A. Launch Mechanism
- Design a self-powered rocket. There are many ways to do this, one is to use a chemical reaction to built up pressure in a film canister, like in this activity. But any mechanism which causes a device to shoot in the air (as opposed to you throwing it in the air) will do.
- Figure out where you want your rocket to go, and design a launch platform that directs your rocket in that direction. Cardboard and tape works well here.
B. Orbit Transfer Mechanism
- Find or build a funnel to catch your rocket or transfer the momentum of your rocket to another object.
- Find a way to secure your funnel off the ground.
- Make a track that connects the funnel to the gravity well.
TIP: If you can, try to attach a marble to your rocket in such a way that it will detach from the rocket and go down the track into the gravity well. If that’s too challenging, you can simply have your rocket knock a marble down a track into the gravity well.
C. Gravity Well
- Create a gravity well, or a stretchy fabric that has some kind of weight in the middle. Check out this activity for more details.
- Angle the track from the funnel onto some part of the gravity well, so that when a marble goes through the funnel, it will roll around the gravity well with your desired orbit. Play around with the direction and height of the track to get the orbit you want.
What is a Rube Goldberg Machine? A Rube Goldberg machine is an overly complicated machine used to do a really simple task, like turning on a light switch or filling a glass of water. A good Rube Goldberg machines is as complex and convoluted as possible. Here are some sample Rube Goldberg Machines to use as inspiration:
Through your Rube Goldberg machine, you will simulate three parts of a space mission: launching your space vehicle, dropping your payload into space, and entering into orbit around a planet. Space vehicles are usually made up of a launch vehicle (the rocket) and the payload (a communications satellite, space telescope, orbiter, etc.). Your launch vehicle can be made of things like gravity-fed water rockets, slingshots, balloon power, etc. but must include an element of self-powered free-flight. For example, you may not simple throw your vehicle into the air.
Although this Rube Goldberg machine doesn’t exactly simulate a space mission (we aren’t sending our rocket into outer space!) it does deal with several of the issues that astronauts face, like how to generate enough force to get a spaceship far off the ground, or what angle to approach a planet to enter into orbit. But there are many other factors to take into account in a space mission! We encourage you to design new components to the mission and to make your machine as complex as possible. Bonus points for adding components that are space-mission-themed.