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DIY Space Photography 106

Posted by samzenpus
from the exploring-on-a-budget dept.
Four Spanish teenagers sent a camera-operated weather balloon into the stratosphere. The boys built the electronic sensor components from scratch. Gerard Marull Paretas, Sergi Saballs Vila, Marta Gasull Morcillo and Jaume Puigmiquel Casamort attached a £56 camera to a heavy duty £43 latex balloon, and sent their science project 20-miles above the Earth. Team leader Gerard Marull, 18, said, "We were overwhelmed at our results, especially the photographs, to send our handmade craft to the edge of space is incredible."

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DIY Space Photography

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:35PM (#27247139)
    I'll be sure to be thinking of people putting random shit in the air.
    • by Enki X (1315689)
      Let me know the next time you fly in an X-15, I wanna come along...
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by rillopy (650792)
        The "edge of space" is around 62 miles, also where the X-15 set its altitude records. But this project only (ha) went to 20 miles. So you'd be very very safe from random debris in an X-15!
    • by ral8158 (947954)

      Um, you realize that there is a whole lot of airspace, and that relatively speaking, practically none of it is occupied by aircrafts?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:46PM (#27247325)

      Next time you're on an airplane we'll be sure to ground all birds worldwide so you're not worried about 'random shit in the air'.

    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      So you normally fly in an airplane 20 miles above the Earth?
      • I'm a motherf'ing birdplane.

        For those who don't get the joke, search around for songs that use the same four chords...
    • by SBrach (1073190)
      If it even is possible for a 1500 gram balloon to do any serious damage to a airplane, what do you think the odds are of the two intersecting in that big piece of 3D space we call the sky. Do you play the lottery, serious question.
      • Indeed. Consider:

        Volume of airplane = small.
        Volume of atmosphere = big.

        Chance of airplane being in part of sky = small/big, which is more or less zero.

        Chance of two airplanes being in part of sky = zero squared = zero.

        Conclusion: mid air collision [wikipedia.org] is impossible.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by SBrach (1073190)
          I think the air traffic lanes and similar cruising altitudes decrease your "big" approximation a bit. Question, how long was the balloon between 25,000 and 30,000 feet.
          • by bhiestand (157373) *

            Better question, did these boys launch the balloon near any airports or frequently used air space? Did the balloon enter controlled, restricted, or uncontrolled airspace? Was it legal in their area? For all we know they had NOTAMs...

            I'd guess a balloon this small wouldn't be an issue for many engines, but something like an air intake could be a serious problem. And don't laugh at the thought of that, I once saw a small bird get sucked into one.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by LordKronos (470910)

          Nice way to mess up statistics. More or less zero is not equal to zero. Your odds of winning the lotto are also nearly zero, yet people win it on a regular basis. Heck, some people even win it twice. That doesn't mean I give any consideration to the fact that I could win it.

          • by mrdoogee (1179081)

            My statistics professor always called it:

            "an infinitesimally small, but non-zero probability"

            I love that term.

        • by DingerX (847589)
          Chance of aircraft being distributed randomly in the air: zero.
        • by RMH101 (636144)
          This made me grin, thank you!
      • by PPH (736903)

        I dunno. How many 1500 gram balloons equals one Canadian Goose?

    • You have more problems with birds flying at 100 feet off the ground than you do with a balloon flying at 100,000 feet.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You can think of the hundreds of weather balloons launched every day all over the world just to make forecasts better.

    • by e2d2 (115622) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:25PM (#27247907)

      In the US one can notify the FAA of such events and they will release a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) that will let them know the craft is in the area, with a description and advice. They require 24 hours notice. Every pilot in the US checks for NOTAMs along their designated flight plan and adjust accordingly. This is standard procedure before any takeoff and taught at the most basic level by flight schools before you ever leave the ground.

      If you do launch _any_ craft into the air in the US it will fall under some sort of regulation that you should follow. In this case it's most likely part 101 [gpoaccess.gov] Around the world governments have similar regulations in place.

      My point? This has been done before and done right, safe procedures are in place.

