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Samosa, Dogecoin, Chicken Nugget: The Science Behind Sending Things to Space

Screengrab from Reid Williamson's video on YouTube.

Screengrab from Reid Williamson's video on YouTube.

A typical launch kit used to send things into space comes with a balloon, parachute, container for the payload, tracking devices, and a computer system.

Ever since humans realised the technology of travelling to space, many objects from Earth have been launched outside the planet. It is not just humans that have made it to space but random objects like a chicken nugget, samosa, and a dogecoin, among others that have been sent off to space. But have you ever wondered ‘how’? With multiple technologies and experiments, scientists have come up with some creative ways of shooting off stuff to space. A simple answer to how objects are sent to space would be the use of propellants. However, to send off something like a samosa into space, a high-tech rocket is not required. The cost-effective way of sending random things into space is to tie them up with a weather balloon.

A company called Sent Into Space, founded by British Mechanical Engineers Chris Rose and Alex Baker, were the first ones who explored this technology. In December 2010, the duo sent a balloon into space and uploaded the video of their journey on YouTube. Former PhD students at the University of Sheffield, England, Chris and Alex bought a weather balloon for sale from eBay and a satellite tracker and built a payload out of remnants of foam found in their department’s workshop.

On December 17, 2010, they launched their creation from a field in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, recovering the payload several hours later in Essex. The footage recorded by the camera attached to the weather balloon was grouped to form a panoramic image of the Earth and called the project a success. They uploaded the video of their launch to YouTube. Since then, several companies and academics have got in touch with the company to work on their projects. The team of 12 has even sent a meat and potato pie in space as part of a marketing stunt for a brand.

So how does weather balloon work?

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A typical launch kit used to send things into space comes with a balloon, parachute, container for the payload, tracking devices and a computer system that records the data, including GPS, altitude, pressure, humidity, temperature and acceleration. Permission from the local Civil Aviation Authority is also mandatory. The balloon used to launch the objects into space is filled with helium gas. The launch site should be a clear field with no obstacles in sight. The weather conditions also play a major role in how the ascent and descent of the weather balloon will take place. The camera should be sturdy and well-positioned to record the events.

Once the balloon reaches its optimum height, the pressure in the balloon drops and it expands until it finally bursts. As the balloon bursts, a parachute opens and it takes about an hour to come down. With the help of GPS tracking, one can predict where the balloon will make its landing.

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first published:July 03, 2021, 11:44 IST