Skip to content

Newmarket hobbyists live life on the edge — of space (Video, 8 photos)

Newmarket's makerspace, NewMakeIt, and its Build Club members were 'blown away' by the images its probe captured in the stratosphere

A space project that was three years in the making by about a dozen hobbyists from NewMakeIt’s Build Club finally blasted off to the top of the stratosphere —and landed in a swamp east of Ottawa.

Yes, you read that correctly.

NewMakeIt is a not-for-profit makerspace and coworking facility in Newmarket that helps inventors, hobbyists, visionaries, and innovators expand their skills and knowledge, start a business, or just make that one dream project come true.

And on April 14, Build Club members and others successfully launched a high-altitude weather balloon filled with helium to the edge of space.

“It was quite amazing when we got the probe back and saw the pictures, we were blown away ourselves,” NewMakeIt executive director Ryan Dibisch said. “We got a photo where you could actually see the curve of the Earth, looking back down on the planet, and we sent it up there.”

“What’s interesting, too, in one photo, you can see the blackness of space, and a blue layer above the atmosphere, the blue layer is the ozone layer. That’s our protective layer of ozone,” Dibisch added.

A flight plan was submitted to Nav Canada’s flight information centre, and a radar reflector was included in the balloon’s payload. It was tracked using radio APRS signals and a satellite GPS tracker.

A mission control was set up at NewMakeIt’s Timothy Street location, where a team monitored the balloon and live-streamed the data.

A launch team set the balloon off on its journey about an hour north of Newmarket, from the Gamebridge Go-Kart grounds, at 2687 Concession Rd. A in Brechin.

And a chase team was responsible for “hopefully” recovering the balloon west of Ottawa.

The balloon was supposed to land about 100 kilometres west of Ottawa, but instead, due to a lack of helium, sank softly into the Alfred Bog, east of Ottawa, about 363 km from the launch site. The team hiked a few kilometres through a bog, thick forest and rough terrain to retrieve the payload and parachute, both of which were fully intact on soft brush.

It reached an altitude of 28,230 metres, or about three times higher than commercial airplanes fly, and carried a payload that recorded data from its journey from launch to landing.

“In the end, it did follow the track perfectly, however, we didn’t put as much helium in the balloon as we thought we did, so it rose a lot slower than the calculations,” said Dibisch, who was on the chase team responsible for retrieving the balloon. “We expected about an hour-and-a-half drive to recover the balloon, but it wound up being a five-hour drive.”

It took members about six months of steady work to put the project together, known as Space NMX. They built the balloon and fitted it with a specially made payload that included sensors, trackers, data loggers and cameras.

Build Club member Doug Moseley, who is deputy head of the Medical Physics department at the Stronach Regional Cancer Centre at Southlake, worked up various models and calculations about the balloon’s trajectory and where it would land, based on wind conditions at the time.

The club is still analyzing the data it was able to collect from its first fruitful test launch, such as wind speeds, air pressure, radiation levels and more. But, perhaps, most of what they learned was what to do — and not do — again, Dibisch said with a laugh.

“The first attempt took six months of research to put it all together, and we learned a whole bunch about inflating the balloon, calculating the trajectory and the location, effects of payload and the importance of having spare batteries,” he said.

“We got it to the edge of space and now we can run some experiments on the data. We had a good look at things like the amount of air pressure up there, which is pretty much nothing, and the effect on the equipment, with things like temperature and radiation.”

NewMakeIt members learned, for example, that when the balloon hit the jetstream atmosphere, high above the Earth, it achieved a forward speed of 260 km/h. When it popped, it hit a falling speed of 106 km/h before its parachute activated. It landed slowly, falling about three metres per second, Dibisch said.

The group are sharing this project with local high school students, who will have an opportunity to develop their own experiments to send up to space on the club’s next launch, planned for later this year. The organization currently mentors robotics club members from Newmarket High School.

The challenge to Newmarket students will be to include experiments for high-altitude and thin-air conditions, and to improve the heights reached and images captured.

“We want to make this project available to everybody, it’s an incredible educational opportunity for students to be able to send something to space and get the data back,” Dibisch said.

The Space NMX was made possible with the support of the Town of Newmarket, Gamebridge Go-Karts and ProResp Inc.

To learn more about NewMakeIt, visit here.

Here’s a look at the data points, courtesy of NewMakeIt:

LAUNCH

Date: 14th April, 2019

Start: 08:07:12 EDT

Location: Gamebridge Go Kart grounds, 2687 Concession Road A, Brechin, ON

Ascent speed: 2.5m/s

FLIGHT

Highest Altitude: 28,230m

Max Horizontal Speed: 260 km/hr

Max Vertical (falling) speed: 106km/hr

LANDING

End: 12:18:00 EDT

Location: Alfred Bog, Ontario, Canada

Descent speed: 3m/s

Distance travelled from launch: 363.18km