A group of MIT students have launched a low-budget satellite to near space, taking images of the curvature of Earth and the blackness of space. Their approach was to use low tech, off the shelf equipment, which included a Styrofoam beer cooler, a camera from eBay, open source software and an inexpensive helium balloon as the launch vehicle in order to do their complete mission launch for less than $150. Total cost? $148. The experience? Priceless, including getting interviewed on CNN and Fox News about their achievement. The best news for the rest of us? They’ll soon be sharing an illustrated step-by-step guide on how to launch your own low-budget satellite.
The team, led by Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh had the goal of seeing Earth from space, but didn’t have a lot of money to do it. They knew they’d have to gather all the materials for less than $150.
Their satellite was a huge success. It reached 93,000 feet (calculated from the linear ascent rate at the beginning of the launch), took several images of Earth from space (see their gallery here) and was retrieved using an inexpensive GPS system.
They say the time lapse video above isn’t all that great because the cooler wasn’t stabilized. But the images are incredible.
Many people have launched balloons (see some of our previous articles, here and here) but this is the lowest price to space anyone has ever accomplished. The students say they hope to be an inspiration to others.
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Lee and Yeh caution about making sure future explorers contact the FAA about launching a balloon, and to launch from a safe place so the balloon and equipment doesn’t land in a highly populated area.
Next, they want to do it again, but add a rocket to the balloon to launch their payload even higher.