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Near Space

Bi-monthly column which covers this new realm of exploration - space for the backyard scientist. Learn to construct and launch vehicles with a focus on the instrumentation and experiments that reveal interesting features of our world. Beginner to intermediate. Started in February 2004.


Articles from this Column

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A New Airframe Design for Near Spacecraft — Part 3
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2014, Page 62
Securing the more expensive internals of a near spacecraft to the airframe is the final — and perhaps most important — step in finishing the new design.

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A New Airframe Design for Near Spacecraft — Part 2
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2014, Page 62
Building a new airframe is only part of creating a near spacecraft. There are things like post burst chaos that have to be considered.

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A New Airframe Design for Near Spacecraft — Part 1
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2013, Page 62
After a recent capsule landing that did not go smoothly, it was the opportune time to come up with a better and stronger design.

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The 2013 Great Plains Super Launch
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2013, Page 12
This year’s conference included topics such as near space STEM, designing and flying photometers, long-duration balloon flights and telemetry modes, and vacuum cannons.

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LED Photometers Revisited — Part 2
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2013, Page 62
Test and calibrate this upgraded version to collect photometer data in near space.

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LED Photometers Revisited
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2013, Page 62
Build a better light intensity measuring device.

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Approaching the Final Frontier
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2013, Page 68
A Simple Airframe for a Simple Flight Computer or Near Space Tracker. Learn how to turn a soft-sided insulated lunch box into a cost-effective airframe for your next mission.

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Using the Nearspace Simple Flight Computer
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2013, Page 72
Last time, we covered building the NearSpace Simple-18 flight computer. Now, it's time to test and learn how to use it prior to its first near space launch.

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Approaching the Final Frontier
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2012, Page 14
A Simpler-to-Make Near Space Flight Computer.

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Balloonsats and Attitudes Toward Science
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2012, Page 14
began my investigation by becoming acquainted with what other people had to say about STEM in today’s world. Three issues made the greatest impression on me: the aging science and engineering workforce; the increasing competition from overseas; and the increasing importance of STEM in everyday life.

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A New BalloonSat Airframe Design
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2012, Page 68
I had a chance to fly my new BalloonSat on April 22, 2012. The launch took place at the Physics department of Ft. Hays State University (thanks Dr. Adams and Dr. Maseburg).

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2012, Page 58
Making One Camera Do the Work of Three.

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2012, Page 52
Flight 100: A Report and a Reflection.

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2012, Page 14
Global Positioning System Simulator, Ver 2.0.

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2011, Page 54
An Antenna for Near Space.

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2011, Page 52
Programming the Ultralight Near Space Flight Computer.

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2011, Page 69
Programming the Nearspace Ultralight Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS)

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2011, Page 67
Programming the Nearspace Ultralight.

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2011, Page 67
Cabling the Nearspace Ultralight Flight Computer — Part 2.

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The NearSpace UltraLight — The Everyman’s Flight Computer
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2011, Page 67
My goal was to create an affordable near space flight computer that was still worth flying into near space. The most affordable PICAXE capable of meeting this need was the PICAXE-28X1.

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The Canon Hacker Development Kit — Part 2.
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2010, Page 68
Last time, this column introduced CHDK and how to load it on a camera’s SD card. Locking the SD card makes it bootable on a Canon camera and that allows you to write simple scripts that automate features of Canons that aren’t otherwise available.This month’s column discusses the syntax of the uBasic scripting language so you can begin writing your own scripts.The next article will cover when I gave a NearSys BalloonSat flight computer control of a Canon camera running a remote script.

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The Canon Hacker Development Kit
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2010, Page 68
A simple script can give a Canon camera its own intervalometer while more complex programs allow a camera to vary settings like zoom, f-stop, shutter speed, and exposure time while it’s taking pictures. A big thanks goes to Mark Conner and the folks on the GPSL Yahoo! groups for making me aware of this fantastic camera system.

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They Came From Outer Space!
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2010, Page 67
Atoms from another star and possibly from another galaxy are detectable right here on earth.What are these mysterious rays and how are they detected in near space?

