Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Hardware Hacking Space United Kingdom Science Build

Balloon and Duct Tape Deliver Great Space Photos 238

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-can-see-my-house-from-here dept.
krou writes "With a budget of £500, Robert Harrison used cheap parts, a weather balloon, some duct tape, a digital camera, and a GPS device to capture some great photos of the earth from space that resulted in NASA calling him to find out how he had done it. 'A guy phoned up who worked for NASA who was interested in how we took the pictures,' said Mr Harrison. 'He wanted to know how the hell we did it. He thought we used a rocket. They said it would have cost them millions of dollars.' The details of his balloon are as follows: he used 'an ordinary Canon camera mounted on a weather balloon,' 'free software' that 'reprogrammed the camera to wake up every five minutes and take eight photographs and a video before switching off for a rest.' He also ensured the camera was 'wrapped in loft insulation' to make sure it could operate at the cold temperatures. The GPS device allowed him to pinpoint the balloon's location, and retrieve the camera when it fell down to earth attached to a small parachute."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Balloon and Duct Tape Deliver Great Space Photos

Comments Filter:
  • Cool (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dancingmilk (1005461) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:57PM (#31615362) Homepage Journal

    This is awesome, kudos to the guy who pulled it off.

    Its also pretty sad that the engineers at NASA never thought of it...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sckirklan (1412015)
      no kidding, how do you not hang up on someone thinking your being pranked from NASA anyhow.
      • Re:Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

        by inerlogic (695302) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:17PM (#31615746) Homepage
        he's european.... they're more polite than we asshole americans :)
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by arjan_t (1655161)
          Polite Europeans huh? Guess you never had to jump away for a bicycle approaching you at high speed while you were at the middle of a pedestrian crossing in Amsterdam! :P
        • by timlash (1320631)
          He's not European, he's English.
    • Re:Cool (Score:5, Insightful)

      by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:06PM (#31615542)

      This is awesome, kudos to the guy who pulled it off.

      Its also pretty sad that the engineers at NASA never thought of it...

      Actually the "NASA" types were doing that sort of thing many decades ago, pre maned space flight. If you gave this guy hundreds of millions for a budget he would have probably built a fancy rocket too.

      • I've read a handful of comments around the web by people who say things like "How come nasa has to spend all of that money, why didnt they think of this"

        Its amazing how people dont realize that Nasa has been doing this for decades... You know back before GPS existed... which would have never have existed if it werent for Nasa and the DOD. :P People are bizarre.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          They've never done it for under $1000 though, which this guy did.

          NASA's balloon would have been expensive mylar, a convoluted parachute deployment system, and vacuum insulation (which is utterly unnecessary) for the insulation of the $10,000 camera they would have used. The GPS and Camera timing software would have been custom, adding thousands more to the cost. I can't imagine NASA doing a balloon based imaging mission that cost them less than $50,000 in parts and another $200,000-$300,000 in engineering

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by clone53421 (1310749)

            Yes, and the people working on it also wouldn’t have done it for free in their spare time.

          • by multi io (640409)

            They've never done it for under $1000 though, which this guy did.

            You have to add labor costs to that, though. The guy probably invested many hours of work into this without getting paid. If some NASA employee did the same thing, he/she would receive a paycheck that would amount to much more than $1000.

          • Did you miss the point? They did it BEFORE GPS and Digital Cameras! :) Decades ago.

            Yes now you can do this thanks to the GPS satellites that NASA put in orbit and the Cameras Canon sells for cheap.

            When someone builds a space station that stays in orbit out of a Pringles can and duct tape.. I'll be impressed.

            Until then.. NASA gets my support, not my criticism :)

            The Mars Rovers were incredible!

            We have a Japanese asturant taking pictures every day from the Space Station, and twittering them :)

            This guy certainl

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Cryacin (657549)

              When someone builds a space station that stays in orbit out of a Pringles can and duct tape.. I'll be impressed.

              That would either be one hell of a pringles can, or you'd be recruited some mighty small people to populate the space station.

      • by bit9 (1702770)

        Actually the "NASA" types were doing that sort of thing many decades ago, pre maned space flight.

        Minus the GPS and digital camera, of course.

      • Actually the "NASA" types were doing that sort of thing many decades ago, pre maned space flight

        Indeed, but things really got kicked into high gear once we sent the lions up.

