Model Rocketry Makes the World Go Round

On this edition of our “Rocketry Lowdown” blog series, take a world tour of model rocketry from Canada to UK to America. the spirit of model rocketry truly knows no boundaries!

In our earlier blog post, we have discussed a brief history of Model Rocketry. You will have noticed that the major breakthroughs took place mostly in the USA. Indeed, USA was on the forefront of space flight technology and hence is no surprise that model rocketry also saw much popularity amongst the average US citizen. The work done by Harry Stein, Vernon Estes, Orville Carlisle and many others have paved the way for others. However, many countries around the world have thus a thriving model rocketry community which are regulated and legalized. Let us look at a few of these.

United Kingdom

Model Rocketry is legal in the United Kingdom. They are regulated by a number of government bodies that are aided by independent rocketry groups. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the government body that regulates the use and flight of model rockets and has recognized model rockets as users of the air space. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulate the storage and transportation of model rocket motors.

Now, it is an offence to manufacture your own solid fuel model rocket motors, since they are classified as explosives under the UK law. However, there is no law restricting the commercial purchase of the rocket motors through certified vendors and can be easily bought without any major paperwork. Only sale of high power rocket motors is heavily regulated, for which an Explosive Licence is mandatory. Model rocket launches don’t have any major restrictions expect that they need to be a certain distance away from an air field/air strip.

The British Model Flying Association (BMFA) represents flying enthusiasts in the CAA and United Kingdom Rocketry Association (UKRA) acts as an advisor to the BMFA. The UKRA along with the BMFA and HSE have come up with a safety guideline for model rocket launch. In fact, all members of the British Model Flying Association (BMFA) are insured to fly rockets up to G impulse.

To know more about UKRA, click here

To know about the legal requirements and restrictions click here

To access the UKRA safety code, click here

There are various rocketry clubs in the UK and they host various events. A complete list of these clubs can be found here


Although USA saw the advent of model rocketry around the 1950s, its neighbour Canada saw organized model rocketry only in the 1960s. Up until 1964, owing to the explosive nature of the fuel used in rocket motors, model rockets were considered as explosives and rocketry was banned in Canada. Although model kits were available, import of the rocket motors was also banned. Bowing to pressure on model rocket enthusiasts and seeing the global trends, Federal Government and the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute approached the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association (RCFCA) to undertake the organization of model rocketry on a national basis. In 1965 the RCFCA formed the Canadian Association of Rocketry (CAR).

In April 1966, legislation was passed which made model rocketry legal in Canada, provided a number of stringent restrictions be followed. These restrictions were as follows:

● rockets may be launched only in the presence of a Licensed Firing Supervisor on established military ranges or other sites approved by the local municipal government;

● rockets could only be launched at least 10 miles from an airport to a maximum altitude of 1200 feet;

● motors may only be obtained by Licensed Firing Supervisors; and,

● all rocketeers must be members of the CAR.

Over the years, with continued lobbying and CARs insistence, the rules were relaxed, so that model rocketry in Canada could be more widespread.

The journey of model rocketry in Canada was a tumultuous one, even after being legalized with focus shifting to competitive model rocketry. To learn more, click here

It is unfortunate that high power rocketry is still not as popular as in the USA. However, its popularity is on the rise and CAR is working to make it a reality.

United States of America

USA has had an illustrious history of model rocketry and we wouldn’t too forward when we call it the birthplace of modern model rocketry. With the end of World War II and the advent of the cold war and the Space Race, names like Carlisle, Stein, Estes and others started gaining popularity amongst model rocket enthusiasts.

Stein and Carlisle together set up the National Association of Rocketry in 1957 and is the oldest and largest space modeling organization in the world. Since then the NAR has launched over 500 million model rockets and their safety code is claimed to have eliminated all accidents and injury. This code of safety is highly regarded world over and is replicated by other countries and well.

The US is also the leader of high power rocketry, which various launch events that take place throughout the year. Basic model rocketry is also very popular amongst the youth, with many schools and universities having their own rocketry/space clubs. The US also has a large number of rocketry competitions that has participants from all over the world. The NAR regulates and manages most of these events.

To learn more about the history of model rockets in our last blog post, click here.

To learn more about the National Association of Rocketry, click here

The NAR safety code can be found here

International Competitions

A growing trend in the international circuits is competitive model rocketry. People from around the world work hard on their model rockets throughout the year and gather to compete against each other in a test of skill, knowledge, creativity and passion. Below are few of the more popular ones.

Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC):

Started in 2002, TARC is the world’s largest student rocketry contest and takes place in USA. It is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Rocketry (NAR). Every year the theme and competition changes to challenge the student’s skill and creativity. For example, for the 2019 edition of the TARC, students have to build and fly a rocket carrying three raw egg in a capsule to an altitude of 856 feet and return it to ground with the eggs intact within 43-46 seconds.

UK Youth Rocketry Challenge (UKRoC):

UKRoC is UK’s premier student rocketry contest and is organised by the ADS. Aimed at students aged 11-18 years old, the aim of the contest is to design, build and launch a model rocket with a fragile payload. The rocket must reach a set altitude with specific total flight duration and must adhere to the specific set rules. Here as well, the rules and scoring parameters change annually to keep things interesting.

NAR sanctioned competitions:

Across USA, hundreds of NAR sanctioned events take place that help spread the good word about rocketry. The NAR provides the organizers with a detailed guideline about hosting an event right from registration to scoring. There are different type of events based on a particular attribute the model rocket is supposed to champion such as altitude, craftsmanship, flight duration, spot landing etc.

Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC):

Started in 2006, IREC is the world’s largest university rocket engineering competition hosted by Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) and is open to all countries for participation. It has set rules for the contest with payload size of 8.8 pounds and target altitudes of either 10,000 or 30,000 ft. Multi Staging is allowed and there are no restrictions of the type of chemical propellant used. Since 2017, the IREC is a flagship event of the SA Cup.

International Rocketry Challenge:

The winners from each nation’s rocketry challenge compete against each other in the International Rocketry Challenge that takes place in the Paris Air Show. This international event pits the talents of model rocketry between various countries to adjudge the winner.

Big Ass Load Lifting Suckers (BALLS):

Touted as the most exclusive high powered rocketry event in America, BALLS is organized by the Tripoli Rocketry Association (TRA). Now in its 29th year, the event focus mainly on showcasing rocketry project that cannot be showcased on other platforms due to safety considerations. Hence, new innovations and experiments in the field of model rocketry is discussed and shared here. Set in the vast expanses of the Black Rock Dry Lake, Nevada, the event has quickly become a haven for high power rocketry enthusiasts.

DARPA Launch Challenge:

Organized by Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), this contest squarely aims to demonstrate the ability to launch payloads to low earth orbits on extremely short notice, with no prior knowledge of the payload, destination orbit or launch site, and do it not just once, but twice, in a matter of days. Open to professionals and amateurs, teams must go through a rigorous qualification phase and must have the required licenses.. With a $10 million top prize, this challenge is currently underway. It was announced in April 2018, with the launches taking place towards the end of the year.

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