Have you ever wished that you could build something and send it to space? While access to space for the average person has increased through the growth of platforms such as CubeSats, the cost and complexity are still prohibitive factors for many. But of course, as makers, we know there’s always an alternative solution! High-altitude balloons (HABs) are a simple, fun, and cost-effective way to launch projects to the edge of the atmosphere, and while they don’t quite reach space (technically!), they definitely get high enough for you to capture great photos/videos, run experiments, or even test hardware that is preparing for launch into space.
The Global Space Balloon Challenge (GSBC) is an event organized to help you do just that: build, launch, and recover your very own HAB. But the goal of the event is not just to help a single person launch a HAB. The goal of the event is to help hundreds of people launch HABs — from all over the world, at the same time! Over a single weekend, teams from different countries will launch their creations to the edge of space, recover them, and share the photos and data that they have collected. The event hopes to encourage people of all ages to get their hands dirty building their own space hardware, and to promote the spirit of hardware hacking and international STEM collaboration.
The idea originated at Stanford University, when a student group called the Student Space Initiative was looking to start a project that would be accessible to all students, regardless of background or skill level. The project attracted freshman and graduate students alike, and after the first launch the entire team was amazed by how simple and fun it was to build a HAB that could take incredible pictures of the Earth. The project continued to grow, serving as a opportunity for students to gain skills in everything from mechanical construction to hacking off-the-shelf electronics to programming microcontrollers and sensors. Wanting more people to experience the excitement of sending their own creations to space, the team at Stanford reached out to balloon teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, and the Global Space Balloon Challenge was born.
2014 is the first year for the GSBC, with organizers planning for it to be an annual event. Since signups went live just over a week ago teams have already registered from the U.S., U.K., Spain, Australia, Japan, India, Greece, Brazil, Morocco, Canada, South Africa, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Columbia, and Nigeria. The teams are made up of people from all ages and backgrounds: everyone from university groups to elementary school students and even to groups of friends just looking for a fun weekend activity. Some teams are planning to build simple balloons with cameras and GPS, some are recording data for science experiments, and some are even using the GSBC as an opportunity to test actual satellite hardware before sending it to space. To make the event accessible to everyone, GSBC organizers are putting together guides for every step of the process and setting up methods for teams to collaborate with other teams all over the world, including holding online Q&A sessions with industry members such as engineers from Google’s Project Loon.
With over two and half months before the launch weekend, there’s still plenty of time to sign up and get involved! The GSBC welcomes new and seasoned makers alike. Anyone can build and launch a HAB, and there will be prizes offered for Best Photograph, Best Design, and Highest Altitude.