    • Re:Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kryptonian Jor-El (970056) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:11PM (#31615630)
      I read an article about some kids doing that a while ago, but they did it better. They bought a prepaid cellphone with a GPS receiver built in that they reprogrammed to send them the coordinates of the balloon ever few minutes. The basket was a Styrofoam food container with chemical hand warmers that they used to keep the equipment warm. When the balloon landed, they just followed the coordinates the phone sent them.
    • Re:Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:13PM (#31615660) Homepage Journal

      Its also pretty sad that the engineers at NASA never thought of it...

      They not only thought of it, they did it, although without the duct tape. However, they did use duct tape to keep the Apollo 13 astronauts alive on their way back from the moon (see "Moon Lost" in your favorite library).

      A lot of early NASA weather baloons were seen as UFOs. NASA called the guy because they thought he launched a rocket.

      • by oodaloop (1229816)
        Yeah, they thought of it. And they did it. But not for 500 quid.
        • by Bakkster (1529253)

          That's because engineers hate leaving things up to chance. Also, when projects are funded by the gov't, they usually have more requirements than just 'take some cool pictures'. And when they did it, they didn't have nice cheap off-the-shelf digital cameras.

          In other words, if they didn't have a bunch of engineers working for a beaurocracy and there was cheap COTS hardware to use, they very well might have done it just as cheaply.

        • by MattskEE (925706)

          NASA engineers expect to receive paychecks. They're funny that way. Hobbyists working in their spare time don't get paid.

          Assume an engineering makes $50k/year (rather low actually). That comes out to $25/hour ignoring benefits. Spending a mere 16 hours (two days, not much) planning, getting approval, building, executing, and reporting the results the project's direct labor comes to $400. Add benefits, overhead for office space, tools, transportation, and you're looking at something like $1,000 + parts.

      • by rwven (663186)

        NASA called the guy because they thought he launched a rocket.

        Wrong. He's in europe. NASA has no "jurisdiction" there and would not have called him to check on whether or not he'd used a rocket. Calling about a rocket would have been the job of the EASA or the ESA.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Garble Snarky (715674)
          Curiosity isn't limited by "jurisdiction".

          He wanted to know how the hell we did it. He thought we used a rocket. They said it would have cost them millions of dollars

          How do you read that and not interpret it as NASA simply inquiring about their methods?

          • by rwven (663186)

            That's exactly my point. I was correcting the sentiment of mcgrew

            • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

              I'm really not seeing anything in mcgrew's post that implies that NASA was anything but curious.

              Even if this was done in America, and laws were broken, I don't think NASA would be the one to get all huffy at you, that probably is an FAA, FBI, or ATF thing. NASA just does science.

              • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

                I don't think mcgrew was saying NASA was getting "huffy" about, but I think rwven thinks that is what mcgrew is saying.

                In other words, y'all are saying exactly the same fucking thing, you're just sure the "other guy" is in opposition to you and your semi-ambiguous language is causing you confusion.

                Removing the ambiguity, I believe the conversation is actually going like this:

                Mcgrew: Either a: NASA thought the guy launched an expensive rocket to get the photos, and were curious how he managed it.

            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              You misinterpreted my post; I must not have been clear.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Andy Dodd (701)

          Even in the USA, NASA doesn't have "jurisdiction". NASA designs, builds, and launches rockets.

          The FAA is the organization that tells people whether or not it is OK to launch airborne device X in the United States.

          The FCC is the organization that tells them whether or not the mechanisms they are using for communications are permitted in the United States.

          There are international organizations that coordinate efforts between the FAA and their counterparts, and the FCC and their counterparts.

          FAA -> ICAO
          FCC

      • I think you mean "Lost Moon". Or you could just watch the Film [wikipedia.org].

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Yes, you are correct. And Apollo 13 was a kickass movie, too, and accurate. I was 18 in 1970 and remember the news reports well.

    • by iamhassi (659463)
      "This is awesome, kudos to the guy who pulled it off."

      It would be awesome if everyone [slashdot.org] hadn't done this many times [slashdot.org] already [slashdot.org].

      If someone from NASA really called this guy then it's obvious no one at NASA reads /.

