The West Ferris Near Space Program has three primary goals: To challenge the students with a real-world engineering problem, to record and exploit experimental data with an eye toward future endeavours, and to provide contextual anchors that will help students understand and retain physics concepts, such as radio wave technology, terminal velocity and the conservation of energy in a closed system. For more information on this program contact teacher Kelly Shulman (VE3KLX) at kelly.shulman@nearnorthschools.ca

Interested in High Altitude Ballooning? Start exploring at Shulman's Introduction to High Altitude Ballooning

Interested in starting your own Near Space Program? VIew the notes from the 2017 workshop called: How to Start a Near Space Program


Students in the grade 11 computer science course have completed programming the software for the Underpass mission. Due to the covid closure the work was completed through remote development: Students worked with Python libraries that mirrored the real sensor libraries and tested programs using data from the Moonshot Mission to simulate many of the sensor readings. Complete details of the student assignment can be viewed at the following links:

ElmoPi Remote Development ("Outdoor" Sensors)

GroverPi Remote Development ("Pressure" Chamber)

In April Shulman had an opportunity to consult with Chris Yoder from NASA's Balloon Program Office in Wallops, Florida (again thanks to Dr. Poulter). The discussion led to one physical change made to the payload during the closure: A temperature sensor was added to monitor the air pump for overheating.

We think of space and the stratosphere as a very cold environment, and so overheating seems an odd concern. Everything will always radiats heat in the form of photons. We usually ignore radiative cooling on Earth because it's a much smaller effect that conduction via air, etc. But in space it's the only way to transfer heat. Since radiation is much less effective than conduction you have to be very careful how much heat you create in space and near space, and how you let it radiate off.

The air pump will be insulated in a styrofoam box and so cooling by radiation will be somewhat impeded. At altitude there will be few particles in the atmosphere and so cooling by air conduction will be somewhat impeded. For these reasons the temperature sensor was deemed a necessary addition. Students implemented a temperature check in their pressure chamber code.


All physical components of the Underpass Payload are assembled and in working order. Students will now create the Python code that controls both of the Raspberry Pi mini-computers that are responsible for collecting sensor data and recording video from the two cameras. Shown in the image below, the Pis, named Grover (1) and Elmo (7), will be tasked with the operation of sensors measuring CO2 and other data such as temperature, pressure and humidity. For more details on the purpose of each component and the programming specifications visit the Resource page provided to students as they embark on this challenge.

With schools shutdown province-wide until April 5th there are some concerns about our ability to be ready for the planned openning of the launch window on May 1st should the shutdown be extended.



On February 6th Dr. Poulter joined us via Skype to deliver a presentation on climate change, atmospheric CO2, remote sensing and NASA's contribution to the scientific understanding of the composition of earth's atmosphere and its impact on climate. Students studying computer programming, senior science students and those enrolled in the STEAM program assembled in the auditorium for the event. After the presentation students had the opportunity to ask Dr. Poulter questions about the presentation, or more general questions about the science of climate change. It was an excellent experience.




On February 6th the Near Space Program will have the priviledge of hosting a Skype presentation with NASA's Dr. Ben Poulter, who is a research scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland where he Chairs the 600 Science Directorate. Dr. Poulter has been assisting us with our Underpass Mission that will be launching this spring.

The the carbon budget, remaining emissions to stay below 2 degrees, and role of remote sensing will be central topics in this timely presentation. Senior science students, and students involved in the STEAM program will have an opportunity to ask Dr. Poulter questions following the presentation. Anyone interested in attending this presentation should contact Miss Shulman at the email address posted above.

Want to learn more about CO2 and the conditions and processes that increase and decrease CO2 levels in the atmosphere? Watch the NASA video, "A Year in the Life of CO2".



