A few years ago, I decided to launch a camera into space.
The idea was born one afternoon on a video call with one of my managers at my internship. I finished my college applications but was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. At that point, I thought that I wanted to study a combination of business and computer science. I was taking STEM classes and preparing myself for my future, but I still didn’t feel challenged enough.
My manager suggested that I set a high-achieving goal for myself and reach for the stars. I took that literally and decided to launch a camera into space. Oh, and I wanted to do it in 30 days so that I could send it to admissions offices before colleges made their decisions.
Luckily, my manager had worked on a similar project and was able to guide me through the next few weeks. He mentored me as I learned the math, physics, and engineering concepts it took to complete the space launch and gave me advice on the materials I needed to buy.
After spending a week doing research, I made a list of everything I needed to do, which included learning how to design in 3D, fund the project, get helium in the middle of a shortage, calculate launch/landing points, and much more. I had a monster of a spreadsheet when planning.
Since it was winter and cold outside, I reached out to a local airport in Wisconsin and set a launch date so that I could set up from inside a hangar. I spent the next two weeks designing, calculating, soldering, and testing.
When it came to launch day, my dad and manager came with me to the hangar. We set up several cameras to capture the experience, unloaded the supplies, and got to work filling the weather balloon with helium.
Of course, the weather was different that day than originally predicted. I redid my calculations and adjusted the helium amount so that the payload would still land in an ideal area.
After the launch, we packed everything up and hopped in the car to chase the payload. I received a new coordinate from the GPS every ten minutes.
Forty minutes into the launch, the GPS stopped transmitting signals. I spent the next hour worried that the project would fail because we wouldn’t be able to find my payload. Luckily, the payload followed my predicted path and landed near a forest in a neighborhood near home.
When I reviewed the footage, I was excited to see the shots of Earth, space, and the sun. My pink, glittery space project exceeded my expectations. Even though it was extremely challenging, it taught me a lot (and more than an equation or two). Here are some fun facts about my launch:
- The payload’s total weight (payload + parachute + radar reflector + equipment inside the payload) clocked in at 3.90 lbs. The legal maximum is 6 lbs for a payload launched to space.
- The balloon popped at 35,000 m, in earth’s stratosphere.
- The balloon was 30 ft in diameter at it’s fullest potential, right before it popped. I only filled it to 8-10 ft in diameter.
- I used 180 lbs of helium. The tank was my height.
- The longitudinal distance the payload traveled was around 63.24 miles (about 75.34 miles driving).
- The payload was in the air for about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
- I spent about $1,000, despite borrowing a lot of equipment. Budget well if you plan to do a space launch!
- I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Thank you to my parents, Adriano Marques, Libertyville School District 70, Lise Schleicher of Basketworks, American Welding & Gas, and Krys Brown from Watertown Municipal Airport for supporting my project.
Here’s the dramatic video I made to send to admissions offices (it includes original space footage):