Good news: sending stuff into space is pretty much the dopest thing ever. Bad news: it's not easy. Best news: it can be done, which means you're going to do it, and when you do it will be the greatest thing ever.
It took us three tries to get Chubbies Shorts into space. But hey, it took Apollo 11. Yes they landed a human being on the moon, but that human wasn't wearing righteous shorts, so... one point for us.
Alright, enough with how much better we are than Apollo, here's how you do it:
The biggest thing to remember is that if you want to avoid having to get a license from the FAA (which you do, because red tape, schmed tape) you want to keep the weight of your entire payload (everything below the weather balloon) to under 6lbs.
The regulations get insanely complex (see: FAA Policies on Unmanned Free Balloons 14 CFR Part 101) and you'll find some different interpretations floating around out there on the internet -- but suffice it to say, it's best to keep on the FAA's good side and keep everything under 6lbs so you don't need to worry about licensure.
Armed with that knowledge it's time to construst your space craft. We found these guys to be by far the best in the biz.
Their weather balloons are made in America, their shop is easy to access and understand, they offer next day shipping (for those of you who are really stoked), and their tutorials are life savers. I STRONGLY, STRONGLY, STRONGLY recommend taking the time to read ALL of the tutorials they have to offer.
We went into our first and second mission with the classic "instructions are for DORKS" attitude, and it cost us a lot of time and money (each unfound space craft is a lost GoPro, not to mention the time to construct, launch, and search for said spacecraft -- heck, even the helium ain't cheap). So, long story short w/ space launches the old adage is best: measure 10 times, launch once.
Building your rocket ship is definitely one of the most rewarding parts. Take time to think about what you want to launch, and how you want to capture it on your GoPro. This will impact your space craft and how you mount the object you're launching into space.
I sent up a pair of our 'Mericas swim trunks (because they're about 170g lighter than 'Mericas shorts). PS: yes you'll be thinking in both the metric, and the international whateveritscalled system, using grams, ounces, liters, cubic centimetes, friggin whatevers -- be prepared for it to get crazy.
But anyways, I constructed this thing, basically a spine with a GoPro mounted to the center with metal rods protruding at angles from the top and bottom of the spine to hold the 'Mericas swimsuit in the center of the frame. I ran metal coat hanger wire through the waistband and the seams of the legs on the trunks to keep the trunks erect throughout the flight then used 80lb test (can never be too safe) fishing line to secure the shorts to the tips of the metal rods.
Here's what the rod setup looked like:
Once I had that I simply fastened it (zip ties and carribeaners will become your new best friend) to the flight train (rope -- parachute -- rope -- weather balloon), and was ready to rock.
OH WAIT EXCEPT FOR ONE GIANT PROBLEM
The reason we lost our first two space crafts is not because we didn't put a funtional GPS tracker on them - but because APPARENTLY WE CAN STEM CELL BABIES BUT NO ONE CAN MAKE A GPS TRACKER THAT WILL TRANSMIT IT'S POSITION WHEN IT'S NOT "FACING UP." Meaning, when we sent our first two attempts, everything went smooth-ish (def had some other problems) -- but the biggest problem was the GPS transmitter stopped transmitting when it landed back on earth. Why? Because it didn't land perfectly right side up.
I mean what the heck.
Of course it didn't.
It FELL FROM SPACE.
Needless to say I was not about to send three space crafts (average cost about $800) into space without a solution to the ol' GPS-must-land-and-come-to-a-stop-with-it's-logo-facing-up-problem.
So -- I created a gimball. A water gimball. Technically I did this on our Shortspollo II -- but I used water and then realized it most assuredly froze into a frozen death ball and plummeted back to earth before it could unfreeze likely exploding our tracker upon impact with the ground. SO -- Shortspollo III -- I created an antifreeze gimbal.
ANTIFREEZE is EXTREMELY POISONOUS. Probably we need to say DO NOT use it, touch it, smell it. It will kill you and your pets.
But anyways I took the SPOT TRACE TRACKER (recommend that one, it's awesome), made it water- and anitfreeze-proof by wrapping it in saran wrap and two zip lock bags, packaging-taped it (because it's clear) to a GoPro case float (those little orange things) so that as long as it was floating, the GPS tracker would be face up, then put that little guy in a large tupperware container filled with anitfreeze and duct taped the S outta that thing. Made that ish leak proof, put it in a box filled with foam, and straped that box to the base of my contraption.
That way, no matter how that box landed, inside of it, wrapped in protective foam was a tupperware container filled with antifreeze and floating in that antifreeze was a GPS tracker that was always floating face up!
BOOM: I had my completed space craft -- I used Spot's tracker app to, um, track the thing on my phone, then I used these calculators to set my location and launch time in conjunction with High Altitude's baloon performance calculator, to figure out my required helium, positive lift, burst alititude, and ascent rate.
And we were set.
Make sure you follow High Alititude tutorials and input the correct acent rate, launch location, launch time, launch altitude, and burst altitude into the flight path predictor and you'll get a crazy accurate flight path prediction
Also note -- your tracker will stop transmitting at 60,000ft -- that's too be expected. It's too cold (it's like -60 degrees F) to keep transmitting, but it'll come back online once it descends back below 60,000ft.
Finally: Have fun. This was hands down one of the most fascinating, exhilirating, and rewarding experiences of my entire life. Enjoy it. You will succeed eventually, and when you do, the feeling is outta this world. ;-)