Paper rockets count down to big dreams

Copyright Questacon

Playing with toy rockets is not a usual CASA activity, but when it’s before the Governor-General, and a chance to inspire young people about aerospace, we answer the call. CASA took part in the Governor General’s design Challenge yesterday, a contest organised by Questacon, the national science centre, for ACT and NSW primary schools.

CASA engineers Tom Putland and Chris De Luis and Flight Safety Australia journalist Robert Wilson represented the organisation and shared their (limited) expertise in rocketry with 120 year five and six students from 28 schools in the Canberra region. The event was held on the lawns of Government House in Canberra, which were temporarily converted into a firing range for pneumatically launched ‘rockets’ (projectiles, strictly speaking).

The students first watched a demonstration by Questacon’s Excited Particles science communication team which used practical demonstrations to demonstrate the compressibility of gases, Newton’s third law, and, memorably, the flammability of hydrogen. The students then formed into teams and spent an hour designing and building their rockets and testing them on compressed air launchers.

Staff from the Australian National University, Mount Stromlo Observatory, Canberra Deep Space Communication Centre, Geospatial Intelligence, and the University of NSW Canberra Space also helped the students build their rockets.

The educational aim of the day was to promote inquiry learning, by getting the students to develop and test hypotheses. Questacon Deputy Director, Bobby Cerini, said, ‘Today is all about engaging kids around processes of designing their own rockets.’

As the construction session went on it was clear that some of the students instinctively understood the parameters of making successful rockets. They were discussing the importance of tightly sealing the end of the paper tube and asking whether they were best to put on fins that would spin the projectile for stability or add wings that might let it glide for the final part of its flight.

The Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, and Lady Cosgrove launched the rockets in the competition, which was won by the ‘Arianne’ team, of Aranda Primary School, in Canberra, and Goulburn Public School and Queanbeyan South Public School, from NSW.

The result of the day was 120 happy kids, a worthy goal in its own right, with maybe a candle of curiosity and ambition lit in one or two of them who might go on to be involved in—or create—the future of aviation.


  1. Great idea for STEM education building at a young age! Kudos for this successful demonstration of science.
    It gives me an idea for a similar project here in Mobile, AL. I will share this ariticle with my colleagues in AIAA. Well Done!

  2. A small venture called “Its Rocket Science Adventures” base here in SE Queensland is doing wonderful stuff engaging young minds in the world of rocket science. Check out their FB page. just search Its Rocket Science Adventures. Enjoy.

Comments are closed.