We launched a balloon with cameras and GPS into the sky above Whitehorse. It floated +100,000 ft up into the stratosphere, popped, and returned to Earth safely via parachute. The goal was to see if we could actually send something toward space.
That was the easy part. Getting it back was a whole other adventure! (watch the video)
Step 1: Build the Payload
- Styrofoam beverage cooler
- Hand-warmers (slows the battery drain)
- High quality lanyard
- Balloon (TA 1200)
- GoPro Hero3 White Edition (we specifically used an older model because stats showed it would drain battery less quickly; comes with case)
- Extra battery pack
- Protective Lens
- Anti-fog inserts
- micro SD (64GB)
- SPOT tracker
The only significant modifications made to the styrofoam cooler were holes for cameras on the side (pointing toward the horizon) and underneath (pointing down).
Step 2: Launch Day
- Pick a Launch Site
- Should be flat and far from any immediate obstacles
- Ensure that you're far enough away from any nearby airports
- Double-check the Weather
- Should be sunny (for filming) and minimal wind
- Alert the proper authorities
- In the USA this includes the FAA; in Canada it includes the local airport and Environment Canada
- Configure the GPS
- Important that it was on top of the payload and facing up
- Test it!
- Note that these aren't designed to work above a certain altitude so we lost coverage for quite a long time until the payload returned on its descent.
- Start filming
- You've put in all this effort and the key to space hardware is redundancy. It's a good thing we used two cameras because on launch we accidentally turned one of them off!
- Test it!
- Fill the balloon
- Lots of research into volume of Helium and ascent rate. We used this tool but even with careful measurements/calculations, in the end our predictions were quite off. Luckily, though, it all worked out.
- Took several hands to fill and tighten the balloon appropriately.
- Worth using some counter weights to ensure it doesn't take off prematurely.
Step 3: 3..2..1..Lift-off!
Our balloon floated high into the sky, reaching altitudes roughly 4x a commercial airliner. The higher it went, the lower the external pressure, the more the balloon expanded...until...eventually it popped, the parachute deployed and it floated safely back to Earth.
Step 4: Recovery
Launching it was the easy part. Getting it back was a whole other adventure! (watch the video)
Step 5: Contest
While our goal was to get the balloon off the ground, we used the opportunity to launch a contest to help community members get their own ideas off the ground too. 80+ ideas were submitted for projects that would-be inventors had always dreamed might one day exist and after 1000+ votes the winning entry earned a free flight courtesy of Air North.