The hobby of model rocketry has been around for decades, most notably taking off in the late 1950s when Denver-based Estes Industries began mass-producing solid fuel engines just as the real-life space race was getting underway. Through the ’60s and ’70s as the one-two punch of science fiction and NASA astronauts inspired kids to start reaching for the stars, interest in model rockets grew, eventually making way for the Estes AstroCam — a model rocket that could snap pictures from above to give budding rocketeers a look from inside their creation.
Building model rockets was STEM before “STEM” was a buzzword. And, as technology has improved, so have Estes rockets and so has the AstroCam!
The AstroCam Flying Model Rocket Starter Set takes the idea from 40 years ago and upgrades it with modern tech that makes for a fun and easy entry into the world of model rocketry.
Designed for beginners ages 10 and up, the AstroCam comes with everything that kids need to be ready to fly in under 30 minutes. The cardboard rocket tube, plastic nose cone, and wing fins are all prefinished and simply snap together. That makes for simple, no-mess assembly without the need for paint or glue. Of course, kids may want to customize their rockets and that’s cool, too!
We put ours together on the kitchen table. The only thing you may need that’s not in the box is a little bit of clear tape and four AA batteries for the controller. The set comes with a parachute and cords, along with starters, plugs, engines (B6-4 and C6-5), and recovery wadding for two launches. Additional materials for future launches are sold separately and are very affordable (you can get three engines for under $12).
The HD camera essentially functions as a plug-and-play USB thumb drive with a lens and LED light on it that records to an included 16GB Micro SD Memory Card. The camera slides into the nose cone and is secured using a rubber band.
When you’re ready to launch, the included Estes Porta-Pad II Launch Pad and Electron Beam Launch Controller are the tools of the trade. It’s very important to follow the instructions carefully and to become familiar with all the included safety tips. You should seek a safe location, ideally a large open field, and be sure that there aren’t any local restrictions on model rocket launches. They’re rare, but some places do have local regulations such as prohibiting launches in certain spaces. As Estes notes on its website, model rocketry is legal in every state, but four — California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and North Dakota — do have some specific laws regarding the hobby.
Once you’re ready to go, be sure that your camera is turned on. There is a tiny, blue LED light that can be hard to see in certain conditions. The camera records video and audio, so you’ll be able to see and hear the action as the AstroCam rockets up to 900 feet in the air before beginning its parachuted descent.
In an era when SpaceX and NASA are fueling interest in rockets for a new generation of kids (and some BIG kids too) and the AstroCam is a great blasting off point!