Category Archives: Near Space

PongSat Flight Program to fly a million student projects to edge of space

An announcement from JP Aerospace:

PongSat Flight Program Aims to Fly
1 Million Student Experiments to the Edge of Space

Rancho Cordova, CA August 4, 2020 – An organization in California is planning to fly a million ping pong balls to the edge of space. Over 18,000 have already flown.

A view of the PongSat flight on October 6th, 2019. Credits: PongSat Flight Program

All the world’s space programs combined have not flown as many student experiments as a little-known California aerospace company, JP Aerospace. Now, after 18 years, the program called the PongSat Flight Program has become its own nonprofit, setting its sights on flying a million student projects to the edge of space, all inside ping pong balls.

What is a PongSat?

A PongSat is an experiment that fits inside of a ping pong ball. These ping pong ball “satellites” are carried to the edge of space by high altitude balloon. There the PongSats experience the space environment: cosmic rays, vacuum, extreme cold and even zero gravity on the descent.

The PongSats stay with the balloon platform. After landing, they are returned to the students. Students get excited about science and engineering by actually doing it.

“We have 7th graders with more mission experience than adult researchers in the field,”

says John Powell, President of the PongSat Flight Program.

PongSat is a completely free program, open to anyone.

A PongSat with electronics. Credits: PongSat Flight Program

PongSats give students the chance to thrive during COVID. With science classrooms closed, PongSat is more important than ever. We have been able to conduct safe flights with a minimum team all masked up and social distancing. PongSats made at home can be the inspiration to keep science education alive and to even thrive.

PongSats can be as simple or as complex as the student wants. Whether carrying a marshmallow to see if it puffs up in the vacuum of near space or an entire sophisticated satellite in miniature, PongSats create motivation, drive and passion in their creators. There are endless possibilities for experiments that can fit inside a ping pong ball. PongSat have carried seeds to see if exposure to cosmic rays affect their growth (it does!). They have also carried cameras, sensors, GPS’s and even LEGO mini-figures.

Over 80,000 students have participated in PongSat, flying over 18,000 unique experiments.

For more background on PongSats, here’s a link to “The PongSat Story”.

JP Aerospace, a volunteer-based space program, created the PongSat program in 2002. It started out with 14 students. Excitement about the program exploded. Every month tens of thousands of requests to fly are received. With new PongSat nonprofit organization we aim to fly them all.

July 12, 2020 Away 130 mission was the first PongSat flight of the year. Credits: PongSat Flight Program

PongSat as its own nonprofit entity has a stronger foundation. It means we can fly more PongSats , do outreach to more students and continue to hurl humanity toward space, one ping pong ball at a time.

“I’m convinced that the first person to walk on Mars is out there and they will already have flown a PongSat”,

declares Powell.

PongSat Flight Program ( is a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

The millionth PongSat may go far. Credits: PongSat Flight Program

JP Aerospace Ascender airship granted FAA Airworthiness Certificate

For over 20 years, JP Aerospace of northern California has carried out a wide variety of balloon and airship activities ranging from stratospheric advertisements to taking student PongSat experiments to the stratosphere

The Ascender airships aim to provide controlled flight to near space and perhaps even beyond. The 9th Ascender design recently got FAA certification: Ascender Receives Airworthiness Certificate – JP Aerospace Blog

Success! For the last week JPA, the FAA and the Ascender have been out in the desert. We were issued the Certificate of Airworthiness for the airship. It’s the accumulation of 2 years of work.

The Ascender is the 1st UAV airship in the world to be so licensed.

FAA inspection of Ascender 9 for airworthiness certification.


FAA inspection of Ascender 9


Ascender 36 in flight


Orbital_Ascender infographic


Video: A vinyl record playing songs ascends up to NearSpace

A vinyl record spinning on a turntable reaches the stratosphere (but not space): Third Man Records Sends a Vinyl Record Into Space – The New York Times

Watch the flight:

From the video caption:

Third Man Records has officially made history in celebration of their 7th Anniversary by launching the first record played in Space. The launch of the ICARUS CRAFT, a custom “space-proof” turntable attached to a high-altitude balloon, occurred on July 2nd just outside of Marsing, Idaho, spinning Third Man’s THREE MILLIONTH record pressed. The ICARUS CRAFT was designed and engineered by Kevin Carrico, longtime friend and electronics consultant for Third Man Records, and launched with the invaluable assistance of SATINS (Students and Teachers in Near Space.)

The goal of our mission was to send a vinyl record up as high as possible and document it being played there. Near space (our ultimate destination) is a regular destination for NASA (it’s the closest we come to mimicking the atmosphere of Mars, so it is traveled to often for tests), but our mission was made complex by the fact that we weren’t simply flying a stationary object, but a turntable that we wanted to work — and work well! — so the endeavor became more of a professional high altitude flight than one might expect. Because of this, we had several, oft-changing government standards to meet while refining our design, selecting camera angles, and weather proofing our craft in case of inclement weather — all while keeping the weight down and the maintaining enough battery capacity to keep the record spinning in cold air of the Earth’s atmosphere. We needed low winds, a clear sky, and approval from the FAA and the FCC, all which coincided perfectly on July 2nd.

