I discovered that the communications challenge is very simple with the right hardware. The XTend900 radio from Digi (http://www.sparkfun.com/products/9411 ) and a high gain patch antenna (http://www.l-com.com/item.aspx?id=20447 ) can keep you in communication with the payload for the entire flight and can even provide enough bandwidth to transmit small pictures. This instructable will focus on the minimum set of hardware to get you into near space, capture those spectacular photos, and track your payload to recovery.
For information on my last near space flight, Night Sky, visit barney.gonzaga.edu/~lwardens
Step 1: GPS Tracking
For my projects I have used the GS407 receiver (http://www.sparkfun.com/products/9436). This is a small receiver with a helical antenna that gets great reception. The U-Blox chipset can interface with the U-Center software to set all the device parameters and update the satellite almanac for faster startup times (http://www.u-blox.com/en/evaluation-tools-a-software/u-center/u-center.html). Using U-Center you can also update the "dynamic platform Model" which allows this receiver to operate above 60k feet. You must set the dynamic platform model to "Airborne < 2g" or higher to operate above 60k feet. I'll discuss how to change that setting after we have the GPS and radios connected.
For now all we have to do to the GS407 is solder 4 wires on. In the picture you can see that the serial communication comes out of pins 3 & 4 of the U-Blox module. Pin 6 is VCC or power and pin 14 is ground, which you also need as a reference for the serial bus. Solder a wire to each of these pins, you should be able to do it without a microscope using 30 gauge solid core wire. If you use 4 different color wires you'll make your life easier, too. If you feel nervous about soldering these wires you can buy a breakout board (http://www.sparkfun.com/products/10496) for the GS407 that will provide slightly larger holes to solder to, but you're still going to have to solder.