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Rough Science 6: Rocket lander challenge

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Problem solving
Topic: Forces

Pupils find themselves working as European Space Agency engineers and follow in the footsteps of the Rough Science team. Their Challenge is to devise an egg lander, Mars Express/Beagle 2 style, using limited materials.

Published: 23rd January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 8

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KS3 Select and use a suitable strategy for solving a problem: identify strategies appropriate to different questions, including those in which variables cannot be easily controlled.
Carry out preliminary work such as trial runs to help refine predictions and to suggest improvements to the method.
Make sufficient systematic and repeated observations and measurements with precision, using an appropriate technique.
Select and use appropriate methods for communicating data.
Use scientific knowledge and understanding to make predictions and check reliability.
KS3 Forces: Recognise how the effect of force depends upon the area to which it is applied and that the force acting per unit area is called pressure.
Recognise that gravity is a force of attraction between objects, that this force is greater for large objects like the Earth.

Running the activity

The best way to start these activities is to show the beginning of the rough science programme, where Kate Humble sets the challenges, and the five scientists come up with ideas. Then you can set the same challenge to your students. After they have completed the activity, you can compare the students' solutions with those of the TV scientists, by showing the end of the programme.

Page 1 sets the scene. Pupils first think about why the mass needs to be kept to a minimum. Pupils need to appreciate that if the mass is greater more fuel will be needed each time it needs to change direction or speed. And also more fuel is needed to carry the extra fuel!

Page 2 is a work file with a list of materials. Teacher or lab technicians may want to make changes to this to take account of the materials readily available.

As a homework activity pupils could be asked to discuss in what ways their lander in the laboratory was not a good model for a real Mars lander. They could also research how gravity and arid resistance differ on Mars from Earth.

Pupils design a chemically-powered rocket using vinegar and sodium hydrogen carbonate powder, or fizzy antacid tablets and water. The body of the rocket could be made from a vitamin or film container. A standardised set of materials would be available. This could also include a lander and pupils could be challenged to keep their lander in the air for as long as possible.

News links

Beagle 2
The Beagle 2 lander and probe have their own site with lots of information which pupils could look at as a research homework - making comparisions with their own design. For some classes it may even be preferable to turn the scenario around and ask pupils to design an Earth bound laboratory lander informed by what they have found out about the Beagle 2 lander.
Mars Express
Mars Express pages of the European Space Agency are an excellent background to the mission as well as providing up to date information as the mission unfolds. link back to

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


May 5th, 2015

5 Star

Excellent activity for science week science challenge.

Reviewer: Madhuchhanda Banerji


May 5th, 2015

5 Star

Excellent activity for science week science challenge.

Reviewer: Madhuchhanda Banerji

Rough Science 6: Rocket lander challenge review

Oct 10th, 2010

5 Star

As a department we have done the egg drop before based on parachutes. This was a new approach linking forces to space for Y7. Good resource

Reviewer: Kelvin Cliffe

Rough Science 6: Rocket lander challenge review

Mar 24th, 2008

5 Star

I thought the activity was very good - it kept the students motivated and we all had lots of fun whilst learning at the same time.

Reviewer: Janet Brewer

Rough Science Rocket Lander May22nd 2007

May 21st, 2007

4 Star

Good activity. I used this with my year 9 (all girls) post SATs. They really enjoued it.

well done.

Reviewer: vandana deshpande

rocket lander

Jul 7th, 2006

4 Star

really good activity challenge for year 6 to 7 transfer day. students engaged in the task and enabled teamwork and creativity for all abilities. well done upd8!

Reviewer: sreeja bhaskaran

Rough Science Rocket Lander Challenge

Jun 11th, 2005

5 Star

What a great activity! I used this with my low ability Y9s as part of a Post-SATs Sc1 Module. It easily filled 2 weeks worth of work. My Y9 pupils had great fun designing, building, testing and improving their Rocket Landers. I hard boiled the eggs in order to make less mess - the pupils were unaware of this simple fact but none the less they were very excited when it came to launch.

This activity is a great one for improving social learning skills in a group work context. Pupils can be encouraged to be extremely creative with their ideas and think about how scientists actually build and test landers in real life.

It is is so important to foster creative thinking within the Science Curriculum .
It is such a central part of Scientific development with new ideas!

Well Done UPD8 once again!

Richard Waller, Comberton Village College, Cambridge.

Reviewer: Richard Waller

Rough Science Rocket Lander

Mar 20th, 2005

4 Star

Good activity for science club. keeps students occupied for several sessions and thinking that they may end up with a broken egg on the lab floor was an added bonus. Most eggs were successfuly launched from the capsule but many got caught up with the parachute. We used a golf ball for practice acitivites so that we didn't waste too many eggs.

Reviewer: Susan Swan