It turns out that launching, losing, finding, and recovering a balloon is way easier than getting the imagery ready. Let’s find out why!
(If you see an image in this post, click it. If you regret it I’ll refund you the price of admission.)
If you’ve been following along you’ll know that the goal of this project was to achieve a world first accomplishment of fully spherical panoramic imagery of a (small) section of our planet as seen from the stratosphere. In addition to imagery I also wanted to put together a video of the whole flight. The video didn’t quite happen as I hoped. Some of the obstacles were too large to overcome using the hardware that I sent up. I’ll hopefully cover those obstacles in this post.
Where to start?
Launch 3 went off with only a few hitches. My family was in town for an early Thanksgiving celebration and I put them all to work assisting with camera labeling, lens cleaning, picture taking, and anything else I could come up with. After two years of doing it all by myself it was nice to have a some extra hands laying around.
We spent the night before the launch making sure everything was ready. As stated above, we labeled each camera. Each memory card was also labeled to correspond to the camera it went in. The cards were all formatted and the cameras were all setup to start recording video when they turned on. Batteries were charged and payload layout was finalized.
On November 3rd, 2012, 3 coworkers and I set out to launch my second balloon in preparation for the final launch. The mission for this balloon was to test some anti-fog techniques and to give my so-called ‘Sensor Pod’ a test run. We hooked up with Monroe and Stewart from Team Prometheus at a nice park in San Saba, Texas.
Launch occurred at about 1215 GMT-6 from the middle of a baseball field. Assembling the payload line, filling the balloon, and launch all went off without a hitch. (Except for the misplacement of one Leatherman tool. Sorry Stewart!)
Within a few seconds after releasing the balloon we got confirmation that the APRS packets were being picked up by the online APRS network. We then packed up and drove into town to find the public library. We hopped on their wifi and monitored the health of the balloon and made plans on how to proceed. We elected to get lunch and then start chasing it.
In order for this project to be successful I have to be able to track where the balloon lands. A bonus would be if I were able to track its position live. In pursuit of that goal I studied for and obtained an amateur radio license in March of 2012. I haven’t gotten into the ham world too much. To be honest, it feels like stepping back in time. Before IRC and instant messaging we had radio waves. There’s a lot you can do with an amateur radio license outside of ragchewing. For instance, I make use of my license by using an APRS transmitter to update my balloons’ positions in real-time. This isn’t, however, a post about APRS or balloons. In fact, it’s not even a post about amateur radio in the sense that I don’t need a license to do what I’m about to discuss.
Operation StratoSphere is the name I coined for a project I’ve been slowly working on over the last couple years. The short version is that it’s a project that will involve sending a few high altitude balloons up into the stratosphere with various payloads and configurations, eventually culminating in one final flight with a payload consisting of six HD cameras.
Somewhere in the middle of 2010 I came across a video on Vimeo that was shot using two GoPro HD cameras. The cameras were attached to a styrofoam cooler and the cooler was attached to a weather balloon. The balloon reached 80,000 feet and the cameras took beautiful HD footage of the entire trip.