The craft reached a peak altitude of 94, 413 feet at 1:21:20 flight time (roughly 1000/feet/minute) when the balloon burst (a truly beautiful sight) and the descent began. For the entire hour and twenty minutes of ascension, the Icarus turntable faithfully played Carl Sagan’s “A Glorious Dawn” (from “Cosmos” by Symphony of Science composer John Boswell) on repeat, using an impressively sturdy phono cartridge and stylus as well as an onboard flight computer programmed with a few different actions to keep the record playing while it was safe to do so. Once the return to Earth began (with the craft attached to a parachute and falling about 4x faster than it rose), the turntable automatically went into “turbulence mode,” where the record continued to spin, but the tone arm was triggered to lift from the record surface and stay in its locked position, to protect both the needle and the record itself. When Icarus reached the ground — a vineyard, to be exact — the record still spun, unfazed by its incredible journey.

Beyond the potentially bumpy ride, Carrico’s other hurdles to jump in making this project a success had to do with the just how incompatible space & vinyl records actually are! According to Carrico, “As you rise higher and higher into the thinning atmosphere, temperature and increasing vacuum (lack of air) can cause issues. Vinyl has a rather low melting point (160°F), and without air to keep things cool, you could wind-up with a lump of melted plastic on your hands if a record is exposed to the sun for too long. Without air, things in direct sunlight can get very hot while things in shade can get very cold. This constant expansion and contraction can physically distort a vinyl record rendering it unplayable. so our turntable platter also served as a heat-sink in order to keep the vinyl cool in direct sunlight.” The gold plating on the record was another measure to keep the grooves from losing their shape.

From its conception to flight, this endeavor took over three years, with much of that time spent in research and development, as Carrico tested each component of the craft separately and in combination with others. Of course, Carrico was often pulled away to tend to other Third Man Records projects including rehabilitating the Recording Booth and Wax-O-Matic that now reside at its Cass Corridor location. The discoveries made while working on vintage machines like these actually proved helpful in solving issues with Icarus, and visa versa, many solutions developed for Icarus were implemented in Third Man’s machines, full circle.

About the ICARUS CRAFT launch, Third Man Records owner Jack White said, “Our main goal from inception to completion of this project was to inject imagination and inspiration into the daily discourse of music and vinyl lovers. Combining our creative impulses with those of discovery and science is our passion, and even on the scale that we are working with here, it was exhilarating to decide to do something that hasn’t been done before and to work towards its completion. And, it brings us great fulfillment to pay tribute to the incredible scientist and dreamer that Carl Sagan was. We hope that in meeting our goal we inspire others to dream big and start their own missions, whatever they may be.“

director: Kevin Carrico
editor: Brad Holland
videographer: Zach Voss

JP Aerospace – Photos from the latest flights to Near Space

JP Aerospace flew two high altitude airship missions on Nov. 22nd to over 30 km. Below are some reports and images from the flights posted on the JP Aerospace blog:

Launch of the Away 118 balloon:




The two missions carried

three university payloads, 700 PongSat  student experiments, our own balloon valve experiments, a new servo driven camera system and a ceremonial basket from the Sobono Indian Tribe.


The movable servo camera flew on Away 119 and took pictures like this one:


The flights are sponsored by a number of organizations:


The payload packages were recovered intact:


NASA invites applications for student experiments to fly on high-alt balloon

There are up to 12 slots available for college student experiments on a NASA high altitude balloon flight:

NASA Seeks Student Experiments for Edge-of-Space Balloon Flight

NASA is accepting applications from graduate and undergraduate university students to fly their science and technology experiments to the edge of space on a scientific balloon mission.

Graduate and undergraduate university students are invited to compete for the opportunity to fly experiments to the edge of space aboard a high-altitude scientific balloon. Credits: NASA
NASA is planning for a fall 2016 launch for the next High Altitude Student Platform (HASP) mission, a joint project between NASA and the Louisiana Space Consortium (LaSPACE) in Baton Rouge.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to support the students flying these experiments, many of whom are getting their first real taste of hands-on engineering and science,” said Debbie Fairbrother, chief of NASA’s Balloon Program Office. “Programs like HASP are key to educating, training, and inspiring the next generation.”

A panel of experts from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, and LaSPACE will review the applications and select the finalists for the 2016 flight opportunity. The deadline for applications is Dec. 18. A question-and-answer teleconference for interested applicants is scheduled for Nov. 13. Interested school teams should contact Greg Guzik at for more information.

HASP can support up to 12 student-built payloads. It houses and provides power, mechanical support, interfacing, data downlink and command uplink communications for the instruments. Launched from NASA’s balloon launch facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, flights typically last 12 to 15 hours, flying at an altitude of approximately 23 miles.

NASA’s scientific balloons offer low-cost, near-space access for payloads weighing up to 8,000 pounds to conduct technology demonstration tests as well as scientific investigations in fields such as astrophysics, heliophysics and atmospheric research. Depending on the goals and objectives of a specific mission, balloon flight durations can run hours to multiple days or weeks for longer-term tests and data collection.

Since 2006, the HASP program has selected more than 110 payloads for flights, involving more than 800 students from across the United States. Past student groups have flown instruments to flight test compact satellites and prototype long-range communication devices, perform space science experiments, sample particles at the edge of space, perform remote sensing experimentation, test rocket nozzles, and measure infrasound to correlate with geophysical events.

For information about NASA’s education programs, visit: