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    • CommentTimeSep 19th 2009
    Ham radio enthusiasts used to contact astronauts in orbit. Amateur telescope astronomers have always contributed to observational discoveries. But it is now getting to the point that small groups or individuals and absurdly minimal budgets can push remote/robotic access to high altitudes almost to the point of space.

    Project Icarus, the original $150 near-space launch!

    Here is a photo they took from their $150.00 off-the-shelf balloon photography contraption at 93,000 feet:

    There was the X-Prize sub-orbital manned spaceflight challenge that saw Burt Rutan's Spaceship One become the first entirely privately funded manned and reusable space vehicle. And there is currently the Google Lunar X-Prize to spur a privately funded landing of a robotic vehicle on the moon. These things are fantastic, but they still are projects in the millions of dollars.

    What we are beginning to see are projects in the hundreds to thousands of dollars range - within the budget of individual, regular-income enthusiasts, which are getting closer and closer to space.

    These people seem happy to post results and how-to guides of their projects on the web, so a technical literature of high-altitude vehicle construction for the backyard tinkerer is beginning to accumulate. This will only get built upon.

    There are 3 economic layers in space exploration now - Governmental/Big Science, Corporate/Large Scale Private, and now, almost unbelievable, DIY.

    Anyone know of other DIY space exploration projects of any kind?
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeSep 19th 2009
    They're not outright projects in particular, but SETI and NASA both have cloud computing projects that individuals can participate in. Always makes me feel a bit special just to know I'm contributing in some small way.
  1.  (6822.3)
    I love anything that can give results like this on a budget of near-zero. It feels like Science Done Right. It'll be Science Done Perfect when I can figure out how to get me, rather than a camera, up there for the same price.

    Seriously though, this is great stuff. Being able to accomplish so much for so little is an amazing feat.
    • CommentTimeSep 19th 2009
    This gives me tremendous joy.
  2.  (6822.5)
    I don’t really know much about this, but I have to say that I’m impressed by anyone who can pull off a photo like that with a $150 setup.
  3.  (6822.6)
    Wondering how you rig it to do that with a video camera (for me it could be a way to pull off cheap special effects).

    While doing some research for a screenplay, I came across Project Bambi a sort of DIY/Amateur SETI radio telescope.
    • CommentTimeSep 20th 2009
    From the project description, the balloon ride up took 4 hours, and after the balloon popped it parachuted back down for 45 minutes. The whole rig weighed under 4 lbs.

    So if you could get a video camera on there that had a battery life of 5 hours, and 5 hours of storage, or else some way to trigger the camera after it was launched (I wouldn't count on remote control, as they lost touch with their GPS tracker on the balloon after a certain altitude), and keep the whole thing under 4 lbs., you could probably do it to the plan they used for this one.
  4.  (6822.8)
    There was the X-Prize sub-orbital manned spaceflight challenge that saw Burt Rutan's Spaceship One become the first entirely privately funded manned and reusable space vehicle...

    ...capable only of the same suborbital lob Alan Shepard was used in, fifty years ago. Big whoop.
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeSep 21st 2009
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeSep 21st 2009
    I might be mistaken, but wasn't (isn't?) there a plan to send a ship up as high as possible via balloon before using rockets?
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeSep 21st 2009

    That is a premise in one of the short stories of the _Burning Chrome_ anthology: titled _Red Star, Winter Orbit_.

    It seems like an implausible idea to me, i.e.:

    * A "rocket-ship" would be heavy
    * A baloon's lift is proportional to the atmospheric density
    * Atmospheric density decreases quite rapidly with altitude
    * You would have to go a lot higher than that before gaining any worthwhile fraction of orbital/escape velocity
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeSep 21st 2009
    @Fan, Looneynerd:

    The only advantage I see to a balloon lift system is getting above the densest part of the atmosphere, to reduce the fuel required to plow through that on your way up.

    Going higher and higher doesn't buy you anything as far as orbital/escape velocity goes. If a magic anti-gravity machine could lift your ship up to 500 km (or 1,500 km) you still wouldn't be in orbit. It would fall right back down.

    You need that lateral velocity to get into orbit.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeSep 21st 2009
    With a magic anti-gravity machine, you'd need only a little additional sidewise delta-v to fall into an elliptic orbit.

    But you're right; and I think that appreciable fractions of the escape velocity equate to heights which have same order of magnitude as the planetary diameter (i.e. 10,000 km), whereas the atmosphere for balooning is only about 50 km high at best.
    • CommentTimeSep 21st 2009
    ...capable only of the same suborbital lob Alan Shepard was used in, fifty years ago. Big whoop.

    It is kind of disappointing that it hasn't gone farther - and it is true that the visionary horizon of a private enterprise like Virgin Galactic is so shallow. They don't realistically aspire to anything much greater than eventual tourism of LEO.

    But, suborbital lob though it was, it was done in an honest to goodness steerable, reusable rocket plane - the pilot flew it in the equivalent of a flight jacket, sitting in a proper chair, with a respectable view or the proceedings. And it was done on a relative shoestring, when compared to the Gemini effort.

    Granted, it was able to be done cheaply and with so very few people because it was built on top of that previous effort, as well as decades of subsequent materials and flight experience. Still, to me at least, it widens the base. The beginning of space travel has up until now been one massive, impressive, but precarious leap up, with no underlying base to steady it. Things like Spaceship One, though more-or-less a re-enactment of past glories, is necessary back-fill to shore up the tottering pillar of things like the moon launch.

    It feels like groundwork to me. Not as inspiring, maybe, but I'm glad to see someone finally laying it.