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Sun Sensor for Data Collection
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2010, Page 67
The sun sensor presented here is just the ticket for data collection that's sun sensitive. So this month's article discusses a design I developed for near space use.

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Build a Near Space Infrared Telescope
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2010, Page 68
Parallax has made available an inexpensive infrared thermometer that makes it possible to measure the temperature of an object just by looking at it. In this month’s article, I’d like to share how I used this thermometer to design a simple infrared near space telescope that measures the temperature of the sky during a near space mission.

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A Near Space Environment Chamber Update
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2009, Page 20
Sometimes it’s difficult to leave things well enough alone. Occasionally, this is to my detriment as I can makes things worse off than they were originally.

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Near Space | September 2009
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2009, Page 62
I’m always on the look-out for neat stuff to do. So, when Mike Manes of EOSS posted over the GPSL* email list that Harbor Freight had discounted a vacuum pump that might be suitable for near space testing, I couldn’t resist. My creation takes near space testing to new lows and represents a unique use for an air-tight flour container that the manufacturer surely hadn’t intended.

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GPS Simulator for Missions to Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2009, Page 82
What I need is a convenient GPS simulator that will let me test a flight program on the ground. In this article, I’ll describe what I came up with.

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Your Own Micro Datalogger
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2009, Page 80
Build a bigger and more powerful flight computer.

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BalloonSat Minis
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2009, Page 76
BalloonSat Minis: One small step for a PICAXE, One giant leap for a BalloonSat Design.

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The Great Plains Super Launch 2008
By L. Paul Verhage
February 2009, Page 78
GPSL - or The Great Plains Super Launch - is the largest annual amateur near space launch, and takes place every summer. This year, Near Space Ventures and CAP'n'Space hosted GPSL in Liberty, MO on August 1-2.

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Near Space Applications Using The PICAXE Microcontroller (Part 2)
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2008, Page 90
The PICAXE-08 is a great microcontroller for small applications that don’t require a lot of I/O pins or memory. This month, we’ll look at two more small near space applications that are perfect for the PICAXE-08 and PICAXE-08M. The first is a programmable camera timer that replaces the standard 555 timer circuit used in most BalloonSats. The second is a cut down device that ensures the timely termination of a near space mission and the separation of the balloon’s fragments. So, let’s see what...

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The 2007 Spaceward Games
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2008, Page 84
Within a couple of decades, the United States will be reaping the benefits of a new space transportation system. It’ll be a green and affordable system capable of carrying tons of cargo daily into Earth orbit and beyond. Its affordability and reliability will initiate the full exploration and exploitation of our solar system. However, to reach this future, a couple technologies must first mature. This month, we’ll see how the Spaceward Foundation is helping to develop the two key technologies...

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2007 SPACEWARD GAMES (Part 2)
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2008, Page 84
The Spaceward Foundation is an educational 501(c) (3) non-profit dedicated to the creation of the space elevator (see the March ‘08 issue of Nuts & Volts). But the Spaceward Games isn’t just about space elevators; it’s about developing the technology that will kick-start our migration into the solar system. This month, I want to conclude my report on the most recent Spaceward Games by describing the solar racing and ultra-strong materials competition — the other half of their challenge...

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The Nearsys Flight Computer
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2008, Page 62
My first near space flight computer transmitted all of its data to ground stations and recoded none of it onboard. As a result, I had a huge mission log to wade through and edit after each flight. It got so bad that it took longer to put the flight and science data into shape than it took to fly the mission. So this month, I’ll introduce you to the flight computer that I’m currently usingto operate my near spacecraft. It avoids these problems by transmitting only position reports to ground...

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Near Spacecraft Recovery Systems (Part 1)
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2008, Page 82
It’s awesome to receive data from your near spacecraft at an altitude of 85,000 feet. Moreover, chances are good that if the sky is clear, you’ll even see its balloon as a tiny white dot in the sky. At this altitude, the balloon is 20 feet across and expanding as it rises. Shortly though, that white dot in the sky disappears. Now it’s up to the recovery system to bring your near spacecraft safely home...

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Near Spacecraft Recovery Systems: Part 2
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2008, Page 78
LAST TIME, we sewed a parachute canopy, so this month we’ll add the shroud lines and spreader ring to complete it. Then, we’ll wrap up with an electronic recovery device that you may want to add to your parachute. Are you ready?