      • Every pilot in the US checks for NOTAMs along their designated flight plan and adjust accordingly. This is standard procedure before any takeoff and taught

        Make that, "is suppose to check for NOTAMs". It's a good idea, but doesn't always happen, especially if you're flying VFR locally. Also, if you've been camping for a few days in the mountains (yes, some people do go camping in the back woods in airplanes), you might not even be able to talk to ATC before you're in the air.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Xest (935314)

        Dear FAA,
        In 24 hours I intend to release balloons into the air randomly around Chicago O'Hare. Please alert all pilots so that they can go and land elsewhere.

        Regards,

        Real life troll.

        Seriously though, I assume as you say the regulations in place govern also where you can and can't release things into the air? Presumably you can't just launch something wherever you feel like even if you do give notice and presumably the FAA can reject requests?

        • by e2d2 (115622)

          That's why I posted the link to the regulation :P.

          It's fairly short and covers this:


          (a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate a moored balloon or kiteâ"

          (1) Less than 500 feet from the base of any cloud;

          (2) More than 500 feet above the surface of the earth;

          (3) From an area where the ground visibility is less than three miles; or

          (4) Within five miles of the boundary of any airport.

          (b) Paragraph (a) of this section does not apply to the operation of a balloon or kite b

      • by zotz (3951)

        "If you do launch _any_ craft into the air in the US it will fall under some sort of regulation that you should follow."

        Kites?

        drew

        • Kites?

          drew

          Yes, actually.

          • by zotz (3951)

            OK then, and do they release data on how many kite flight notices are filed and sent out each year? I would be interested in knowing if there are more than a hundred compliant kite flights each year.

            drew

  • Chrome alerted me to possibly dangerous content from creative-banners.com (or something like that) while I was browsing the article. Be forewarned!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:34PM (#27248043)
      No worries, most people don't RTFA
    • by kimvette (919543)

      That's okay, my system won't run the malware, not even under Crossover Office. I always submit reports to malware authors but they never respond to help me install their software. I feel so ostricised by the malware community! I'm a Linux geek and I have feelings, damn it! :(

  • by DavidJSimpson (899508) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:40PM (#27247225)
    From the article:

    "Proving that you don't need Google's billions ... [they] followed the progress of their balloon using high tech sensors communicating with Google Earth."

    Maybe they did need Google's billions.
  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:42PM (#27247267) Journal

    I wonder what kind of clearance this sort of balloon experiment requires. You wouldn't want to do this anywhere near air traffic routes for fear of hitting an airliner. I know the equipment is light but I imagine it'd still do some damage if it got sucked into an engine or hit a plane travelling at mach 0.85.

    • by MrFlibbs (945469) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:59PM (#27247509)
      A guy in our local Astronomy club researched this and gave a presentation on the requirements a year ago. As I recall, the FAA requirements were that the balloon launch site not be within X miles of an airport, that it must reflect RADAR (accomplished by dangling cardboard covered with aluminum foil), and that the cord used to tie the instrument package to the balloon must break easily. (Can't remember the spec, but it's something like 10 pound test line.) Part of the trick is calibrating the lift rate before launch so the balloon rises at an appropriate rate. Too slow, and the balloon will break too low in the atmosphere. Too fast, and it won't break close enough to the launch site to recover the payload. What's cool is you can have the package use a GPS to transmit data on altitude and position, and a thermometer to give readings at altitude. The temperature gets down to -50C, so the instruments must be in a styrofoam box to survive.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually nearly all GPS units will not give readings above 60,000 feet. This is to prevent foreign countries from using our own system to lob missiles at us. KySat http://www.kysat.com/home.aspx did a similar balloon mission last summer. Some chips work, others dont. In our case it was a 50% failure rate.

        • Actually nearly all GPS units will not give readings above 60,000 feet.

          Actually, IIRC the legislation is 60,000 feet and 500 m/s, but some lazy manufacturers take that to mean 60,000 feet or 500 m/s.

          We had an application [ucam.org] where we were going to be flying rockets at well over both those cutoffs, so we just got a whizzkid to write our own GPS decoder!

      • by 0x000000 (841725)

        You can't launch in specific air space, and yes it has to be X miles away from an airport. It does not need to reflect radar in any way shape or form, so cardboard with aluminium foil is not required. Also, the load line has no specific specs on it what so ever, the only thing is that the package can not be more than 12 pounds total, and those 12 pounds have to be distributed between two seperate containers that can be tied together using load lines, but each one has a max limit of 6 pounds.

