High Altitude Linux Weather Balloon

weather balloon

“i found it in my cow pasture, buried in the snow. i was riding my 4 wheeler.”  that’s what the postcard said when it returned to me after i sent it up with a helium balloon a couple weeks ago.  it traveled roughly 100 miles.

but i digress.

james meehan’s story began quite similarly, but he decided to take his balloon fascination to a much more fascinating and hackerly level.  follow the link to read about how he designed and constructed his linux powered weather balloon, complete with gps, packet radio uplink, and video camera.  he says it’s the coolest thing he’s ever done.  i can’t really vouch for what else he’s done, but this project is pretty darn cool.

when you’ve finished marvelling at this hack, make sure to also check out the home brew, high altitude glider we wrote about a while back.  i love this high altitude mischief.  if you know of similar projects, send ’em in!

15 thoughts on “High Altitude Linux Weather Balloon

  1. Dude, what a way to make the bay proud. I’m from Fremont (it borders Newark), moved to San Jose, and now reside at Berkeley, and its really cool to see something like this from a local. Thats some guts launching a balloon in the bay area… had the wind not been that strong, it could have ended up on some highway, or worse, in the ocean. But man… from Newark to what sounds like Los Banos… thats a hell of a flight and an rather windy drive trying to follow it. Good Job!

  2. This was one of best stories I have read on your site. Really interesting and informative. Makes me wish I was motivated enough to do something like that. Also, to be unemployed at the time, dude sure spent a lot of money on this experiment.

  3. Very cool project. Either he has mad bank or unemployment in CA is way better than in NH. Being “partially employed” and working on my own wireless embedded Linux project, this one hit home. I give him props for having the cahones to let that much money in equipment float away in a balloon.

  4. Where I live (Alaska), this sort of project wouldn’t work very well because the balloon would most likey drift off into the middle of God-knows-where, and one would probably need to take a weeks-long off-road trip to get it back. It seems strange to me that somebody would even have the ability to drive most of the way like that, because we only have maybe six major (two-to-four lane) highways if that, and our largest city (Anchorage) only has a few hundred thousand residents.

    I guess this means that the lower 48 has waay more roads than Alaska does. I need to get out more…after college. :)

  5. I am not much of a genius when it comes to building things, but I wonder if someone could build a small blimp to transmit wifi, or even spy on unprotected wifi networks or even bluetooth,
    the blimp could be based on much the same ideas as this ballon except be controllable as to position, perhaps even a glider or helicopter!

  6. This is a very cool project. I hope to do something like that some time. If I eliminate the imaging part I’ll bet the payload can be made at a cost well below $100. The most expensive component would be the GPS module, everything else can be programmed on a micro and used with prebuilt cheap RF modules with an amp. At this price it’s easier to make a disposable payload. It sure will lend on somebody’s back yard here on the east coast (with a possible lawsuit followed).

  7. Dang it, please don’t launch these balloons in major metropolitan areas. not only is it illegal, but unsafe to airplanes. i’m a professional pilot, and if one of these balloons gets sucked into my engine, that engine is toast. i know that hacking includes doing some illegal things but i also know hackers don’t do things that are dangerous to other people. thanks guys.

  8. fod better get your facts straight. not only launching baloons with less than 6 lbs payload legal, it doesn’t even required to file the launch with FAA. There has not been a single incident of an airplane colliding with a baloon ever. If you are afraid of what essentially is an oversized condom may be you should stay on the ground.

  9. Groups have been doing similar flights for quite some time now, 15 years anyway. In the early 80’s is the first I monitored telementry from a http://www.eoss.org/ flight. http://www.k-state.edu/humec/knsp/knsp.htm is a page of Kansasans diung flights. Groups in OK and TX are lauching flights. While there is always risk, I never heard of any near misses during flight and I have read of only one “near miss” at landing. Landing close enough that a rider on horse back observed it

  10. REPLY TO “Dang it, please don’t launch these balloons in major metropolitan areas. not only is it illegal, but unsafe to airplanes…”
    Illegal? like hell it is! As long as you don’t exceed the maximum payload weight in your country, then it doesn’t even need to be reported b4 flight. That is like saying it is illegal to fly a kite or a R/C airplane. Read your FAA codebook again for us buddy.

    Unsafe to airplanes? ummm ya.. and how many of them have you hit in your “professional” flight career?
    In fact, according to an MIT study, the risk of a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle such as a weather balloon being hit by a jetliner is on the order of 1 in 1 billion per UAV flight hour. The risk to light aircraft, in a relatively busy area such as the Fraser Valley, is higher, but can be made easily below the risk light aircraft pose to each other, so watch out for you neighbor Joe in the airplane beside ya instead of worrying about a 15ft wide balloon.

    Hackers don’t risk people’s lives? What kind of hackers are we talking about here? are you saying if a professional hacker could hack into NASA’s mainframe and they had the option to click YES or NO to launching the spaceship 1 hour ahead of schedule, that they wouldn’t do it? hmmmm you must know some very nice people!

    Have a good day and WATCH OUT for the weather balloons! oooo scary!

  11. drivers risk peoples lives too… even the most skilled driver could kill a pedestrian by accident.. like the types of hackers who would launch the space craft one hour early, there are drivers that risk peoples lives by driving drunk or speeding or both. so its true hackers risk peoples lives, but so do drivers…

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