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Space venture is highlight of summer for Riverdale boys

View the video of the extraordinary spacecraft launch


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JEFF KOHNSTAMM - The curvature of the earth was recorded by a camera aboard a spacecraft created by Near Space Ventures, a club made up of Riverdale high school seniors.As school started this fall, Riverdale High School was naturally abuzz with conversation as students caught up on what they had done while on vacation. One group of boys had quite an impressive show-and-tell of how they spent their summer break. The NSV (Near Space Venture) club, led by senior Logan Rooper, had launched a spacecraft loaded with two cameras into the upper stratosphere and videotaped the view below. Oregon looks spectacular from 70,000 feet in the air.

The project started about 10 months ago. Rooper had seen a video made by MIT students of still action photos taken from a balloon they launched.

“That project was definitely my inspiration,” he said. “But I knew we could do better than that.”

And so he began the process to improve on the experiment, bringing in several friends who had expertise in different aspects that would be needed to succeed in the project. The school was willing to allow the club use of the science lab, but none of the staff had experience or knowledge to assist the boys with the project.

“We did it all ourselves,” said Rooper.

by: REVIEW PHOTO: BARB RANDALL - Members of Near Space Ventures include, from left: Anthony Micallef, Jeff Kohnstamm, Sevan Douzjian, Logan Rooper, Dillon Banker, David Demming, Drew Milligan, Toby Earley, Joshua Pelz, Noah McGraw, Chris Lull and Joseph Spector.   His dream was to build a spacecraft that would be carried by a helium balloon into the upper atmosphere. The spacecraft was loaded with a GPS unit and two cameras, one facing straight down to record the ground below and one focused straight out to record the curvature of the earth. A parachute covered the helium balloon, which Rooper knew would eventually pop. The parachute would gently return the spacecraft to earth, and the retrieval committee could follow the GPS tracking unit to find where it landed.

“The spacecraft needed to be able to withstand minus 60 degrees F so we tested it in a minus-110-degree-F freezer,” said Rooper. A parent had access to a lab at Oregon Health and Science University that they used to conduct the freezer experiments.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JEFF KOHNSTAMM - The spacecraft needed to be able to withstand temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees F, so it was tested it in a minus-110-degree freezer. Here, Logan Rooper places the spacecraft in the freezer.

“We protected the equipment against the cold by using hand warmers and making sure the craft was fully airtight,” said Rooper. “We used everyday handwarmers, purchased at Ace Hardware. We used six of them, and our equipment worked fine.”

After much research, a launch site was selected at Pine Mountain near Brothers, southeast of Bend.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JEFF KOHNSTAMM - Preparing to launch the spacecraft are, from left, Drew Millegan, Anthony Micallef, Sevan Douzdjian, Davide Deming, Logan Klahn, Tobey Earley, Gabe Adler and Dillon Baker. John Pelz is inflating the balloon. “We needed a space with about 30 to 40 square miles of flat land below the jet stream,” said Anthony Micallef, chair of the site selection committee.

Club members Noah McGraw, Toby Earley and Dillon Banker were responsible for the legal specifications of the experiment.

“There were rules on FAA regulations that we had to comply with,” said McGraw. “We had to make sure we didn’t fly over airports and we had to have a top blinking light.”

David Deming was among those on the calculations committee, which relied on physics principles to determine the impact factors such as air temperature and air currents would have when they were testing the parachute.

Relying on their particular talents and interests, the teens formed committees to research different aspects and complete tasks leading to the success of the venture. The committees included engineering, testing, calculations, launch site selection, sponsors, a legal committee and a recovery team.

Rooper said the balloon was filled with more than 100 cubic feet of helium and had a 30-foot-long flight train. At the maximum altitude of 70,000 feet the balloon expanded to more than 20 feet in diameter before bursting. The spacecraft landed more than 300 miles east of the launch site. More than five hours of video had been recorded on the cameras.

“We used two GoPro cameras,”said Jeff Kohnstamm, who created a video of the experiment. “GoPros are really popular in action sports. They’re small and come with extremely waterproof cases. The recording time went for about three hours — up to just before the balloon popped. They can last longer than that; however, the battery life was shortened due to the extremely cold temps.”

Kohnstamm said they didn’t have a live feed to the spacecraft so they had to wait until it was recovered to view the video.

He created a video of the Near Space Venture, which can be viewed at vimeo.com/48269964.

And what is next for these highly motivated young scientists?

“I just announced our next project for 2013 last week to my friends,” said Rooper. “We are going to build an underwater ROV — remote operated vehicle — and explore the sea floor off the Oregon coast. I will start up the club in January-February at some point. Many more people are interested this time. I also changed the name of our club from NSV (Near Space Venture) to simply XV, eXploratory Ventures. So, we are now officially the Riverdale eXploratory Ventures club.”

Donations are welcomed by XV and can be made by contacting Rooper at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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