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PongSats take student science projects to new heights

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July 27, 2012

A batch of PongSats aboard one of JP Aerospace's High Racks

A batch of PongSats aboard one of JP Aerospace's High Racks

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With the increasing availability of things like GPS tracking systems, we’re hearing more and more about regular people using weather balloons to launch items into the sky’s upper reaches - examples have included a video camera, a miniature airplane, and even spacesuit-wearing teddy bears. While such efforts might get you interested in sending something of your own into almost-outer-space, the hassle involved in getting hold of all the necessary equipment could likely keep you from actually doing it. If you can fit your cargo into a ping pong ball, however, the folks at JP Aerospace will send it up for you.

JP Aerospace is a volunteer-run DIY space program, based out of California. The group grabbed headlines last November, when it broke the record for the world’s highest airship flight. Now, it’s raising funds to send 1,000 student science projects “to the edge of space” on September 22nd.

Each project will be contained within a “PongSat” – a ping pong ball that has been cut in half, then taped back together with the project inside. One thousand of these will be loaded into four foam-and-carbon-fiber platforms known as High Racks, which will each be attached to a weather balloon and launched from the Black Rock desert in Nevada.

A High Rack being launched by a weather balloon

The assemblies will proceed up to an altitude of 100,000 feet (30.5 km) – not truly outer space, but well into the stratosphere. There, the experiments will be subject to a near-vacuum, cosmic rays, and temperatures as low as -90ºF (-68ºC). Once at altitude, each High rack will release its balloon, then parachute back down to Earth. On the way down, the experiments will experience a zero-gravity environment.

After the GPS-equipped High Racks have been retrieved from the Sierra Nevada mountains, the PongSats will be sent back to their owners, along with flight data, a DVD of the launch and flight, and a certificate. From there, it’s up to the students to determine how (or if) the flight affected their payload.

A PongSat containing electronics

While this might seem like something aimed at elementary school kids, JP welcomes experiments from people in high school or university, or anyone interested in learning. This won’t be the first batch of PongSats to be launched, either. The group has already sent 6,440 others up, with payloads ranging from seeds to electronic sensors to marshmallows – the sky’s the limit, you could say.

Although there’s no charge to PongSat participants, JP is currently working at raising US$9,000 to cover the expenses of the planned September launch, via Kickstarter. Pledges start at $10.

More information is available in the pitch video below.

Source: Kickstarter

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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