      Please stop posting these stories, they were cool the first 3 times, now it's belongs to the Redundancy Office of Redundant Redundancy [facebook.com]
      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        If someone from NASA really called this guy

        It might be interesting to find out just who at NASA called this guy. If it was the guy in charge of outer space imaging, then it means one thing. If it was someone from NASA's public relations department it means something completely different.

        People have been using balloons to do high-altitude photography for generations.

        This whole thing sounds like one of those human interest stories that come at the very end of a newscast. "Finally, a young man in the UK, w

        • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
          Or if it's just a curious engineer, that's something completely different. Hell, I worked at NASA for 8 yrs and have many friends that still do. If any of them called and asked how he did it, that's clearly not NASA calling.
  • by bugs2squash (1132591) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:58PM (#31615382)
    when you can just push the shutter button from your lawn chair.
  • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2014@virtual-estates.net> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:59PM (#31615410) Homepage

    The little brother is taking pictures. And videos...

    He posts them to the Internet for the rest of the little brothers and sisters to see.

  • by krou (1027572) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:00PM (#31615430)
    ... can be found here: http://www.robertharrison.org/icarus/wordpress/?page_id=36 [robertharrison.org]
    • The site's /.ed, so no they can't (At least for me, I'm getting a DB connection error). But I look forward to looking at them once it's back online...
      • by krou (1027572) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:06PM (#31615546)
        Cached version of the document: http://66.102.9.132/search?q=cache:njwe-6zv-8MJ:www.robertharrison.org/icarus/wordpress/%3Fpage_id%3D36+http://www.robertharrison.org/icarus/wordpress/%3Fpage_id%3D36&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&client=firefox-a [66.102.9.132]

        (Each of the titles below has a link, so go check the document itself).

        Hardware

        Icarus Payload Hardware Setup Guide

        This is a guide on how to set up the hardware in the Icarus payload. Currently the payload contains a Canon A560 camera and a custom designed PCB which does the tracking and communication. This PCB will probably be available from me should you wish to have a one at cost.

        Timble Lassen IQ

        This is an excellent GPS with a reasonable price tag. It uses the AND clause before shutdown making it perfect for high altitude work, provided your payload is not moving like a missile :-) The AND / OR clause refers to the manufacturers having to restrict GPS's from being used for missile guidance. Some manufacturers use a rule that is based on altitude OR speed and HAB often exceeds the altitude limit and the GPS shuts down. We favor GPS's that use the altitude AND speed restriction as the payload never excees the speed limits and hence the GPS keeps functioning.

        Radiometrix

        Established in 1985 Radiometrix specialise in the design and manufacture of low power radio products for rapid implementation of high-reliability, cable-free data links. Radiometrix is the industry's leading developer of off the-shelf, licence-exempt miniature radio modules.

        ATMega8

        The ATMega8 is an excellent microchip for this kind of work. There are plenty of good tools for programing this chip using Linux, Windows or the Mac see the software pages for links. An excellent website for information about programming the avr micros, as they are commonly called is AVR Freaks .

        DS1821

        This is a superb low temperature sensor from Dallas Semiconductor (now subsidiary of Maxim-ic). The temperature range is from -55 deg C to 150 deg C making it a good choice for HAB.

        Trimble Lassen SK II

        This is an alternative to the Lassen iQ and was my first GPS. If you want to work at 5v rather than 3.3v then this might be the GPS for you. Once again this uses the the Alt & Velocity rule before shtting down. This is basically to prevent people using these modules in missile guidence systems.

        Gumstix Verdex

        Gumstix develops and sells small, inexpensive, highly functional Linux computers for outstanding development and production systems.

        Pololu Servo Controller

        Futaba S3003 Servo Standard

        Canon Digital Ixus 400

        • by b0bby (201198)

          Thanks for that - I never knew about the altitude & speed restrictions on GPSs. I can imagine that would cause some head scratching if you bought the wrong one for one of these projects.

          • by Andy Dodd (701)

            Yup. Also, some GPS units had even more stringent altitude/speed restrictions, not because of "prevent use in a missile" laws, but because of "make the user buy the more expensive unit" product line tiering. (A lot of older non-aviation Garmins had VERY low altitude/speed restrictions and would shut down in non-missile aircraft. Most newer ones do not.)

