There used to be a time not so long ago when traveling to—or lobbing things into—space was the domain of Big Governments (and only a couple, at that). That bubble was broken soon afterward by Big Corporations, then Big Universities getting into the act. But with the advent of smaller, cheaper technologies, a bit of innovation on the part of private citizens, and the harnessing of our collective desire to explore what’s Out There, space, or at least “near space”, has been breached countless times in the past few years by individuals, schools and clubs around the world.
Two of the individuals who got into the let’s-launch-something-into-near-space act early on are Alex Baker and Chris Rose. Back in 2010, Alex and Chris were working toward their PhDs in mechanical engineering at the University of Sheffield, in England, when they decided to reach for the stars (or at least some thinner atmosphere). Cobbling together a launch platform made of a weather balloon, they built a payload out of two video cameras and a GPS tracker designed to find lost pets, insulated it from the extreme cold at altitude with some foam they found in the trash, and sent their low budget project aloft. Surprisingly, it worked. Once they located the downed payload, they uploaded the flight’s video to YouTube. (Check it out above.)
Almost instantly after their university sent out word of their accomplishment, Alex and Chris, along with word of their project, went viral. Not only were they inundated with press coverage of their exploit, but they were also flooded with requests from around the world by people who wanted to follow in their footsteps. It didn’t take long for Alex and Chris to realize they were onto something big, so they started their own company, Sent Into Space.
Taking advantage of the swell of interest surrounding their inaugural flight and harnessing the ingenuity that only two engineering PhDs can muster, Alex and Chris soon developed and started selling flight components, balloons, launch accessories, and a full suite of affordable electronic sensors designed to measure an array of atmospheric conditions. They also offer support services and tutorials for both corporate clients and, more importantly, schools in the UK, with the ultimate objective of making “near space exploration as accessible and as easy as possible.”
For the uninitiated, near space is the layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that hovers between 20 to 100 km (65,000 and 328,00 feet) above sea level, and is comprised of the stratosphere, mesosphere, and the lower thermosphere. There’s been some semantic fencing among the experts over the years about whether this region should be lumped in with the upper atmosphere, or if it’s actually part of space (as in “outer”). Regardless of the arguing, the fact that school children can build something that up until about a generation ago was reachable only by the most well-funded and technically savvy is pretty impressive. Especially when you consider that, until just a few years ago, the International Space Station (ISS) regularly orbited the Earth at a mere 350 km (220 mi.).
So if you’re looking for a unique bullet to beef up your astronaut application, or maybe a cool summer project, Sent Into Space just might be able to help.