Introduction: DIY Cool Near Space Project

About: High School Student. CEO and the founder of a high school's engineering club. Always curious. I love to build and design things that come to my mind. I wanna open up a ice cream parlor because I want free ice …

Conduct your very own Near Space Project with these instructions.

This project is estimated to cost around $200 - $400 dollars, depending on what your goal for the project is.

Step 1. Name your project something cool

We decided to name our project "Aether". In Greek mythology, Aether was a personification of the upper sky; embodying the air breathed by the gods. Later, the name became attached to a theorized element that was believed to fill the void of space.

What does Aether do?
The capsule itself houses and protects all of our equipment along the journey. The Aether capsule is designed with insulating properties to keep power sources warm in the sub-zero temperatures of the upper atmosphere. (The chemical reactions that allow batteries to provide voltage slow down in severe temperatures, reducing their efficiency.)

Do you need permission to do this?

We notify our local FAA authorities and follow FAA regulations for free balloons defined in FAR 101.

We advice you to research your countries regulation regarding launching weather balloons. In the USA, you need permission from the FAA and after that you have to follow their instructions.

Step 1: Research

Our pre engineering teacher, one day was telling us about a project he did in his previous school. So me and couple of other engineering students started to research "near space projects" with the guidance of our teacher.

Here are list of things we found useful:

FAA's FAR101 (regulations regarding balloons) The FAA's site is easy enough to find as well. It can hook you up with your local people to call for a NOTAM or any special instruction

This website is great for beginers :

Step 2: Design

Start designing your capsule and what type of sensors you will be installing into it.

Start sketching and "CADing" it. We used Autodesk Inventor to design the capsule.

Next phase will be building your capsule.


Step 3: Watch Informative Video

Step 4: Build Your Capsule

Initially, the idea for a pyramid shaped capsule was proposed in class discussion, almost in jest. Upon quick consideration, it was clear that a pyramid would have a very low center of gravity and have great stability upon landing, bettering the likelihood of the capsule landing upright (which is critical to the operation of the GPS units inside).

The capsule itself houses and protects all of our equipment along the journey. The Aether capsule is designed with insulating properties to keep power sources warm in the sub-zero temperatures of the upper atmosphere. (The chemical reactions that allow batteries to provide voltage slow down in severe temperatures, reducing their efficiency.)

Step 5: Add-ons

You can add a additional compartment to hub another camera to capture the helium balloon expanding and popping.

All you have to do is cut out a section of the capsule and make a small foam compartment that has a nice tight seal whenever you slide it into the capsule.

We have built ours to hub another go pro.

Step 6: Add More Insulation

I've read that Al foil can be used as a radar reflector. We didn't try it, though our foil insulation likely served the purpose. We did consider using Al foil to cover fins, acting as a radar reflector and perhaps trying to counteract the natural spin of the balloon/capsule. (We played with swivels as well, but had no test experience with that. We will be testing that before next time.)

Do not enclose your GPS chips or radio antennas in foil to avoid any Faraday cage effects.

Step 7: Add Equipment

Aether I contained - a GoPro Hero 3, an APRS unit (GPS4 chip/15 watt radio), an Eagle flight computer (recording position, outside temp, humidity, and pressure), a Canon Elph point-and-shoot camera (running a CHDK script to capture stills in 60 second intervals), a pair of data loggers (recording interior temp), eight Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries, a voltage regulator w/heat sink (to power the 12V APRS and the 5-7V flight computer from the same 12V source), a pair of Hot Hands, three Bryant Hornet Engineering buttons and a fun-size Twix bar.

Here is the GPS/Radio setup we used. (It is the closest we could find to the one Google used, as it is now discontinued. The newer version is more complete and ready-to-go, but the casing and all is heavier.You will want the high altitude package with the GPS4 chip (to operate above 60,000'). You can easily chop off the 12V cigarette lighter plug and replace it with a 8 AA holder, or as we did with ours, two holders with 4 AAs. The Duracell UltraLithiums are much lighter than standard AAs, longer lasting and can handle the cold. You'll need a callsign in order to purchase the unit. It will arrive pre-configured and ready to plug-and-track, pinging every 2min. It can be reconfigured with the proper adapters and software downloaded from byonics.

If you do opt for APRS tracking , you'll need an amateur license or the callsign of a willing friend with a license. You'll be able to track the package using this site. This is probably the quickest way to check for digipeaters in your area

This link is where you'll find Canon hacking protocols.This will allow you to do all sorts of crazy stuff with a canon point and shoot (particularly - shoot in intervals, full manual mode, and RAW format shooting). It's really the way to get your stills. These little Canon point-and-shoots are cheap (or it might be just as easy to find one you can have or borrow). They have taken respectable photos for us and the hack will increase your battery life depending on how you configure it.

If you want to attach a arduino tracker on board, you can click here to see detailed instrucatable by ugifer.

Low cost options:

-a simple cannon camera looking down

-foam cooler (which you can buy at your local store)

-cheap mesh athetic parachute (cheap from amazon)

-Strap everything down with Velcro and/or super glue

robotkid249 from instrutable has a great low cost capsule design, click here to check it out.

Step 8: Take It for a Test Spin!

Plug in your batteries, strap your capsule on top of your car and drive around to see if everything works.

Pre launch tips:

Mount your GPS chip. If it flips or turns over (say, during the freefall after the balloon bursts), it will send crazy info to the encoder and the radio will not send the invalid packets.

Test your APRS (or other tracking equipment) by driving around with the capsule in flight-ready condition before the launch date.

We used an athletic parachute instead of a model rocket chute because :

- 1. super cheap on amazon 2. mesh, rather than lines, doesn't get tangled

Our teacher used a Kodak Playsport ZX5 for video (aiming down) in the past. You can find this model for $50-80 on eBay and it is good for ~2.5 hrs of footage while being 1080P, shockproof, waterproof, etc...

On Aether we used a GoPro Hero 3 White

Hot Hands can help keep your equipment and batteries warm. As the package reaches higher altitudes, the amount of oxygen in the environment will drop and the Hot Hands will put off less and less heat. They'll wake back up on the way down.

Step 9: Get Ready for Launch

If you are in the USA you must notify our local FAA authorities and follow FAA regulations for free balloons defined in FAR 101.

Here's a great place to order larger specialty balloons. If you have questions about what you should expect from your setup and their balloons, their guys are very knowledgeable, experienced and helpful.

Even though hydrogen is less expensive, we highly recommend that you use helium because it is much safer.

Helium is non-flammable in contrast to hydrogen, which is flammable.

Helium is used in party, promotions and welding industries. Track down your local helium supplier and rent a helium from them.

Lay-down a blanket of some sort to rest the balloon, and wear gloves while handling it.

You should watch the launch scale as you inflate the balloon until the required lift is achieved ( you can utilize to calculate lift).

This is a VERY useful link. It will take you to Cambridge University's balloon flight prediction software. Input your launch time, location, etc... and it was very accurate when compared to our actual flight data. U Colorado has one as well. We found this one much easier to look at and use.

Step 10: Launch!

Step 11: Track It

Track it on and you will recieve altitude, speed, and other information.

To find it, input the coordinates into your gps and locate it.

Step 12: Collect Data & Analyze

Temperatures outside the capsule reached a recorded -43 degrees (C and F are very near the same at this temp). Temperatures inside the Aether I capsule never dropped below 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Traveling 100 miles across Arkansas in only an hour and twenty minutes, Aether we averaged an impressive 75mph. Since wind-speed near the surface was obviously nowhere near 75mph, it can be safely assumed that the capsule must have broken 100mph while traveling through the jet stream.

The max altitude of a sounding balloon such as those used in the Aether Project can vary, dependent on many variables such as weight of payload, maximum volume of the balloon, volume of the balloon at launch, and weather conditions, to name a few of the more critical ones. Our target with Aether I was 100,000'; however, the decision was made to sacrifice altitude for a quicker ascent speed and a larger volume at ground level was dialed in. The balloon traveled to a max altitude of roughly 80,000' very quickly as a result.

Step 13: Be Seen on News!

Contact your local news crew and let them know that you'll be doing a near space project and they might air it live!

click here to view the recorded live segment of our Aether project

Spread the awesomeness of science, engineering, technology, and math in your community.

Most importantly, have fun! :)

Step 14: Pictures Captured From the Still Camera.

click here to learn more about the project and much more.

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comment section below!

Step 15: Future Designs

We designed another capsule, which will be used in the future planning of another another near space project.

Things That Fly Challenge

Runner Up in the
Things That Fly Challenge

Mind for Design

Second Prize in the
Mind for Design