World Highest NXT… by (many) miles

It seems a group of faculty & students have taken an NXT where no NXT has gone before… into space. OK, OK, I know the technical definitions, and they didn’t get quite that far, but it’s an amazing use of off-the-shelf technology none the less. Part of the NevadaSat program at the University of Nevada, Reno, is to launch high-altitude balloons carrying student experiments, including dataloggers & cameras. It seems one of the devices they use in these experiment packages are NXTs to control things like the cameras (off-the-shelf digital cameras) and take data. On Mission NBS-07-06, the balloon reached roughly 97,000’, and a later mission (also carrying an operating NXT) reached 101,253’. For those of you that are wondering, that’s 19 miles above sea level, about three times as high as a commerical airliner, where temperatures are sub-zero and the equipment is practically operating in a vacuum. They reported that the NXT works great, and is recovered and reused even though some of the “landings” are a bit rough (decent speeds at ground impact are around 1000 ft/min (about 10 mph), although they have reached close to 2000 ft/min in some cases). They are programmed in ROBOLAB or NXT-G (depending on the experience of the students), and have used sensors like accelerometers, gyros, temperature, pressure, etc., to monitor the 1-2 hour flight.

To me this is a really amazing and inspiring use of the NXT – as an educational & research tool, & well beyond “a simple toy”. I was once asked if an NXT-based rover could function on Mars, and opinioned that I didn’t know, but doubted it: conditions on Mars are sub-freezing, and the atmospheric pressure is only bout 1% Earth sea level, almost a vacuum... certainly not on the list of environments the NXT was designed for. But here is an example of such “consumer electronics” performing under similar conditions, at least for a limited time. Pressure at 100,000 feet (30 km) is roughly 1200 Pascals… or just 1.2% of the sea level pressure. And temperatures in the payloads hover around 0° C (32° F) (they use small internal heaters to keep it that warm). Not too far from roving around on a Martian sand dune.

An amazing accomplishment for the NXT, especially for the students and advisors in the BalloonSat program. Congratulations!

Brian Davis


Thanks for posting this, Brian - this is really inspiring. I posted a while back about whether an NXT could possibly be used in the Google Lunar X-Prize and this experiment certainly does make you think that with the right preparations and equipment, an NXT might seriously be able to power a rover-type bot (at a minimum with the Brick).

Andy said…
Thanks for a great post Brian! :)
That video and text was really inspiring. Lots of good information, and best of everything, there was a NXT used. :-D

Anonymous said…
Thats a record that will be hard to beat. Unless there is a AFOL that is in NASA or NASA happens to send one on the space station for a school. Great read and very special film.
Anonymous said…
Wauuvv!! Congratulations to the team from the University of Nevada. It is very inspiring to see how they have used their creative energy to take the MXT to new 'hights'. What's next? Did you by the way know that the RCX (the first gen. LMS brick) has been tested by the Russian cosmonouts at the ISS?

Søren Lund, LEGO
Anonymous said…
Awesome post, I was on the CanSat team a few years ago at UNR. Always nice to see stuff about the old school posted.

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