Category Archives: Near Space

Tracksoar – Open source APRS tracker for weather balloons and other projects

If you are planning a weather balloon or other amateur high altitude project and need a low cost system for tracking and telemetry communications,  check out the Tracksoar  Open source APRS tracker:


Tracksoar is the smallest lightest open source APRS [Automatic Packet Reporting System] tracker available. It makes tracking weather balloons, model rockets, RC aircraft, and anything else that flies as easy as possible. It is able to report location, altitude, temperature pressure and humidity to the internet once a minute for twelve hours with 2xAA batteries.

Because Tracksoar is open source you can also add your own modules to accommodate custom sensors to meet your specific requirements. By flying Tracksoar on a weather balloon you can reduce the required helium and balloon costs per launch and it can pay for itself with just 2 launches. No other APRS solution offers this level of integration, compact size, and customization.

Additionally all profits from Tracksoar sales go to supporting the Santa Barbara Hackerspace and improving the resources we offer to the community.

The system was designed by the Santa barbara Hackerspace, founded by Mike Bales. They currently have a crowd-funding campaign underway  to raise $22,000 to pay for the first production run of the Tracksoar : Tracksoar APRS by mike bales — Kickstarter.


Note that the system requires an amateur radio license to operate.

New book on using the Mini-Cube for STEM now in paperback

I’ve posted here many times about JP Aerospace, which has been flying high altitude balloons and airships for over 30 years. Founded and led by John Powell, the part professional, part volunteer organization has won USAF contracts, carried out multiple promotional flights for companies from around the world, and developed a number of innovations in the technology of Near Space.

Furthermore, JPA has a very active education program. Over 50,000 students have had their PongSats taken to the edge of space for free by JPA.

FourPongSatsOn2014FlightFour PongSats mounted on a JPA balloon structure
during a high-altitude flight in October 2014.

A PongSat is a ping-pong ball with a tiny experiment inside of it. A few years ago, JPA introduced the Mini-Cube, which provides a standardize plastic box structure, 5 cm to a side, in which more sophisticated and elaborate experiments can be enclosed and flown for a fee to Near Space.


Back in May I posted about an ebook written by Gregory N. Cecil that provides a step-by-step tutorials for teachers, students, and anyone else on how use a Mini-Cube for low-cost educational Near Space experiments and demonstrations. The book is now available in paperback: Classroom Laboratory at the Edge of Space: Introducing the Mini-Cube Program.

A book written for secondary public and private school STEM instructors, home schooling, and undergraduate STEM courses of study explaining how to set up their own student focused “space program” utilizing the Mini-Cube Program. With this Informal STEM Project Based Learning Activity, students can have the unique, affordable, and challenging opportunity to send experiments via high altitude balloon to an altitude of 100,000 feet (20 miles or 32 km), commonly known as the “edge of space.” Utilizing the scientific method, team work, research, and communicating in writing the results and applications for peer review, students will participate in the full cycle of an actual experiment from the original question to the published results and conduct true science at the edge of space.

Utilizing the scientific method, team work, research, and communicating in writing the results and applications for peer review, students will participate in the full cycle of an actual experiment from the original question to the published results and conduct true science at the edge of space.

Here is the table of contents for the book:



JP Aerospace flights Ascender 26 airship again

JP Aerospace flews its V shaped Ascender air ship again last Sunday: Ascender 26 Flies Again! – JP Aerospace.

Sunday August 2nd JP Aerospace conducted the second flight of Ascender 26.  There was a series of goal for this flight including a faster climb rate, steeper pitch angle and buoyancy controlled maneuvering.  The flight was a compete success. We even flew a little bit higher, 6,850 feet (2,850 above our 4000 foot launch site).

The vehicle landed undamaged four miles down range.



More photos from JP Aerospace Blog:








Video: Young students send “Blood and Fire” on a Near Space journey

Author Marcus Alexander helped students from The Baird Primary Academy in East Sussex, UK send one of his Puffin fantasy books on a near-space adventure. The goal was to promote literacy and creativity with the youngsters. This video shows the launch, flight, and retrieval at sea of the payload, which include a camera that captured scenes from the flight.

