Back Yard Space Travel: Now and In the Future

 Private space travel has taken a huge leap in the past few years. Expensive government agencies like ESA and NASA are being scaled back in favor of private companies who can send people into space for millions instead of billions.

The first space tourists still paid millions to be shot into space from Baikonour spaceport in Kazakhstan, but affordable space travel is right around the corner according to Richard Branson. The eccentric millionaire says he will soon take people on board his Virgin Galactic flights for a mere 200,000$ per seat.

The space crafts Virgin Galactic is planning to use still cost millions of dollars. For shoestring travelers and DIY enthusiasts, the question beckons: Can a space rocket be constructed for thousands as well?

Homemade space rockets

There is a blossoming subculture of space geeks trying to send a rocket into orbit. Few succeed to get their contraption higher than a few hundred metres though. The only people who have actually managed to get a rocket into space on a household budget of 350,000$ were the Civilian Space Exploration Project, who shot a rocket 72 miles into space before it returned safely to the ground 14 minutes later.

If 350,000$ is still too much money for you, a few guys managed to get similar effects with a budget of 1000$ and nothing more than a weather balloon and an iPhone. Since their adventure only reached 20 miles into space, it cannot be called space travel (the Karman line that defines the edge of space lies at 68 miles above the surface of the Earth).

In conclusion, a half century of experiments with homemade space rockets has led to very few actual results.

Open-source engineers

That is, until the Danes got into it. The latest and most promising effort yet to send a man into space with the help of nothing more than the human brain, a spirit of cooperation and a few measly dollars, is Copenhagen Suborbitals.

The Danish engineers behind the project are working with a small, exclusively crowdfunded budget to send the first man into space from Denmark, without the backing of a government. They invite everyone interested to help with the rocket building and drawing of plans, making it the first open-source space venture.

They still have some way to go before this dream becomes reality, but already it is becoming clear that, like in other areas of technology, open-source innovation has a huge potential to lower the costs of space exploration.

If you are thinking of building your own space rocket, it’s amazing how many of the components can be bought in most hardware stores. Copenhagen Suborbitals uses components from hair dryers and their local DIY shop.

Of course, you will need to order some things from eBay, like a wind tunnel, retro burner and IECEX acclerometers but other than that, there isn’t that much holding you back from sending your washing machine into space if you have the motivation and technical skills.

One problem with all this experimenting is regulation. With technology advancing to a point where soon microchips the size of ants can be shot into space, and the increasing amounts of space junk floating around planet Earth, it seems unlikely governments will not try to curb the backyard rocket enthusiast shooting his payload into space.

Until that time, however, the sky is the limit.