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DIY Space Exploration Answered

Hi guys, I heard about a guy here thinking about getting a payload into space on DIY terms.

Running with the idea, it turns out that commercial off-the-shelf satellite space will run you about 8 grand.

Moving away from rockets, the MAKE: team managed to use 'weather balloons' and helium to hit 109,000 feet. (http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2007/03/diy_space_make_video_podc.html)

My idea/question in this.
If you can get a payload near space, what if your payload is a small rocket that fires at the peak height, could you drag something (kicking and screaming) into orbit?

Thoughts and discussion here, I'm really excited about this!

ParadoxDetected :)


i belive its kinda illegal or should be they might think its a bomb ya know how paranoid and stupid the government can be if you succeed these guys might storm onto your lawn


That's what I love about Instructibles website; with great people like those below (and many more answering other q's) you never stop learning and it's fun! I know it's not my Q, but thanks guys for your time!

I hope you are one of those people where being told you can't motivates you because that is a really cool idea and I think you could do it.

Kevin has some good and some misguided comments....

1) $8K for satellite payload seems far too low (Kevin's note about fuel costs is right on). Do you have a reference for that figure?

2) Earth's gravity is basically the same between ground and low-orbit (do the math on 62002 vs. 60002 miles). Launching an orbital rocket from a balloon at altitude will ned the same fuel and guidance systems as launching from the surface.

3) Building a suborbital or orbital rocket privately is not impossible. Launching it will require permits both locally and from the FAA (you really don't want to hit a plane with your missile). Those can be obtained, you just need to show that you have the right range safety systems and control.

Wow. Those are both seriously cool, and stuff I knew nothing about. Thank you very much for the links, Kiteman!

Launching from a balloon saves fuel because a large part of the fuel is burned lifting the rest of the fuel to that altitude.

A lot of the data for the research on the Van Allen belts was gathered via "rockoon".

AFIAK, the USAF has missiles intended to take down satellites that are launched from high-altitude aircraft for the same reason.

There are some apparently serious people working on rockoons today.

That might be true for a suborbital missile, as you describe, but I have a hard time believing it's true for orbital missions. The fuel cost is in delta-V -- getting the beast up to 5 km/s (or 7 km/s for lunar or beyond). It doesn't matter whether you launch from ground or from a 30 km balloon. You're starting from rest and need to get up to orbital speed. There are definitely issues with the extra friction (and hence extra fuel) needed to push through the dense lower atmosphere. So I can believe that for small sounding rockets, you can get a non-trivial gain in payload vs. fuel from a rockoon or high-altitude airbreather. But I don't believe that gain scales with mission size.

Not to rain on your parade - it's a cool idea; and an interesting thought experiment.

But there are serious practical problems, starting with those pointed out by Kevin & Kelsey. I think the biggest and most serious problem lies within their references to data comm and guidance systems.

Let's assume you pull a "Danny Deckchair" on your $8K rocket, and you do get the thing into orbit - what're you gonna do with it then? If you can't steer it or see where it's going, you've basically just launched your very own piece of space junk.
(Sure it was good enough for Sputnik - but then, slide rules and beehive hairdos were good enough for Sputnik.)
(Not that I'm knocking slide rules, or Sputnik.)

The real expense is in the control & communication systems that get a thing not just into orbit, but into the right orbit, - and keeps it there, and lets you know what it's up to, and lets you give it updated instructions & course corrections.

Another problem is that space, at least earth-orbital space, is getting pretty crowded. There are only so many geo-synchronous orbits, and most of them are long since taken by military and commnication satellites. There is still plenty of non-geo-synchronous orbital space, but you still have to be sure you choose one that's not already occupied and doesn't cross anyone else's at the wrong time.

Hit a communications satellite, and you'll just be out a couple billion smackeroonies. Hit the wrong military satellite, and very quickly we could all be back to the old Cold-War future of waking up to Earth as a radioactive-slag-heap inhabitated only by a few especially stalwart species of cockroaches.

(Dang - sorry to sound so negative - I really didn't want to rain on your parade.)

I honestly believe that not only is this quite (easily) possible but owuld land you in more trouble than you can even imagine. Do you think that theSuperPowers would allow a mere pleb like us to do something that could endanger one of their satelites? I think not. And I cannot believe that an off-the-shelf will cost just 8k. The fuel alone would be a considerable expense never mind the hardware. But your problem is not getting something up there. It is keeping it there - as I understand it all satelites have a booster rocket to lift them up back into their optimum orbit as the Earth will always exert some level of gravity within the levels you are talking about. So you will also need data comms as well as thrusters. It's nice to be excited, but I'm sorry I think this one is a little beyond DIY help. Good luck, though ;-)