Here are miscellaneous facts and comments about the project and the flight:

The Goal:

To send ‘Blood & Fire’ into space via a weather balloon to further boost students interest in literacy, creativity and the power of imagination.

To record the project and capture footage of the book as it reaches peak altitude.

To tie the act of sending a book into space into a school project that spans multiple key subjects: English, Maths, Physics, Geography, Information Technology, Engineering and PSHE.

To show students that if they can overcome the obstacles of sending a book into space they can then apply this same drive and application of common sense to overcome all future hurdles and barriers they might encounter in quest of their own dreams and ambitions.

Katherin Weeks, Vice Principal:

At The Baird Primary Academy, we are willing to go ‘above and beyond’ to ensure that Every Child Succeeds.  Give us seven minutes of your time and we’ll show you an epic journey, including:  inspired students, a Puffin fantasy book that’s out of this world, an adventure across the channel to recover the payload before it sank and, most importantly, the impact of our determination in raising pupils’ progress rates in reading.”

Marcus Alexander’s role:

Acrobatic author Marcus Alexander has been supporting the Baird Primary Academy as a Patron of Reading. Upon hearing one of the students remark,  ‘When I read Keeper of the Realms I feel as though I’m taken out of this world…’ Marcus and the school Leadership Team thought this was the perfect opportunity to create a project that would tie students’ key subjects of Maths, Physics, Geography, Engineering and IT to the importance of literacy and creativity.

“Above all this project #CreativityTakesFlight is a drive for reading. By sending a book into space students have reinforced the importance of literacy and the principle that books can inspire dreams.”

The Baird Primary Principal, Ms Tenn:

‘3 out of 10 girls do not own a book at home, and 4 out of 10 boys do not own a book at home. This project is helping make reading exciting and highlight the importance of where literacy can take you – literally into outer space.’

The Reward:

As a ‘thank you’ for all the students’ hard work and diligence they signed pages of ‘Blood and Fire’ allowing them to say that their names have travelled to space.

The Event:

Students deployed a weather balloon containing ‘Blood & Fire’. The balloon reached an altitude of 35,000m before bursting. After 3 hours of total flight time the payload landed (splashed!) into the channel several miles off the Dover coastline. The project lead teacher, Roz Adie and Marcus Alexander raced to recover the payload before it sank and only managed to do so after hailing a speed launch from the Dover Sea Safari. Students were thrilled to find out that their names had successfully been to near-space and back.

The Project:

Students worked collaboratively to organise a working balloon kit that carried a 1,000 gram retrievable payload to an altitude of 30,000 to 40,000 metres. The payload contained book, camera, GPS systems and auto-deploy parachute.

Space & Aviation:

Space starts at the Karman line, 100 kilometres (62 miles) above the Earth’s sea level. We weren’t able to break that barrier but we did reach the stratosphere and ‘near-space’ altitudes of 35,000m. At this height we did manage to record ‘Blood & Fire’ floating beneath the balloon with the ‘black of space’ visible in the background. With students’ uptake in the engineering required for this project there has also been an increase of interest in aviation and aeronautics.

The Footage:

The day of the event was incredibly hot and unfortunately we picked up condensation on the camera at higher altitudes. To compensate for this we’ve combined footage from both the ‘official’ launch but also from the test launch that was done earlier in a central England location. (We were keen to test functionality and to avoid losing the cameras in a wet-landing.)


In conjunction with the Academy’s Improvement Plan, the project produced phenomenal results. Over the year literacy rates soared:

* 93% year 6 students made expected progress in reading

* 89% year 5 students made expected progress in reading

* Overall The Baird Primary Academy saw a 24% increase in reading compared to the previous year’s published figures.

 Web resources:

Full project details: 

The Baird Academy:

Keeper of the Realms: 

Acrobatic and adrenaline author video:

 Technical info:

It was a big project and although it was really nothing more sophisticated than releasing a balloon there was still an incredible amount of planning and organisation required!

We used a 12 metre diameter weather balloon that weighed 2,000 grams producing an ascent rate of 5.5-7mps allowing us to pack a 1000 gram payload.

