Altitude Estimation

Meeting the Rocket Launch Requirement

The requirements for flying your rocket are to complete a test flight (using a low-power motor to test the stability of your rocket), recover your rocket and complete a second flight to accomplish a specific objective.

There are several different off-the-shelf rocket models that have special payloads for this "specific objective": camera rockets, egg lofters (see if you can launch and recover an egg without breaking it - model rocketeers do it all the time, HONEST!), and others, like electronic altimeters to measure your rocket's altitude.

If you don't already have an idea in mind, a good one is to compute/predict the altitude that your rocket will fly, then verify that altitude during your flight. This is relatively easy, can be done with any rocket, and using the simple method proposed below, is not at all expensive.

Predicting Your Rocket's Flight Altitude

I give you two methods here - the first one is to go to a site which will run a flight simulation for you, showing you thrust, timing, velocity, and altitude for the entire duration of your flight. The second provides you with the equations and lets you perform the calculation yourself. It's not for the arithmetically challenged.

Go to Model Rocket Altitude Predictor - oh, is this ever cool.
Go to Launcher: my Java rocket simulator - a running simulator and the source code used to write it.
Go to Rocket Equations: for the mathematically brave.

Measuring Your Rocket's Flight Altitude

I propose the simple and cost effective solution. Unless you're in a competition, it's plenty good enough. This is referred to as the "Elevation Only" method, and requires only a single observer and simple gear.

For convenience, I have listed some values of the tangent for various values of angle A here. This table is in very plain form so you can easily print it for reference.

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Your questions and comments regarding this page are welcome. You can e-mail Randy Culp for inquiries, suggestions, new ideas or just to chat.
Updated 8 September 2008