A BalloonSat after recovery. BalloonSats do not carry independent
trackers, but rely on the NS craft they are attached to. BalloonSats
are designed and built by university students as part of
the Space Grant Consortium.
collect bacteria and spores residing in the stratosphere.
Life support systems for insects can be developed and
tested. (Please do not launch animals more complex than
insects into NS; in addition to being inhumane, there are
many laws concerning treatment of and experiments with
Along with science experiments, engineering tests
can also be performed. Will a LEGO robot function
properly on Mars, with its frigid air temperature and low
atmospheric pressure? Carrying a LEGO robot to an
altitude of 100,000 feet is one way to find out (and fun,
to boot). Imagine young students getting a photograph
or video tape of their LEGO robot operating at 100,000
feet with a curved, blue Earth, and black space as its
Starting Your Own Amateur
Near Space Program
I hope you’re finding amateur NS to be as interesting
and exciting as I do. It’s really easy to start your own
program. In less than a year, you could be launching your
own module and collecting fantastic results. Just imagine
the photographs that could be hanging on your
living room wall next year. To get started, you need to
accomplish the following tasks:
• Earn an amateur radio (ham radio) license or recruit
• Practice tracking objects with APRS
• Become familiar with FAR 101
• Build an airframe
• Build avionics
• Sew or purchase a recovery parachute
• Build one or more experiments
• Assemble the balloon filling equipment
• Learn to use the Lift Win and Ball Trak programs
• Practice launch procedures
• Set a launch time and place
While it’s not absolutely necessary to earn an
amateur radio license, it does make it easier. Without your
own license, you’re dependent on others to test your NS
craft and its experiments for you. The good news is that
you no longer need to learn Morse Code to get an
amateur radio license.
APRS is the Automatic Packet Reporting System.
Packet radio is a method for transmitting and receiving
digital data over amateur radio. Think of it as using a
modem over the radio rather than over a telephone line.
APRS takes digital packet radio data and displays it in a
graphical format on a laptop or PC. The position of your
Some launches, just after the balloons have been filled. Until they
are tied and taped shut, the balloons are secured to 120 lb. helium
bottles to anchor them while the rest of the NS craft
is being prepped.
A beautiful sight — a spacecraft after its mission. APRS reports
the landing position to within 100 feet. Recovery crews only had
to follow their GPS receivers until the parachute was sighted.
NUTS & VOLTS