        Also, the ascent

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        The temperature gets down to -50C, so the instruments must be in a styrofoam box to survive.

        "How'd you solve the icing problem?"

        "Icing problem...?"

        "Better look into that." <clonk>

    • by Bob-taro (996889)

      I wonder what kind of clearance this sort of balloon experiment requires.

      FTA:

      "However, when we launched at 9.10am on that morning the critical point for the experiment was to see if the balloon would make it past 10,000m, or 30,000ft, which is the altitude that commercial airliners fly at."

      That statement suggests to me that they didn't have any clearance.

      • by easyTree (1042254)

        I thought the whole point was that the article exists to imbue a sense of awe-of-the-unknown into the discussion.

        Pasting from the article is like telling your kids that santa claus doesn't exist.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You don't need any clearence, provided the balloon and the payload is small enough. You can look up the limits yourself. If you're feeling nice, you can optionally file a NOTAM about balloon activity, but it is not required.

      Note that the hard part is payload recovery.

  • by conureman (748753) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:44PM (#27247289)

    We just put on our return address back in the neolithic days, when I was a kid. Mine went from Livermore to Hollister.

  • by dan of the north (176417) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @04:44PM (#27247297)

    "SABLE-3 was launched on Saturday, August 11th, 2007, at 9:31 AM with a payload, consisting of a Nikon Coolpix P2 digital camera set to take 1 image every minute and a Byonics MicroTrak 300 APRS Tracker, that the Kaysam 1200 gram balloon carried to over 117,597 feet. The last payload camera photo from the ground was just before it was launched, at 9:31 AM, and the last photo before the balloon burst was the photo above, at 12:01 PM, exactly 2.5 hours or 150 images later." link [sbszoo.com] - more info here [blogspot.com]

    • Granted, this kind of thing has been done before [slashdot.org], but that doesn't diminish the fact that this is simply a really cool project, particularly for a group of high school kids.

      They have a flickr [flickr.com] page with more photos of the balloon and the results (note that much of the captions are in Spanish). I'm impressed; in fact, I'd love to try this myself.

    • Awesome photos and sites. Why don't we shoot up space tourists this way? Sure, landing may be somewhat less safe but it would be much cheaper I assume! ;D

      • First you need a really huge balloon to lift a human being to that sort of altitude. Secondly getting down again isn't just 'somewhat less safe', it is downright insanely dangerous.

        Also, since the flight time is relatively long, you need good life support. A few minutes zooming up to 62 miles really just requires a sealed cabin. Spending 5-6 hours ascending, most of which is above 30,000 feet where you can actually breath, requires temperature control and some amount of regulation of the atmosphere inside t

  • BTDT? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by biocute (936687)

    Southern Alberta Balloon Launch Experiment [sbszoo.com] did that in August 2007.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...to pull off a stunt like that.

  • It's been done (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Here's images from a similar flight conducted by Oklahoma State university students in July last year:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/arena5/sets/72157606119049987/ [flickr.com]

  • wth is that? (Score:2, Interesting)

    What is a "camera-operated weather balloon"?

    The camera did not operate anything.

    And is it a weather balloon if it isn't doing weather observations?

  • by symes (835608) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:01PM (#27247553) Journal
    I think this is fantastic and that the guys who achieved this deserve all the (positive) attention they are getting. I wish more people thier age could get into sending stuff into space... actuially forget that last bit, we'll just end up with empty cans of lager and unsuspecting victims hanging in the sky over the UK.
    • actuially forget that last bit, we'll just end up with empty cans of lager and unsuspecting victims hanging in the sky over the UK.

      Wouldn't that be an improvement?

  • Um... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Noxieas (917136)
    "Proving that you don't need Google's billions or the BBC weather centre's resources, the four Spanish students managed to send a camera-operated weather balloon into the stratosphere." .... "the budding scientists, all aged 18-19, followed the progress of their balloon using high tech sensors communicating with Google Earth." wait... what?
  • But how do you find where it lands without some kind of GPS attached to it? (Which also costs money)
    • What if it lands between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., while you're asleep?
    • Your damned right it's expensive. Most tracking packages which _aren't_ this advanced run close to $1000 for rockets; I suspect it's possible that you could send up a cellphone with the google tracking software to get the tracking data. Don't know what the cheapest phone is that can do that. Even so, a 3lb brick with a 2m long latex streamer coming in at terminal velocity has a chance of really ruining someones day.