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NEAR SPACE
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2004, Page 0
This month's article discusses some of the benefits gained through beginning your own program and explains how you can build an inexpensive near spacecraft and use it in an amateur science project. Talk about an awesome science fair project!

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NEAR SPACE
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2004, Page 0
Now that you have a near space (NS) craft, what experiments can you perform with it? Since it has a simple tracker — not a flight computer — there are some limitations. There are many experiments that function on their own; however, before you can process your science results, you need to understand the format of the data transmitted by the Tiny Trak 3 in your NS craft.

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NEAR SPACE
By L. Paul Verhage
June 2004, Page 0
There are several data loggers that are capable of fitting inside a lunch bag. By carrying one of these on the mission, you can collect additional science and engineering data. Since the data loggers collect data at a fixed rate (you program this rate into the data logger), you can relate the recorded data to the altitude of the near spacecraft.

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NEAR SPACE
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2004, Page 0
By using a photocell (CdS) as one element in a voltage divider, you can construct a simple light sensor. Because it uses a photocell, the light sensor’s spectral sensitivity is very similar to that of the human eye. After you finish reading about how to build this light sensor for your HOBO data logger, I’ll explain a very interesting finding about designing voltage divider-based sensors.

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NEAR SPACE
By L. Paul Verhage
August 2004, Page 0
This month, we are going to make one (or more) temperature sensors for a HOBO data logger with external channels. The work doesn’t end there, however. To turn the data our sensor records into the readings we require, we’ll need to determine the equation that calculates the temperature from recorded voltage readings. From there, we will produce a chart of temperatures versus elapsed time.

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NEAR SPACE
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2004, Page 0
The study of electrostatics was our first step in the field of electronics. In electrostatics, electric charges are relatively stationary. So, the natural philosophers (early scientists) who studied the phenomenon of electrostatics concentrated primarily on the creation, storage, and interaction between the two types of electric charges. One of their tools was the electroscope, a device consisting of two metal foil leaves draped over a metal rod and protected within a glass jar.

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NEAR SPACE
By L. Paul Verhage
October 2004, Page 0
I like to collect data. If I can send a near spacecraft (NS craft) to 100,000 feet and return data on cosmic rays, I’m in heaven (or maybe it’s near heaven). For most people, though, they want to see photographs. To them, your backpacking trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon isn’t interesting unless you can share photographs.

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Modifying a PenCam for Use in Near Space Applications
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2004, Page 0
I like to collect data. If I can send a near spacecraft (NS craft) to 100,000 feet and return data on cosmic rays, I’m in heaven (or maybe it’s near heaven).

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Adapting Cell Phone Battery Cells for Near Space Use
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2005, Page 0
Due to the extreme cold of near space (NS), hobbyists must be careful when selecting power sources for their NS craft. On one or two occasions, I have lost track of a NS craft, apparently due to cold batteries. To reduce this risk, most of us involved in amateur NS use lithium cells, which can be rated to -60° F.

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Updates on Modifying Cameras for Digital Control
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2005, Page 0
I’ve been experimenting with cameras since my last column, and this month, I have some updates on three camera topics: modifying other cameras, adjusting the focus on fixed focused cameras, and IR imaging.

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The Thermal Test Chamber
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2005, Page 75
Got a new item for near space that you want to test? Simple tests on the ground can ensure that your design functions well in near space. This way, failures identified during a test can be corrected before a near-space flight (where a failure can lead to the loss of a near spacecraft).

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BalloonSats
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2005, Page 87
The BalloonSat program is an effort by the Space Grants of several states to capture the interest and imagination of college — and in some cases — high school students through a space flight experience. BalloonSats are miniature near spacecraft. They are limited in weight and carry only a simple data logger, sensors, and small camera. Students can quickly construct and test BalloonSats. BalloonSats carry no tracking equipment, therefore, they’re carried as cargo on an amateur near spacecraft.

