For today in Garage Science I am going to show you how to launch crap into space using a weather balloon. When it comes to iconic names in space exploration three people should come to mind; Neil Armstrong, Wernher Von Baun and now you! That is because over the past several years amateur space enthusiasts have used weather balloons to launch all kinds of weird crap into the outer edges of our planet’s atmosphere. Everything from a Lego Man, a KitKat Bar, an Obama bobble head to a dildo have been sent to the heavens. So I say let’s add to the space junk by adding our own junk. And by junk I mean… whatever we want!
Who needs millions of dollars and rocket scientists when you have weather balloons and the desire? I spoke to one such space enthusiast, Chris Rose, who founded Sent Into Space along with his co-director Alex Baker. The two PHD students were inspired to launch a camera into near-space aboard a homemade payload attached to a weather balloon as part of a photography competition.
Now their group is helping others who want to make this dream a reality! He has some really great tips on what it takes to launch, get inspired and take the space plunge. Frickin’ space! The final frontier! I just hope I live long enough to find out if there is really life out there. How tasty would they be slathered with Buffalo Wing sauce?
That is why I want to help encourage the knuckleheads of the world to dust the Cheetos off their hairy bellies and instead of reaching for another beer, reach for the stars. Here is how it is done! Even if you don’t science too good, you can still have fun with simply attempting it!
Follow This Step By Step Guide and boom! You can finally tell your Kindergarten teacher that you became an “astronaut” …or at least a guy who got a teddy bear into space using a weather balloon.
Step One: Buy A Weather Balloon
This is the easy part. You need to buy a weather balloon! These have been used by scientists for years to conduct experiments and maybe even as a cover for the Roswell alien cover-up. Now they are going to lift up your junk into the atmosphere. The good news is that you can do this cheaply. Chris Rose from Sent Into Space tells me that for their first launch it was important to achieve dramatic results on a shoe string budget;
“We made a conscious effort to keep everything as cheap as possible, salvaging the essential payload materials from scrap bins and using the cheapest camera and tracking systems we could get hold of. In this case the camera used was a Creative Vado at around £40 ($60) and the tracking system was a setup used for tracking pets, which barely worked – I guess they don’t expect your pets to be wandering off into space!”
- Rose estimates that launches could cost between $200 to $600 a launch depending on how detailed you want to get.
- They even offer some kits to get you started here.
Step Two: Attach Parachute
Once the weather balloon reaches a certain altitude carrying your payload, it will pop. That is why a parachute is necessary to carry the whole thing safely back down to earth, or else you are going to be cleaning it out of the pavement. Splat!
- Between the weather balloon and the payload (the box containing the weird thing you are sending into space) you are going to attach a parachute on a line using about 6 feet of line for high winds and three and a half feet of line in higher winds.
- A good rule of thumb is to keep the distance between the parachute and the weather balloon long. This will reduce friction and movement of the camera, so you don’t get a video that looks like it was filmed with a potato aboard a sinking ship.
- The parachute should be attached to each end of the payload box to keep it level. As the weather balloon rises the parachute will be pulled taught until the balloon bursts and the chute opens up.
Step Three: Create A Payload
This is the box that you will attach to the parachute and will contain your camera, GPS locator and “passenger.”
You will need:
- Styrofoam box
- Knife or hot wire cutter to make hole in box to place camera lense.
- Camera, such as a GoPro
- GPS Locator (see below)
So what do you want to launch? The sky is the limit! No really, the sky is the limit, as long as it is something kind of small that won’t get ruined and you don’t mind potentially losing forever. So your favorite teddy bear from when you were five might not be ideal. I’ve always wanted to launch a turkey and see if we could cook it in the earth’s atmosphere. However since our weather balloon won’t reach that high, how about some popcorn to see if the pressure will cause it to pop? How about:
- A selfie so you can say “you” went to space or at least tell people “you got really high” without doing any drugs.
- Star Wars movie tickets so you’ll have something in your pocket that has been in space while watching an epic space saga.
- An old pair of Air Jordan sneakers so you can say they really got some air.
Now I know what you’re thinking; what if we launch a person like in the movie “Up?” Regarding going into space Rose says, “We would love to go into space, I think we would do just about anything for the opportunity. Unfortunately our systems do not have the weight carrying capabilities, nor can I hold my breath for that long. Who knows maybe someone is reading this who has the power to make two space-geeks’ dreams come true?!
Step Four: Secure Locator
One of the hardest parts of launching stuff into space is finding it once it comes down. It could fall on the other side of your angry neighbor’s fence, a pit of snakes or in Area 51. That’s why you need a Locator to track your packages movements on your phone. Yes, there is an App for that. Sent into Space recommends a few options, but the cheapest is this Locator:
- Purchase a SMS based locator that uses mobile networks to call the device and get a position on there the locator is.
- You will need to load it with a SIM Card
- Load it with a fully charged battery (this may take 12 hours to charge ahead of time).
- Place the locator securely in your Payload box.
- Call the Locator to find its location; it will text you a link to a Google Maps to show you where it is.
Before you head out to launch your space craft and film an amazing view of the earth, you might want to pound a few Red Bulls and blast some “Eye Of The Tiger.” The process can be challenging to say the least. Rose says that they have encountered some rough launches like “…having a payload land in a 120 foot tree. Fortunately Alex is a climber however this tree was so large we had to climb 2 two neighboring trees before we were high enough to access the lowest branches on the tree with our payload in. Also we ran out of safety rope. All’s well that ends well and we did in fact retrieve the payload with Alex only falling out of the tree once.”
Also a word of advice;
Step Five: Remember To Press Record!
What do you want to try and launch into space?
For more information and tutorials visit Sent Into Space.
For more inspiration check out Garage Science’s 7 Weirdest Things Sent Into Space!
Follow Phil Haney on Twitter @PhilHaney