Achieving Orbit

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In this Engineering Design Challenge activity, learners will use balloons to investigate how a multi-stage rocket, like that used in the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission, can propel a satellite to a specific orbit. Participants will construct a two-stage balloon rocket that will be required to reach a particular location on the balloon track, simulating the proper orbit to be reached by the IBEX satellite. If you need an audio version of this material, the file is compatible with screen reading software such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per student)

  • two long balloons that can inflate to approximately 1' (30 cm) long; Note: Do not use animal shape twist balloons
  • 20' (6 meters) of vinyl craft lacing, any bright color
  • two 4" (10 cm) long plastic, non-bendable straws
  • masking tape
  • one 3" (8 cm) rubber band that is at least 1/8" (0.25cm) wide
  • one 1.25 inch (3 cm) binder clip
  • hand-operated balloon pump


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
      • Probes, Satellites and Spacecraft
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Aerospace Engineering
    • Technology
      • Transportation
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity
      • Momentum and Velocity
      • Acceleration
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Impacts of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Model Building
  • Toys
  • Transportation


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes assesments for student learning:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, NASA,

Funding Source:

  • NASA