    • That is... of course, if the site hadn't already succumbed to the Slashdot effect.
  • The server seems to be down, any other useful link? Did someone had the time to host the pictures elsewhere before the server went down?
  • BS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by javakah (932230) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:03PM (#31615500)

    There are pictures, and even nice videos that come out every few months from folks playing around with high altitude balloons. It seems kind of unlikely to me that NASA would have just suddenly discovered this and been amazed. Until there is confirmation from NASA, I'm just going to assume this is BS, either made up by the guy, or some prankster called him.

    • Re:BS? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sarahbau (692647) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:06PM (#31616608)

      I agree. There have been at least 3 nearly identical experiments posted on Slashdot in the last two years. All of them used weather balloons that got to around 100,000 feet. It's neat, but it's nothing new. There's no way NASA thought this was amazing. If someone from NASA called, it was a janitor or something, not an engineer.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      He set a record for the highest HAB (High Altitude Bioprospecting) flight at 22 miles, and he did it for about $700. That's pretty freaking amazing.

      His balloons go so high NASA thought he was using rockets.

      NASA's balloons go much higher, but they also cost several orders of magnitude more to do. Generally NASA only sends 2 or 3 balloons up a year. This guy is doing something similar on weekends in his spare time for a few hundred dollars. It's not unimpressive.

  • Sadly (Score:4, Funny)

    by UnknowingFool (672806) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:04PM (#31615508)
    It will require more than duct tape and £500 to resurrect his server after a slashdotting.
    • by Paul Carver (4555)

      It will require more than duct tape and £500 to resurrect his server after a slashdotting.

      Why? What sort of computer sustains physical damage from high utilization? Unless he overclocked it foolishly I expect that it will resume functioning at no cost whatsoever once the incoming requests drop to a low enough rate.

  • Photos here (Score:5, Informative)

    by mccrew (62494) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:04PM (#31615516)
    • Damn, cannot access Flickr from work... are the pictures hosted elsewhere, on a site categorized in something else than "Social Networking and Personal Sites" by WebSense? :-\
      • by Punko (784684)
        hmmm webSense turned off at the moment here.

        BTW, interesting how the exterior temp rose near the apex of the flight - I'm not sure I understand why. But then, this is almost rocket science.

        Punko
        • Re:Photos here (Score:4, Informative)

          by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wor[ ]et ['f.n' in gap]> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:23PM (#31616904)

          BTW, interesting how the exterior temp rose near the apex of the flight - I'm not sure I understand why. But then, this is almost rocket science.

          We're in the troposphere, where as you go higher, temperature goes down (because the effect of the ground heating gets less as the ground gets further away).

          Above the troposphere (which is anywhere from 30k-70k feet high) is the region knokwn as the tropopause, where the temperature is constant (but cold - -53C I believe). Above the tropopause is the stratosphere, where temperature actually increases due to the ozone layer absorbing UV light. I think a good weather balloon can easily reach the stratosphere and see the rise in temperature.

        • BTW, interesting how the exterior temp rose near the apex of the flight - I'm not sure I understand why. But then, this is almost rocket science.

          My guess is that sensor was reading heat from direct solar radiation. While surrounded with air, it would lean more towards air temp, which goes down as you go up. Once there is no more air, you're getting very hot when facing the sun or very cold when facing away.

  • Flat Earth Society (Score:4, Insightful)

    by starglider29a (719559) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:05PM (#31615518)
    He should send a complimentary set of plans to the Flat Earth Society. They could use the perspective.
  • by Caviller (1420685) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:05PM (#31615530)
    This has bee done for year by amateurs. I have been following these people for atleast a couple of years: BEAR [sbszoo.com]

    They have some AWESOME video of their attempts.

    I wonder why NASA is just now finding about about this stuff???
  • Not Space (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:08PM (#31615576)

    a balloon-mounted camera that can travel up to 21.7 miles (35km) above the surface of the Earth

    According to most people, space starts at 100km [wikipedia.org]. It's impossible for a balloon to get that high, because there is no atmosphere at that height - and balloons require atmosphere. Even the blog specifically states:

    ...pictures of the Earth from near space...

    So, there it is. Not space. Only near space. Summary is wrong.

