by L. Paul Verhage
Approaching the Final Frontier
An Introduction to the Amateur Near Space
Program — My Near Space Program
It’s safe to assume that most of you are interested in
space exploration. In fact, most of you would already
have built and launched your own spacecraft, if not
for the high cost involved. We have the interest in space
exploration, but we’re stuck in a lurch. It seems to
be a pent up demand with almost no available outlets;
however, this column will show you how to create and
operate an amateur near space program — the poor
man’s space program — right out of your house.
Real space programs are unaffordable because they
use specialized launch facilities, a global communication
network, space-rated materials, and dangerous rockets.
An amateur near space (NS) program is affordable
because it uses open fields, amateur radio, Styrofoam,
and weather balloons.
Now, this is not some watered-down, pretend, science
fiction fantasy. Instead, think of an amateur NS program
as the garage band version of a national space program.
In your amateur near space program, you’ll build
functioning models of spacecraft and launch them on
missions into a space-like environment — and it’s cheap!
Compared to the cost of building and launching a
professional spacecraft, yours will cost less than $5.00 for
every $1,000,000.00 spent in construction and will be
launched for 1/1000th the cost, per pound. You can now
afford to be a spacecraft engineer and perform experiments in an absolutely lethal environment. Amateur NS is
a high-tech hobby unlike any other you’ve seen.
The first amateur NS flight occurred on August 15,
1987, when Bill Brown (WB8ELK) launched an amateur
radio on a helium-filled weather balloon. Since that time,
amateurs have flown several hundred missions. Today,
close to one dozen groups and over 100 people are
involved in amateur NS programs. The average
participant is a licensed amateur radio operator who
makes launches his or her hobby. Most people are
involved for the fun of launching and tracking a payload
which is capable of reaching altitudes in excess of
100,000 feet; some are primarily interested in the
amateur science aspect.
The Typical Amateur Near
The NS craft consists of one or more modules filled
An EOSS chase vehicle. It carries a portable weather station,
along with tracking equipment. It can communicate with other
chase teams, find directions, and track mission progress with
APRS. Photo by John and Deb Knapp.
Getting ready for launch. The stack on the left is about to be raised
on lanyards, while the one on the right has already been raised.
These two flights carried their payloads to altitudes of
98,000 and 99,000 feet.
NUTS & VOLTS