Whether you’ve been dreaming about space all your life, or just like the idea of a car on its way to Mars, there’s no denying that space exploration continues to be a fascination for many.
While joining the NASA engineering team may be impossible for most, these backyard space projects have all been produced in the homes, garages, and gardens of amateur rocket engineers and enthusiasts. 3… 2… 1… lift off!
This incredible mission control desk was built by Jeff Highsmith from Make. Using a variety of switches, knobs, lights, and dials, this incredible project looks and sounds just like the real thing.
Using an iPad to play space videos, and a Raspberry Pi in conjunction with an Arduino, all of the controls actually work. With factually accurate labels for oxygen levels, altitude, speed, and more, there’s not much you can’t do.
In addition to the cool buttons, Jeff programmed simulations of real historical space glitches, complete with accurate solutions! Unfortunately, this desk doesn’t control a real spaceship—but there’s no reason it couldn’t with a bit of re-programming.
2. Moon Laser
When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in 1969, the astronauts left something bigger than footprints behind. The surface of the moon contains a 2 foot wide panel covered in 100 mirrors. By using a laser and several pieces of sensitive electronics, you can fire a laser at the moon, bounce it off the mirror array, and detect the returning beam.
Admittedly, you’ll need a very powerful laser, a large telescope, and some specialist equipment, but there’s nothing stopping you renting time in a local observatory. You won’t be able to reuse your old laser pointer, however!
The premise is simple. Attach a camera, parachute, and GPS to a weather balloon. Send it soaring into space and then go pick up the pieces!
This particular tutorial comes from YouTube channel Dechert 360, but there are hundreds if not thousands of high altitude balloon projects.
While you may need permission to launch, a high altitude photography launch is one of the easiest projects you can work on, and the few specialist parts are inexpensive and easily obtainable.
This space project idea comes directly from YouTube creator Practical Engineering. This mechanical marvel uses an Arduino compatible development board at its heart, and simply points to the location of the International Space Station.
While this project does use a stepper motor and several specialist mounting points, the ISS tracker code on GitHub should be enough to get you started, regardless of your specific hardware configuration.
This impressive telescope breaks down into two pieces for ease of transporting, and is capable of producing impressive images of the moon and nearby planets!
Produced by the Experiment at Home YouTube channel, this video tutorial covers everything you need to know about constructing your own telescope at home.
This impressive project was built by YouTube channel The Thought Emporium. Built using a satellite and a set of 3D printed gears, this project can track satellites over 20,000 miles away—impressive!
While this project does involve manipulation of microwave frequency bands, it’s not as complex as it sounds. Detailed instructions and implementation specifics are outlined in the video above, and with over 120,000 views, there’s sure to be someone else who’s attempted this project.
If you’re a fan of the space flight simulator Kerbal Space Program, and you’ve installed some of the best Kerbal Space Program mods, then the next logical step is to build a simulator control console.
Powered by a Raspberry Pi, this shiny interface is a remote controller for your virtual spacecraft. Produced by YouTuber Steven Marlowe, this console outputs real time rocket statistics, and features several lights, buttons, and switches. You could easily expand this into a whole flight deck if you wanted to.
This ambitious project comes from crowdfunded enterprise Copenhagen Suborbitals. With a dream of sending an amateur astronaut into space, this project is definitely on the complex side!
It’s possible to start your own space mission, but you’re probably better off donating to this one if you’re that interested. The team at Copenhagen Suborbitals have got a solid handle on the very basics required for their dream, but even so there’s a long road ahead.
If you need any more convincing that this rocket launch will be a success, then take a look at the rocket gallery, where the impressive engineering work on prototype rockets is documented.
Not just a movie prop, but this suit actually works. Or, at least it would do if it ever went into orbit. After dreaming about space as child, Cameron Smith decided to research and build his own, working space suit.
Eventually teaming up with the previously mentioned Copenhagen Suborbitals, Cameron’s suit has been selected to be used as the official suit of the homemade space mission. Not only that, but the suit is something of an open-source design, or it will be once completed.
What better way to contribute to a space program than to work on a space suit?
This outstanding scale model of the Saturn 5 rocket was produced by Steve Eves. Measuring 36 feet tall, and weighing over 1600 lbs, this model holds the world record for the largest amateur rocket ever successfully launched.
While there’s no doubt that this is an incredibly complicated space project, it shows just what’s possible with a bit of creative thinking. The real Saturn 5 is a complex piece of kit, but that’s not to say that a working scale model isn’t without its challenges.
If you’re a beginner to amateur rocket construction, then you may want to start with something a bit smaller, like the Estes Tandem-X, which measures a more manageable 30 inches tall.
Book Your Ticket to Mars With DIY Space Projects
As these projects show, space projects can be produced by more than just the NASA scientists. Whether you’re into functional operating equipment, or bedroom sized replicas, there’s nothing stopping you from attempting some of these projects!
As a space geek, you might also want to explore these websites dedicated to man’s first moon landing. If you’re looking for something a bit more down to Earth, why not take a look at these amazing space visualizations, and if you’re eager to book your ticket to Mars, then take a look at these ten essential books to read before traveling to Mars.