The sky pod gives view of life on Earth from edge of space
The pod has been designed by UK company SentintoSpace and is manufactured from expanded polystyrene – a material recently renamed ‘airpop’ across Europe. It is being developed commercially for use by scientists and photographers – both amateur and professional.
The pod’s precision-moulded internal compartments prevent the sensitive on-board equipment from becoming dislodged during the flight whilst at the same time providing thermal protection from temperatures in space falling as low as minus 50°C.
Alex Baker from SentintoSpace said, “In the past we’ve used basic styrene containers but we saw the opportunity for a purpose-designed pod for use by scientists, photographers and teachers who aim to create an engaging learning platform for science education in schools. Airpop is the ideal material for ‘edge of space’ photography as in addition to thermal protection it offers very low weight for the upward flight combined with very high impact resistance for the return landing on earth.”
The highly efficient insulation offered by ‘airpop’ – it is used as building insulation in floors, walls and roofs throughout the construction industry – also means the space pod contents are protected from condensation which could seriously affect imaging, trackers, black box data recorders and other equipment during the 76km journey into the stratosphere and back.
The edge-of-space pod was designed after images taken from cameras carried to the stratosphere became popular on Youtube and other social media. The flights launched by both academics and enthusiasts, subject to CAA approval, utilise GPS tracking to ensure the pod and equipment containing the images can be easily recovered for re-use after safe descent by parachute.
Airpop is described as ‘engineered air’. In reality it is 98% air captured in a polystyrene matrix. It is just like the expanded polystyrene used in packaging to protect everything from human organs to fragile computer equipment in transit.
Nigel Smith of Moulded Foams Limited, who manufactured the space pod to the customer’s specification said, “This is a remarkable material being used in a unique application. There are many reasons why images from high above earth are becoming increasingly popular and not just for fun on social media. Video and stills taken from high above the earth’s surface are able to reveal the history of land usage going back for centuries as well as highlighting important geographical and topographical features which cannot be seen any other way. There are thousands of uses for Airpop and this is one of the most recent and intriguing applications we have become involved with.”
Airpop also has strong environmental credentials because it can be recycled at the end of its life. David Emes, Chairman of the British Plastic Federation’s EPS Group which represents the major UK manufacturers of Airpop said “This material is used in every walk of life from packaging through to house building. It is tough and durable yet fully recyclable. In fact around 70% is recycled or reprocessed into second-life products.”