      • Your damned right it's expensive. Most tracking packages which _aren't_ this advanced run close to $1000 for rockets; I suspect it's possible that you could send up a cellphone with the google tracking software to get the tracking data. Don't know what the cheapest phone is that can do that. Even so, a 3lb brick with a 2m long latex streamer coming in at terminal velocity has a chance of really ruining someones day.

        The tracking package on our balloons [ucam.org] has a replacement cost of about £100 and time -- and we get realtime position data! It's all the other stuff which is expensive... the cameras, the recovery system, the balloon-launched sounding rocket... ;)

  • by Trailer Trash (60756) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:51PM (#27248307) Homepage

    ...to lift a 56 pound camera.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nuts and Volts magazine is writing about this for several years now. CO, USA.

    Latest article: http://www.nutsvolts.com/index.php?/magazine/issue/2009/03 [nutsvolts.com]

    Author: http://www.nutsvolts.com/index.php?/magazine/contributor/l_paul_verhage [nutsvolts.com]

    Nothing new here. Move on.

  • Similar idea but much cooler way of retrieving the equipment: http://www.members.shaw.ca/sonde/ [members.shaw.ca]
  • in the U.S. sending payloads into "near space" on a fairly regular basis. It's much more common than most people would suspect. I've seen a rough estimate of ~1500 people in the U.S. who are involved with near space experimentation. It's very cool stuff and one of the few minimally regulated amateur sciences still available to those so inclined in the U.S.

    An excellent primer is the Near Space Book: http://www.parallax.com/tabid/567/Default.aspx [parallax.com]

    Here are several links to active near space groups:
  • If you look closely at this [flickr.com] photo of their tracking computer, its a MacBook Pro running Ubuntu :-)

  • What's cool here is that all this home-made hobbyist-grade electronics worked all the way to Space! I would have thought that the camera had at least a part of the space around the lenses hermetically sealed (which would lead to it exploding in low pressure) but apparently not. In addition to the low pressure (bordering vacuum) there's the coldness and the ice crystals. How did the batteries survive the temperatures? Not that it was a long flight (few hours) but still... everything is more resilient than I
  • by Anonymous Coward

    They have a site with info on the project http://teslabs.com/meteotek08/ where they explain how they did it and they difficulties they faced, it's in Catalan so you might want to use Google to translate it.
    Apparently they had to postpone the launch several times due to the weather conditions. They finally launched one day before their permission from AENA -the Spanish civil aviation authority- expired.

  • "At over 100,000ft the balloon lost its inflation and the equipment was returned to the earth . . . We travelled 10km to find the sensors and photographic card, which was still emitting its signal, even though it had been exposed to the most extreme conditions."

    I'm guessing it crashed back to earth without a parachute, and the memory cards weren't damaged . . . If it had a parachute, it would drift way more than 10km! I'd really like to see more info on the hardware . . . looks like it was mostly luck that

  • Pentax K10D (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Kamineko (851857)
    Reminds me of this set of pictures [flickr.com] that were taken by sending a Pentax K10D in a box [imaginginfo.com] into space.
  • As I noted when the article was posted on NASAwatch [nasawatch.com], the students in Explorer post 632 at NASA Glenn also do launches of a balloon payload [nasa.gov], to the same altitude, and including cameras, so they're also doing "DIY Space Photography" if you count 20 miles altitude as "space". And they've been doing this since 2004.

    (I'll also note that they don't use NASA equipment to do this; they buy or build their own hardware).

  • So was it a software hack that allowed the camera to operate the baloon, or was it a camera-equipped weather balloon? If it was camera operated, would it operate other things such as drone planes and kites?
  • 20 miles above is not in space. It is just over the tropopause, where the wheather is made. Biggest clouds can reach to 8 miles above. Intercontinental flights know it and fly about ten miles high.

    When you reach 100 miles, we could talk about space again. ;-)

[Crash programs] fail because they are based on the theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby a month. -- Wernher von Braun

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