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The Space Elevator
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2005, Page 82
Today, payloads are hurled into space on (still) expensive rockets. To get the best performance, these rockets push their design to the limit. And, as a result, considerable time and many people are required to build and prepare a rocket for launch. It’s the cost of paying salaries that makes rocket launches so expensive; rocket fuel is actually cheap.

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The Well-Dressed Astronaut
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2005, Page 68
Today’s Space Shuttle spacesuit doesn’t make a good spacesuit for planetary exploration because of the differences between working in weightlessness for a single mission and working on a dusty, gritty planet with gravity for months on end.

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The “Blame It On CanadArm” Robotic Arm
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2006, Page 84
As you know, the Space Shuttle often carries an extraordinary robotic arm in its payload bay. The arm, called the CanadArm in recognition of its origin, is Canada’s contribution to the Space Shuttle program. In my near space program, I often attempt to design near space versions of real space items. So, in recognition of the CanadArm, I have developed my version, the “Blame it on CanadArm.” In this article, I’ll describe how I constructed this arm.

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A Martian Near Space Launch
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2006, Page 90
I’ll address three factors in this month’s column. The first is the surface winds and their effect on filling and launching a weather balloon. The second factor is how the atmospheric composition and pressure on the surface will affect the initial volume of a weather balloon. The last factor is how atmospheric pressure changes with altitude. This factor is important because it determines the maximum altitude that a weather balloon will reach before bursting.

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The Near Space Geiger Counter Telescope - Part 1
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2006, Page 92
Many of my near space missions have measured the cosmic ray flux in near space with onboard Geiger counters. Combining Geiger counter data with GPS altitude has allowed me to generate charts showing the cosmic ray flux as a function of altitude. Experiments like this allowed the Austrian physicist Victor Hess to prove the existence of cosmic rays in 1911-1913...

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The Near Space Geiger Counter Telescope - Part 2
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2006, Page 86
his month’s column wraps up the Geiger Counter Telescope (GCT) and discusses a transistor experiment I performed. This article covers the GCT’s field-of-view, a ground test of the GCT, and flight software that operates the GCT. There is a small note to clear up the RM-60 instructions in chapter eight of my near space book at the Parallax website and a transistor experiment which includes a competition for readers.

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Near Space Booms And Sounds
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2006, Page 78
THIS MONTH, WE'LL LOOK AT two near space experiments. The first one is an engineering test and the second a traditional space experiment.

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The Balloonsat Flight Computer
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2006, Page 102
LAST YEAR, I WORTE A COLUMN ABOUT MY improvements to the BalloonSat airframe. So this month, I want to discuss my improvements to the avionics...

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Near Space
By L. Paul Verhage
January 2007, Page 72
This month, I have several topics to discuss. The nice thing about them all is that they can be expanded upon. So, expect to hear more about them in the coming months.

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Using Google Earth To Chart A Near Space Flight Plan
By L. Paul Verhage
March 2007, Page 16
After my near space mission with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago this summer, Mark Hammergren of the Adler introduced me to Google Earth. I had heard of Google Earth before, but I hadn’t paid much attention to it...

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The Near Space Ventures
By L. Paul Verhage
May 2007, Page 86
Near Space Ventures is the webpage of an amateur radio high altitude balloon (ARHAB) and Civil Air Patrol (CAP) organization named CAPnSPACE. CAPnSPACE has developed a great website that I’d like to share with you th

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PICAXE applications - Part 1
By L. Paul Verhage
July 2007, Page 22
At one Boise Robotics Group (BoRG) meeting last year, Barry Nye, the Technology Guy at Hacker Middle School (Mountain Home, ID) and a founder of the BoRG, told me about a new line of microcontrollers that he had recently discovered...

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Some Sensors for your Ballonstats and the Great Plains Super Launch
By L. Paul Verhage
September 2007, Page 20
This month we’ll look at two sensors: a miniature near space weather station and a temperature sensor array. With these sensor arrays, your BalloonSat can chart environmental conditions from the ground to near space and measure the temperatures...

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LED Based Photometer
By L. Paul Verhage
November 2007, Page 76
There’s a new sensor that I’d like to share with you this month that only requires a few LEDs and a resistor. Therefore, you probably already have everything in your junk box needed to build it...