It is January, the end of the semester, and the culmination of the physics component of The Underpass Mission. The payload is built and the final weigh-in is complete. As the project progressed we have modified the mission goals as needed:

Goal 1 : Conincident CO2 Measurement with NASA Satellite

Dr. Poulter has connected us with the Science Teams who manage both the OCO-2 satellite, and the OCO-3 device on the ISS. The OCO-2 is an older unmanned satellite that will pass overhead once every 16 days allowing for a coincident measurement, which is not very often. The OCO-3 is on the ISS which passes overhead about once every 4 days. However, it has a precessing orbit so that it is not regular. OCO-3 has a Pointing Mirror Assembly (PMA) that allows it to target a location that is not directly under the satellite. Dr. Poulter has arranged for us to have a "pointing request" for launch day so that OCO-3 will point directly at an 80 km wide region around North Bay. This will greatly increase the number of days when a coincident measurement is feasible...because we still have to keep the payload out of the park and the water!

Goal 2 : The Solar Camera


The solar camera idea did not survive the Feasibilty Test - a panel that provided sufficient power had a mass that far exceeded the mass of the equivalent battery requirement. Instead, students have assembled an electronic heating experiment: energy produced by a solar panel will be expressed across a resistor to heat a small insulated chamber. Sensors will monitor the temperature inside the chamber as well as the voltage and power produced by the panel.

The reins now pass to the programming students who must complete the programming, position the cameras and test, test, test the system. The launch window is set to open this spring when the physics students will be invited to join the programmers as we make plans for launch and retrieval.



Preparations for the Spring 2020 Underpass Mission are well underway by students in Shulman's grade 11 physics class. The primary goal of the mission is coordinating the NASA OCO-2 or OCO-3 (ISS) satellite underpass with CO2 sampling, but students have set other goals including a solar elecrtronic heating experiment and the collection of other sensor data such as light (lux), temperature, and compass heading.

More information about the Underpass Mission can be found in the January 2020 article from The Canadian Amateur magazine, and this article from North Bay's Moose radio.


rpi mass




Our mission this spring is The Underpass: We are going to attempt to do an underpass of one of NASA's satellites that do atmospheric analysis and then compare the "simultaneous" measurements from our balloon and NASA's satellite.  We are going to get support from Ben Poulter who is an environmental scientist with NASA specializing in remote sensing of CO2, and Chair of NASA GSFC Code 600 Science Director’s Committee.  He suggested the idea and has offered his support in our efforts and analysis.




Shulman is back from NASA.  A video of her presentation at the Observe the Moon event is below.  The man who introduces her is Charles Bolden, an astronaut on several shuttle missions (including the mission that put the Hubble Telescope into orbit), and he was the Chief Administrator of NASA under Barack Obama (2009-2017).  On August 28, 2012, he was the first human being to have his voice broadcast on the surface of Mars.  He was really personable, and very into education.  It was pretty cool.  

Shulman also had the opportunity to meet with David Gerson who is the President and founding member of the Global Space Balloon Challenge and propulsion engineer from Space-X.




Miss Shulman has been invited to go to NASA's Observe the Moon event at the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt Maryland on October 5th to talk about the Moonshot Mission. She’ll have about 10 minutes to share the story about the so-called Apollo '19 flight on stage during the Apollo Stories segment of the night.

Shulman will be meeting the planetary sciences team and some of NASA's Apollo program science experts. And they are working on seeing if she can get a personal tour of Goddard Space Flight Center, but may run into some hurdles since the event is a Saturday and many of the buildings will be locked.

Most exciting thing ever!




One goal of the 2019 Moonshot Mission was to pay tribute to the 50-year anniversary of moon landing in July of 1969. NASA noticed, and the Moonshot Mission was a featured story as NASA celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the incredible triumph. Below are screenshots of our story as it appeared on the NASA website. The full article can be viewed at the following link:

Memories of Apollo from People All Over the World

Stay tuned for an exciting update this September as NASA's 50th Anniversary celebration continues throughout 2019...

launch flight



MOONSHOT: The Flight of Apollo '19

On Tuesday, May 14th students in Miss Shulman's physics class launched a high altitide balloon from the center of the football field. By 2:00pm, the retireval team was able to locate and retrieve the payload in the country-side just east of Powassan. Use the following links to download a selection of images from the mission. The download is a ZIP file containing multiple image files so the contents must be extracted.