  • by Cwix (1671282) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:09PM (#31615598)
    Umm a couple of college kids fom MIT did this last year for $150 dollars. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/09/the-150-space-camera-mit-students-beat-nasa-on-beer-money-budget/ [wired.com]
  • I nominate Robert Harrison for the sequel series to MacGyver.
  • by gimmebeer (1648629) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:11PM (#31615632)
    ...this guy could be a leading US space pioneer for the next decade or so.
    • Of course the fact that NASA has had actual increases in budget over the last couple of years does not matter. It was a PROGRAM cut that is occurring. Big difference.
  • I wonder what the final altitude is before the balloon bursts? The next person to make one of these needs to put an altimeter [wikipedia.org] in it, preferably one that can can stamp the images with the altitude.

    Also how hard would it be to make one of these to carry a person? If Virgin Galactic [virgingalactic.com] is going to charge $200,000 to carry someone to the edge of space, wouldn't it be cooler to ride a balloon to space and then parachute back to earth?
    • "Cooler" is right. Unless you want to invest in a heated and pressurized suit, as well as a supply of oxygen, you'd have a nice ascent, but then freeze to death.
    • http://www.redbullstratos.com/ [redbullstratos.com]
      • That is cool as, well it just set the bar for what is cool. Thank you.
        • No problem. I'm excited to see how the human body handles subsonic->transonic->supersonic transitions. Hope the dude survives though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bhima (46039) *

      Joseph Kittinger would agree.

    • by zmollusc (763634)

      Yes. It would definitely be cooler to ride the balloon up and parachute down. Much cooler.
      Actually, I wonder what it would cost to ride a hot air balloon to high altitude and parachute back? Like 50,000 ft or so? I am thinking of a pilot and passenger, so the balloon is flown down and re-used. Hmm, how would the free-fall times compare? Where's me slide rule?

    • by Plekto (1018050)

      Also how hard would it be to make one of these to carry a person? If Virgin Galactic is going to charge $200,000 to carry someone to the edge of space, wouldn't it be cooler to ride a balloon to space and then parachute back to earth?

      *****
      A more rational though less fancy method would be to use the balloon to carry the entire ship up and launch it from there. The fuel savings and faster acceleration might actually enable them to obtain a reasonable orbit for a few minutes or hours.

  • Prior Art (Score:2, Informative)

    by Venotar (233363)

    I was more impressed when that bunch of Catalan Highschool Students did the same thing [telegraph.co.uk]. They also had some fairly impressive photos [flickr.com] as well.

  • by dtolman (688781) <dtolman@yahoo.com> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:31PM (#31615968) Homepage

    I mean... whats the big deal here that NASA would care?

    It has its own high altitide balloon program - where they do real science - for weeks at a time - not just cool pictures for a few hours...

    http://astrophysics.gsfc.nasa.gov/balloon/ [nasa.gov]
    http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

    • by khallow (566160)

      I mean... whats the big deal here that NASA would care?

      Cost. Not every part of NASA is well funded.

  • He would have incurred LARGE costs on this one.
  • But why was NASA spend any money on this at all? They already have lots of really nice pictures from orbit pretty much any time they want them. The project, while fun, doesn't do anything new, doesn't do it any more accurately or in any greater detail. It doesn't have implications for new future launch platforms or any other new kind of science. If the balloon had be smaller and had climbed less high, he'd have been little more than a peeping tom using a camera on a kite or balloon to see into neighbo

  • but the photos are only of where the balloon landed. A better dad would have shown them how to use GPS and a timer. At least we answered the question "Where does the wind go?" http://www.ualconsulting.com/joshua-and-ari/weatherballoon.htm [ualconsulting.com]
  • FA is a troll (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GoodNicksAreTaken (1140859) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @03:52PM (#31617454)
    FA is a troll and the article likely would not have been published if it wasn't a UK news outlet and didn't include a jab at NASA. NASA funds Spacegrant Consortiums doing high altitude balloon research at several US universities. The one I worked on was very similar except we had a license amateur radio operator so we could legally use an APRS system for tracking the balloon. Back then where was no CHDK to use for a cheap Canon camera so camera was controlled by a 555 timer circuit wired to the shutter button. The highest cost was the helium when you figure in the cost of storing large tanks of compressed gas. Our system was slightly more expensive because the payload usually also contained a logging system that stored additional sensor data like temperature and pressure.

You're already carrying the sphere!

Working...