Monday, March 1, 2010

Take Me Out Into The Black

I'm building a high altitude balloon for unmanned near space exploration. (Not to get political but...) The US government is dropping the ball on the whole space thing so I figured I'd start my own space program. (Hey, dude...Mr President. I voted for you. You owe me.) Unfortunately I don't have enough money to attempt Mars, the Moon, or even orbit. But I can't sit by and let science lose to American Idol. So...

Meet Serenity.

It's no secret that I'm a Browncoat. So when it came time to name our high altitude ship the answer was obvious. I figured since NASA wasn't going to use it for the Node 3 addition to the ISS then I'll take it.

I've been following the instructions written by L. Paul Verhage in his Near Space book (available for free download). I figured I'd defer to his experience and not reinvent the wheel. By following his book I hope to save some money by avoiding costly R&D and have a successful first attempt. After I gain some experience of my own then I can start to modify or redesign things.

Construction isn't complete. In the picture above Serenity is sporting a red and black nylon ripstop abrasion jacket. Each side features a port hole for future additions of experiment fixtures or instrumentation. A clear vinyl pouch (currently holding a blank card) will feature her name and flight record. I still need to add on the loops in the upper corners for attaching the parachute and balloon.

Here she is...ummm, undressed.

Constructed of 3/4" styrofoam with an outer sleeve of multi-layer insulation (3 layers of emergency blanket with 2 layers of tulle sandwiched between). The MLI is only on the sides and bottom, not the lid. Putting the metalized insulation on the lid will block the GPS signals. And a foam rubber "air bag" on the bottom for a softer landing.

The styrofoam and MLI will work together to reduce heat loss in the freezing temperatures of near space. The electronics (particularly the batteries) need to stay warm to function properly. Those big holes will, of course, also be covered. The abrasion jacket is designed to protect the package after landing. It will probably get dragged around on the ground and I'd like for things not to fall apart. It also serves as a nice bag to attach the balloon and recovery chute.

In addition to putting the final touches on the abrasion jacket, the next step is assembling the electronics. More specifically - learning how to use APRS and getting it set up and working.

Part 2: GPS Tracking Beacon
Part 3: More High Altitude Preparations
Part 4: Launch - Breaking Atmo