Monday, November 22, 2010

D. I. Y. Space Exploration: Wave of the Future?

From pubmates launching a webcam-equipped paper airplane via balloon near the edge of space to a 500 quid D.I. Y. satellite balloon, is do it yourself (D.I. Y.) space exploration the wave of the future?

By: Ringo Bones

Maybe it is just do to the incrementally lowering costs of Internet connectible digital cameras with better than decent resolution that is currently driving the current do it yourself (D.I.Y.) space exploration. Back in November 11, 2010, three British pubmates decided earlier over a beerchat to attempt a seemingly impossible task for mere civilians – that is to launch a webcam-equipped paper airplane to the edge of space, about the altitude limit of a helium-filled balloon, by dropping the plane from a balloon from 17 miles up in the upper atmosphere. The amateur space explorer’s successful attempt eventually got press attention.

John Oates – one of the team members – explained to reporters that they conducted their seemingly impossible feat in Spain with the help of his amateur radio enthusiast pubmate named Steve Daniels who’s in charge of their webcam-equipped paper airplane’s telemetry. The team managed to gently land their webcam-equipped paper airplane about 100 miles from their balloon launch site. Not only did the team achieve to land their webcam-equipped paper airplane with all electronics relatively intact, they even managed to record the footage of what their paper airplane had “seen” 15 miles up.

Earlier this year – back in March 27, 2010 – Robert Harrison, a British amateur scientist, managed to successfully launch his “500-quid” (UK£500) balloon-borne satellite. At a total cost of UK£500 per launch, Harrison’s balloon-borne satellite is a bargain compared to NASA’s space shuttle – which costs 300-million quid per launch.

Using a web-enabled digital camera of better than decent resolution, loft insulation (fibreglass), duct tape and a ruggedized weather balloon bought from a surplus shop; Robert Harrison’s budget D.I.Y. satellite managed to reach 21 miles up during its maiden flight. In comparison the U2 / TR-1, the most economical jet-powered high altitude craft in current use, only has a service ceiling of 17 miles. Surprisingly, Harrison’s D.I.Y. balloon-borne satellite can fly 4 miles higher.

When Robert Harrison launched his 500-quid balloon-born satellite that managed to take pictures 21 miles up, it was launched from a specially designated launch site away from commercial air traffic. The balloon eventually expanded 21 meters across after reaching its maximum altitude. This is really good news to amateur scientists and amateur space explorers everywhere when brilliantly prestigious science fair type projects is now even within reach of most schools, and could possibly represent the future of citizen-led space exploration.