Rocket fuel

Enhance chemistry lessons for 11-14 and 14-16 year olds on combustion, carbon chains, or chemical formulae with short (10-30 minutes), medium (30-60 minutes), or long (60+ minutes) activities investigating the properties of RP-1 rocket fuel.


Use a clip from the 2015 CHRISTMAS LECTURES to enhance chemistry lessons on combustion, carbon chains, or chemical formulae.  Presenter Kevin Fong demonstrates the properties of RP-1 rocket fuel before making liquid oxygen and lighting a rocket engine filled with biscuits. We have provided accompanying ideas, information, and worksheets for short (10-30 minutes), medium (30-60 minutes), or long (60+ minutes) activities.

Video clip

If you have trouble accessing YouTube videos in your school, you can watch this clip on the Ri Channel.

Short activity

View and discuss (10-30 minutes)

View this clip with your class to augment lessons on:

  • Hydrocarbons
  • Combustion and the fire triangle
  • Exothermic reactions
  • Energy in food
  • Boiling point

A worksheet is available with questions that draw on concepts in the clip.  Feel free to distribute this to your class to be filled out after viewing, or simply use it a guide for discussion.

There is also an information sheet with additional facts, figures, and explanations to help lead the session.

Download the full teachers' guide.

Medium activity

Flashpoint and volatility experiments (30-60 minutes)

Tie the clip into a lesson on the properties of carbon compounds. The reactivity and volatility of carbon compounds depends on their temperature and the length of their carbon chains.

Download full instructions for the two experiments.

Long activity

Distillation lab (60+ minutes)

If there is a full-class chemistry laboratory available, consider exploring how rocket fuel is made with a distillation experiment.  This may be done separately or leading on from the flashpoint and volatility experiments above. If linked, consider using a mixture of vegetable oil and the alcohol instead of water and alcohol. The idea of this experiment is to take advantage of the different boiling points of different carbon compounds in order to isolate them.

Download instructions and suggestions for topics of discussion.

English curriculum links

These resources can be adapted for any class in KS3 or KS4 and link to 'working scientifically' and 'chemistry' curriculum objectives. Download the full list of curriculum links.

Watch the full lectures

View the full CHRISTMAS LECTURES, How to survive in space, along with related content on the Ri Channel

Supported by the UKSA