About 1,600 ping pong balls carrying miniature science experiments will be carried by weather balloons to the upper atmosphere and close to actual space tomorrow. The mission by California-based JP Aerospace is a do-it-yourself space program. The ping pong ball “satellites” (called PongSats) will be carrying various payloads. Many of them will contain weather experiments created by students from all over the world.
“This mission is getting pretty huge,” said John Powell, president of JP Aerospace in Cordova, California. “We’re flying 1,600 PongSats, six MiniCubes, three high-altitude advertisements, two TV commercials and three weddings! Not actually weddings, but proposals … a dedicated ring-bearing vehicle and another set of rings and wedding favors.”
Seven balloons will be launched. Five of the balloons will travel to 100,000 feet and two balloons will top out at 120,000 feet or 22 miles (36 kilometers) above Earth! The balloons will be released from the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. First launches will begin at 7:30 a.m. PST, and continue every 30 minutes, if everything goes according to plan. To date JP Aerospace has launched 6,440 PongSats with this next launch sending the number to over 8,000 PongSats. The PongSats are flown at no cost to the student or school.
JP Aerospace is an all volunteer group that claims to be “America’s other space program.” JP Aerospace has about 3,000 active participants. PongSats have been arriving from all over the world, including Poland, India, Japan, Slovenia, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, China, Australia, Indonesia, and the United States.
PongSat’s are experiments that fit inside of a cut-in-half, then-taped together ping pong ball. These ping pong ball “satellites” are flown to the edge of space by balloon, recovered and returned to the student, along with video, data, pictures and a certificate of flight. “We want to get as many people as possible involved and change the way people think about space and science,” Powell said. “Right now space is the thing people see on TV. PongSat makes it the thing you can hold in your hand.”
“It’s an easy and inexpensive way to get students excited about science and engineering,” Powell points the website. “There are endless possibilities for experiments that can fit inside a ping pong ball. PongSats can be as simple or complex as you want them to be.”
Powell said he’s always floored by what people put in their PongSats, ranging from plant seeds to full upper-atmospheric labs. Several small, inexpensive computers and other electronics can fit inside a PongSat.
“My favorite is the marshmallow. You put a marshmallow inside the pingpong ball. At 100,000 feet, the marshmallow puffs up, completely filling the ball. Then it freeze-dries. The student gets to hold in her hand the direct results of traveling to the top of the atmosphere.”
The PongSats “land anywhere from 20 to 200 miles away from the launch site. After landing, the recovery teams with four-wheel-drive vehicles head out across the Sierra Nevada mountains to bring the high racks back,” Powell said.
The upcoming balloon payloads also include purchased MiniCubes – each a small plastic box 5 centimeters on a side that can hold research, commercial products, art, or whatever else can be stuffed inside.
The developers at Southern Stars makers of Sky Safari, a program that I use for astronomy and astrophotography (available for both Mac and Android devices) are also launching a minicube (a skycube according to their website) into space.
Funding for the launch came via crowdsourcing through Kickstarter and was bankrolled by 457 backers.
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I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +