NC Science Olympiad
2017 Bottle Rocket C
Division: C- High School
Essential Standards: Phy.1.1, Phy.1.2, Phy.1.3, PSc.1.1, PSc.1.2
Official Event Rules: 2017 Bottle Rocket C *NC Only
Official Scoresheet: Bottle Rocket Scoresheet
National Event Page: Not a national event
Required Materials: Safety Glasses , Rocket(s)
Clarification: Please read these FAQs and clarifications to help you prepare for this event. Target height is 130 ft, NOT 150 ft. Rockets CANNOT be relaunched this year.

This is a building event.  Teams will build ahead of time up to 2 water rockets using a CARBONATED BEVERAGE BOTTLE pressure vessel capable of reaching a target altitude of 150 feet. An Altimeter will be attached to the rocket in order to calculate the maximum height reached. No logs are required for this event. 

*** MAJOR ISSUE: It has been brought to our attention that some soda manufacturers have recently changed the size of the neck of their bottles. Please make sure the inner diameter of your bottle neck is still 2.2 cm, not the new reduced size of 2.1 cm. 2.1 cm necks will not fit on the launcher. The easiest way to test this is by sliding a piece of 1/2 inch PVC into the bottle. If it fits loosely, the bottle will go on the launcher. If the PVC sticks and you have to apply any force to slide the PVC in, the bottle will not go on the launcher.***

Teams MUST bring safety spectacles and their rocket(s). If bottle labels have been removed, teams must also bring those. Teams may also bring a funnel for the water and any materials required to adjust the rocket/ install the Altimeter.

Event leaders will provide water, the altimeter, the official scoresheet, and testing equipment.

High score wins. The best single rocket score will be used for teams launching 2 rockets. Points are earned for time aloft (in seconds) and closeness to target altitude.

Common Mistakes:

  • -The number one mistake made by teams is not using a CARBONATED bottle for the pressure vessel. Carbonated bottles are required because they are pressure tested by the manufacturer against defects. Non-carbonated bottles are NOT tested, and are NOT allowed, even if they come in a 2 liter size. Other parts of the rocket such as nosecones and fins may be made from non-carbonated bottles, but the pressure vessel MUST be carbonated. This is a serious safety issue, and rockets that violate this requirement wil not be allowed to launch at all. It is a safety disqualification that will NOT be arbitrated.
  • -Be sure that the pressure bottle remains intact. Repeated testing and hard landings can damage your pressure bottle. Check it frequently for scratches and weak spots that may be compromising the structural integrity, and replace the bottle as needed.
  • -Find the ideal water level for your rocket. While 100% air will give you the maximum potential energy, it has very little mass and therefore very little momentum to carry the rocket. Likewise, 100% water will have great mass, but very little potential energy to give it momentum. Don't wait til the day of the competition to decide how much water to use!
  • -If you remove the label from your pressure bottle, be sure to bring it to the competition or you will not be allowed to launch the rocket.
  • -Remember, only one launch is allowed per rocket! If you want to utilize both launch attempts, you must bring a second rocket!


  • -Safety goggles (the chemical splash kind that most schools have) have a tendency to fog up, making it hard to see. This event only requires safety glasses, meaning the kind that look like sunglasses will work just fine. These are MUCH easier to see out of. Your local home improvement store carries cheap versions for under $4.
  • -For transporting rockets with less risk of damage, glue/screw a bottlecap to a wood base and simply screw your rocket onto it to make it stand up. For added protection, place this entire setup inside a 5 gallon bucket to protect fins, etc.
  • -Rather than trying to cut holes through your rocket's non- pressurized plastic components, use a hot needle or hot ice pick to poke a hole with smooth, rounded edges.

Fast Facts:

  • -The driving force behind a rocket launch is the combination of air and water under pressure. The air that you pump into the bottle compresses, giving you a higher pressure (60 psi in this year's rules). When the rocket is released the air expands rapidly, which forces the water out of the neck of the bottle and propels the rocket.
  • -Angling your fins slightly to one side will cause the rocket to spiral on its way up, creating stability much like throwing a football in a spiral.

About Launchers: In our opinion, the best launcher out there is made by Nerds, Inc. It is the only launcher we will recommend for both safety and durability. We use the fully pneumatic ultimate launch package at tournaments, you can buy a non-pneumatic version. You will need a bike pump or air compressor that has a regulator gauge on it so you know what pressure you're at, or else buy the Nerds regulator gauge attachment. If the o-rings wear out or need to be replaced, go to a home improvement store. They are in the sink repair section, size #12 o-rings. You can get a 10 pack for a few dollars.

Event Resources:
Manual for the altimeters we are using
2009 Coaches Institute Presentation (2010 rules)

Pictures and Video:


Constructing Rockets

Completed Rockets
Launching Rockets - Several styles of launcher are shown in these pictures. The silver metal launcher shown in most pictures is the pneumatic launcher from Nerds, Inc that is used at most NC competitions. The white PVC launcher is by Pitsco and has stability problems, the small boxlike one is a homemade launcher from plans off the internet.
What NOT to do. Pointed nose cones, metal parts, spray painting, etc. on the pressure vessel are all against the rules.
Video A successful backslider design. The rocket is balanced so when it reaches apogee it turns sideways and floats slowly back down.
To help parachutes deploy more efficiently, dust it with baby powder so it doesn't cling to itself.
When folding a parachute for a bottle rocket, you want it done neatly so it doesn't get tangled, not so tight that it doesn't open, but also not so loose that it gets stuck inside the rocket.
You can test your bottle rocket's recovery system even without a launcher. Find a high location, then toss the rocket straight up a few feet to simulate the peak, or apogee, of the flight. As it begins to fall you'll get an idea of how well your parachute works, if it will deploy or not, if you packed the parachute well, etc. This method does not take into account the forces that act upon the rocket at launch, which may affect your rocket on it's ascent or it's ability to deploy the parachute after apogee.
You can test your backslider rocket if you don't have a launcher by finding a high spot, then tossing it up to simulate the peak, or apogee, of the flight. Pay attention to how it falls after that- is it balanced or unbalanced? See NC Science Olympiad: Balancing a Backslider for info on how to balance your rocket if it is nosediving or coming down bottle first. The first toss of this rocket is heavy on the bottle end. The second toss is slightly overcorrected, and begins to nosedive right at the end. This method does not take into account the force of the launch or how straight the rocket will fly with it's fins, but it can give you an idea of how well your recovery will work.
Getting rockets ready to launch. This footage is from the Egg-O-Naut event, which required the safe launch and recovery of an egg astronuat within the rocket, and also allowed parachutes.
Demo of rocket launched with no water. Time in the air will also be affected by the weight of any nosecones, fins, etc. you attach, the perfect amount of water will vary from rocket to rocket.
Demo of rocket launched with 20% water
Demo of rocket launched with 40% water
Demo of rocket launched with 60% water
Demo of rocket launched with 80% water
Demo of rocket launched completely full of water

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