Images from the Launch Site

Images from the Stratosphere

still still



Actual Flight Path


The class held a couple of debriefing sessions post-flight to get a look at the fruits of our labour. When we checked the SD cards we found that all cameras functioned throughout the flight, although the position of the video cameras shifted during the balloon explosion and so it did not capture the descent effectively. The still camera took stunning images throughout the flight including the descent. A selection of images from the launch and stratosphere are available for download from shulman.x10host.com

One goal for this mission was the Moonshot. But we did have some issues with the position of the video camera shot for a great deal of the flight such that the astronaut was not fully visible. However, the camera adjusted position when the balloon burst and we were able to get the Moonshot - our tribute to the Apollo 11 mission that landed on the Moon 50 years ago this July. Happy Anniversary NASA!


Both sets of sensor data from the flight were complete, detailing the temperature, pressure, heading and acceleration of the payload throughout the flight, as well as the voltage and power data essential to the on-board experiment designed by student Liam Kelly. Analysis of this data is a focus of the culminating project for the course: Each student will analyze an aspect of the data and present their findings in a report. This collection of analyses will be used in future missions to determine mission goals and inform design decisions.

Flight Data with Compass

Flight Data with Accelerometer

More specifically, compass data will be analyzed to determine the effectiveness of the weather vane in stabling the payload - didn't work very well. The kinematics of the flight will be investigated through the analysis of accelerometer data. Temperature data will be analyzed to determine the height of the ozone layer, among other things. Image analysis will be used to determine the altitude of the balloon when the image showing all of the North Bay area was captured. An analysis of the solar panel effectiveness will involve correlation with altitude, temperature and compass data.



GO: Apollo '19 Launch Tuesday, May 14 @ 10:30am

West Ferris students will proceed with the launch of a high altitude balloon from center field on Tuesday, May 14th. The launch procedure is set to begin at 9:30am, with the release of the balloon form the football field at around 10:30am local time.

Tracking the flight in progress: On the date of the flight the links below will provide real-time tracking of the flight.


Apollo '19 Launch Window Opens

On Tuesday, May 7th the launch window opens for West Ferris School’s High-Altitude Balloon flight. Grade 12 physics students have completed the design and build of the payload and flight train, and now wait for favourable atmospheric conditions to align. The mission is highly dependent on high altitude winds and so an exact date cannot be selected in advance. Once a day is identified, the actual launch date will be announced about 48 hours prior to the event.


The launch will take place at the centre of the football field at West Ferris Secondary School. At the launch a large helium balloon will be used to lift the payload to an altitude over 30 km, at which point the balloon will explode and the payload will return under parachute. A NOTAM will be filed to advise pilots and Transport Canada of the flight.

Dubbed Apollo ’19 as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, the complex payload includes three trackers, two video cameras and a still camera, an array of sensors recording in-flight data, as well as an experiment involving solar radiation capture. Student Liam Kelly has designed an integrated system that will study the most effective placement on the payload for solar panels; the analysis of his data will be used for innovations on future flights.

payload payload payload
payload payload payload


For more information on this mission and the West Ferris Near Space Program contact teacher Kelly Shulman (VE3KLX) by email at kelly.shulman@nearnorthschools.ca, or through the school at 705-475-2333.



On October 29, 2018 a team of grade 11 West Ferris Secondary School physics students launched a high altitude balloon from the center of the football field. This was the beginning of a 5 day effort to retrieve the errant balloon from the dense interior of Algonquin Park. Three separate retrieval attempts were made before the balloon was finally located by student Jared Kelso.

Video courtesy of Jared Kelso Productions

The incredible image on the left is courtesy of Tom Martineau, a teacher at West Ferris Intermediate Secondary School and highly talented photographer. The image on the right is from our payload.

launch strat



The Near Space Program started as an extra-curricular opportunity during the 2016-2017 school year at Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay, Ontario. The goal of the first mission was just the proof of concept: Could a group of high school students launch a payload to the atmosphere and get it back. This was a steep learning curve with Shulman obtaining her radio license just two months before the launch. This program would not have been possible without the support of Principal Lisa O'Kane, who graciously provided the funding that launched the adventure.

launch track found