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High-altitude company launches beer into space

Posted: October 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.

A photo of the Coors Light beer is captured from a GoPro camera as it climbs into space.

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When three young engineers and scientists go to work each day they have to surrender their cellphones at the front door and retrieve them each night as they leave. However, these Santa Clarita residents spend their spare time building a new company and launching a can of beer into the outer space.

Sky-Probe.com is founded by engineers and scientists working as aircraft designers at Lockheed Martin, the aeronautics and research facility in Palmdale. By day, George Burchuk, Travis Baca and Patrick Gabaldon work as electrical engineers and research scientists.

Using their knowledge of launching objects into space, and having a desire to bring affordable science into the hands of students everywhere, the three men launched Sky Probe. “We saw a void in the high-altitude ballooning market for education purposes,” Gabaldon said. “Other companies were building very expensive kits and putting things into them we didn’t feel was necessary. We put together an affordable kit that could be re-used time and again with only the purchase of new helium balloons.”

Launching the company with their own money and engineering know how this past spring, the men piloted their own equipment by testing new “Super Cold” technology Coors has built into the labels on their bottles and cans of beer cans telling users when a can of beer reaches that peak chill level.

Using a GoPro camera in their experiment, the beer flight is posted on YouTube and shows the can of beer as it shoots 93,000 feet into space and reaches a low of -75 degrees. Also recorded in the video is the can lifting high over Santa Clarita and the Mojave Desert to the point where the viewer sees the deep blue backdrop of space and curvature of the Earth.

“We were sitting around asking what would be cool to launch into space,” Burchuk said. “And then we saw for a commercial for Coors and watched the label get blue as the can got cold and decided to test it in space.”

A couple of people thought the can would burst, but it didn’t explode. Only the bottom of the can became disfigured, he said.

Too bad Coors won’t respond to Sky Probe’s test of their new technology — it would make good marketing for their product, Baca said.

Although the video is fun to watch, the test had a serious side. The launch kits built by Sky Probe also recorded altitude, temperatures, humidity and pressure in addition to the flight.

The team builds and programs the electronics sold in their kits, and design the software tying all the electronics together. Data collected during high altitude flights can then be downloaded for analysis post flight. Kits come with professional weather balloons, parachutes, GPS devices that track the launch via satellite, cameras, radar reflectors and more.

Burchuk handles most of the electronics work in building the kits; Baca mostly works on the documentation and writing the manuals for the kits; and Gabaldon said he works on the radar reflectors — metalized, fabricated pieces that allow the FAA to see the weather balloons and ensure they won’t be travelling into the path of any flights.

“A couple other companies sell these kits but charge outrageous prices,” Burchuk said. “We build our own kits and do it a lot cheaper to build interest and lower the prices. We’re less than half the cost of the next guy.”

Sky Probe provides technical help to plan flight paths, if needed, or will manage the entire launch themselves and provide uncut HD video for companies looking for new and creative marketing ideas. While Coors is uninterested, Sky Probe has been contacted by a few other big brewing companies who are interested in having Sky Probe launch and fly their products in space, Burchuk said.

But, the group’s real aim is to provide the most cost-effective launch platform for near space experiments, the men said. They want to put their kits and products into the hands of students, boy scouts, families and school science students everywhere – igniting the imagination of future engineers and scientists.

“We’re a pretty fun group of guys,” Burchuk said. “But we’re also engineers.”

Readers can learn more about Sky Probe or order kits and parts by going online at www.sky-probe.com. And viewers can watch Sky Probe’s video online at YouTube.

jadkins@the-signal.com

661-287-5599

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