you use. Follow the guidelines carefully and use google to double check any queries you have, if you are in any doubt at all.

You’ll need:

Pasta (a tube type such as Rigatoni)
Hydrogen peroxide
A canning jar, or jam jar with lid
Something to create a hole in the jam jar lid

Firstly, punch a small hole in the lid you will use. If at all possible, drill one so that the lid doesn’t bend or deform.

Fill the jar three quarters full with the hydrogen peroxide. (You need to work carefully and accurately, but quite quickly.)

Add about a quarter teaspoon full of the yeast to the hydrogen peroxide and stir it in – it will start to bubble as the reaction begins to release pure oxygen.

Put your lid with a hole in it on top. Note that you put the lid on top, not screw it down. This is a safety measure to ensure that too much pressure cannot build up. The hole in the top is now an exhaust through which the pure oxygen flows.

Place the pasta directly over the hole in the lid. This becomes a sort of chimney, but will be the solid fuel source that will burn to create a rocket engine.

Using all necessary safety precautions and getting an adult to do the lighting, the end of the pasta can be lit with matches or a lighter.

The rocket now burns. This solid fuel source in conjunction with chemical decomposition is exactly the same concept as some multi billion dollar rocket engines use!

From space cadet to rocket scientist in 30 minutes. Well done!

Extension task:

Due to the safety aspects of this experiment, there isn’t an extension task for this.

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