The payload container was a polystyrene box that added a degree of insulation allowing camera and GPS systems to function at low temperatures. (We added two hand warmers for additional heat.)

Two GPS systems were used to increase recovery chances and overcome redundancy rates. (Allowing us to recover the payload even when it landed in the channel!)

Burst rate and flight predictions were mapped through these (very cool!) websites:

Burst rate: and

Flight predictor:

(Although, in true British fashion weather forecasts were slightly off!)

Permissions were sought through the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) more info here:

JP Aerospace takes the first slot machine to the edge of space

I’ve often posted about the many projects of JP Aerospace, a hybrid commercial/volunteer organization that carries out high altitude balloon and airship flights with innovative hardware and is even trying to get to orbit (pdf). To make a living they often fly products of various sorts as promotions for companies. For example, they flew phones for Samsung and a laptop for Lenovo. Here is a report about another JPA near space flight with one of their more unusual payloads:

Success! Amazing Footage Of The First Slot Machine In Space Is Released

(San Jacinto, CA) – It was a galactic 20 years in the making but finally on the morning of Sunday, June 14th 2015, just before 10 a.m. – the team at Soboba had lift off! 25 crew members, engineers and volunteers gathered just outside Lovelock, Nevada to cheer on the first slot machine successfully launched into space.

Soboba Casino’s slot, nicknamed “Icarus,” was carried aboard a spacecraft designed by the not for profit and independent space company JP Aerospace. It ascended with the help of a super high-altitude weather balloon. Rising to an elevation of 99,000 feet (just shy of its 100,000 foot goal) aboard “Away 117”, Soboba launched the world’s first slot machine into space! Also accompanying the miniaturized three-wheel, one-armed bandit was a payload of specially produced commemorative Soboba Club cards by Ablecard of Azusa, California which will be distributed to select Soboba players and VIPs. After a five hour journey and over 16 hours of searching at the edge of a Northern Nevada mountain, “Away 117” and Icarus were successfully recovered and the spectacular footage of the “slot in space” was intact.

“This is yet another first for Soboba Casino,” declares Soboba Casino’s General Manager Scott Sirois. “Our partnership with the great people of JP Aerospace was out-of-this-world and we could not be happier with the result. This launch lets our players know that we will go to the stars and back to win them over.”

Icarus is a fully-functioning, albeit much smaller slot machine, and is operated with coins, reels, gears and springs, similar to the devices used when slot machines had their start in the 1900’s. Unlike other slot machines it contained a small, hidden compartment with messages penned by casino employees; this mechanical-celestial voyager is pulling double duty as a time capsule to be opened during Soboba’s 40th anniversary in 2035.

“In June of 2015 Soboba Casino celebrated its twentieth anniversary,” exclaimed Soboba Casino’s Director of Marketing Michael J. Broderick. “The Team at Soboba decided to honor this monumental occasion by accomplishing a monumental feat: to be the first casino in history to launch a slot machine into space, and prove that “Soboba is out of this world”. We successfully did it and with that success we have made a lasting mark on space travel as well as gaming history”.

The entire journey was filmed, and will be produced and edited by Inman Productions of Riverside, CA. From preparation, to lift-off, to the final moments of the slow decent by parachute, every step of the 12-inch tall, 2.5 pound Icarus’ flight was captured on film. “Soboba Casino’s Mission to Space” will debut at the 20th Anniversary party on June 27, 2015 along with the unveiling and display of the slot machine Icarus and a mockup of the space vehicle “Away 117”.

Be the first to see the video of the first slot machine in space click here: First Slot Machine in Space

Celebrating 20 years Soboba Casino features approximately 2,000 of the newest, hottest slot machines, an expansive and modern non-smoking room, 20 classic gaming tables featuring all your favorite card games, and a large outdoor event arena which easily accommodates over 10,000 people. Need to recharge & refresh? Visit the cozy Soboba Café and Coffee Kiicha, or experience AC’s Lounge with full cocktail bar and three giant HD flat screens including the “Sobobatron”, the Inland Empire’s biggest HD video wall.

Soboba Casino is proudly owned and operated by the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians. Come join us for all the fun and then some! Soboba Casino. Where Everybody Goes to Play! For more information visit: