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A story of the electronics and logistics of launching a high altitude balloon.
Let me jump to the punch line: As much as it pains me to say it, we lost the balloon and payload.
There's a box of electronics sitting out there in eastern Colorado right now. But document your failures, right? So here is a tutorial to show you what I learned from a painful adventure. But if you happen to come across a styrofoam box full of 'SparkFun' marked electronics (with 'Nathan Seidle' and a phone number printed on it), please shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I will become your new best friend.
This is the story of a balloon, a parachute, and a box full of electronics.
The following files are open source design files and firmware available free of charge. If you use them in your own project, let us know! We'd love to hear about your project or adventure.
Why would someone want to do this? Because it's a dream of mine to send something up really high, take some readings, some pictures, maybe some video, and come back down. What does it look like at 100,000ft? Sure, we've all seen NASA photos, and weather photos. Shoot, google maps is the encapsulation of looking down. But those photos seem surreal. I want to take my own.
But in failure, steal other people's work! Because my balloon was lost, I asked David Stillman (IT guru here at SparkFun) to use some photos and video from his launch a few weeks before my unsuccessful launch. Check that out! That's space! He got a box of electronics to the edge of space and captured a photo (actually many).
Who wouldn't want to do something like this? (Ok, maybe lots of people) When I was a student at CU, all the aerospace kids got to do balloon satellite projects. Us Electrical Engineering majors got to do nothing of the sort. Ever since college, I've wanted to launch my own balloon and payload. But I assumed it required lots of permits, expensive tools and tracking gear, and was limited to the domain of research. I believed this until one of the IT guys at SparkFun (StillDavid) walked into my office and started asking me questions about how GPS units perform above 50,000ft. "Why do you need a GPS lock above 50,000ft?" I asked. High altitude balloons was his side project. After talking for a few minutes, I discovered that amateurs could launch their own balloons with a little work. And I was hooked.
So that's the idea, build a payload with a lot of sensor, get a camera taking a bunch of pictures, include a GPS with transmitter for location and tracking, fill up a balloon, and release! Sound easy? It is, it just takes a lot of time and learning. This turned into such a large tutorial, we've broken it up into HAB chapters.