Play-by-play Of A High Altitude Balloon Flight

[Greg Intermaggio] and [Shumit DasGupta] at Techsplosion launched a high altitude balloon last week that climbed to 90,000 feet above sea level somewhere over California. The play-by-play of the flight is one of the better stories we’ve seen on high altitude balloon builds.

The balloon, christened VGER-1, carried a SPOT satellite GPS messanger to send telemetry back to the ground. We’ve seen a few home brew balloon tracking devices, but [Greg] decided to use an off-the-shelf solution for the sake of simplicity. Like other balloons the VGER-1 carried a CanonPowershot camera with CHDK firmware.

The ground track of the balloon shows it being launched west of the San Francisco bay, going above the 60,000 foot limit of commercial GPS units about 15 miles South of Sacramento, and eventually landing just off Interstate 80 a few miles from Lake Tahoe. It’s great that the guys found an easy commercial solution to the tracking problem (that doesn’t risk a smart phone), but if we did this, we’d predict the balloon’s trajectory before launch.

[Greg] put up an album of some of the best pictures taken by his balloon. If you’re in the Bay Area this weekend, [Greg] and [Shumit] will be organizing a group launch of high-altitude balloons. Seems like a really great way to spend a Saturday if you ask us.

16 thoughts on “Play-by-play Of A High Altitude Balloon Flight

  1. Good read but I don’t see any of the build info. Is the camera just set to time lapse? Does the SPOT just send out data continuously?

    I just looked at the CHDK firmware last night for doing some long exposure shots. The CHDK can do up to 64 second exposure.

    1. The camera is set to take pictures every 10 seconds, and the SPOT is set to ‘tracking’, which gets it’s location from GPS satellites and relays it on commercial satellites to a website every 10 minutes. We went with the SPOT because we figured the extra investment was worth it if we landed outside of cell-phone range.

  2. I read the title as “Play-by-play of a high altitude baboon fight” the first time and was expecting something really awesome.

    Also, the SPOT seems like a downgrade over a smartphone in almost every way. It retails for $169.99, and I can get a replacement for my phone if it’s lost for $75, so It seems like getting insurance on your smartphone is the cheaper way to go.

  3. They need to put a radio beacon in their future payloads, could help with homing in on it’s positions when it lands. Would be nice to see more details, and photos of the build.

  4. I came up with a variant of this using a solar powered Lifter.

    Launch it at say 60K feet, having used an optimised setup with larger air gap to exploit the high altitude.

    Small gas canister to provide ions, maybe also use a supply of potassium sodium tartrate in liquid form dispensed from a small fogger unit onto the corona wires to give it a bit of a boost.

    Same idea as the flame triode, see?

    Ought to get near space, then use an ion engine based on xenon and a charged induction plate as it should be very lightweight, to get it the rest of the way.

    Sound plausible?

  5. The free SDM software (branched-off from a very early version of CHDK) now has a complete balloon-mission script included and tested on a flight from Las Vegas two weeks ago.

    Just press the button and go !

    Greg was also testing the script that captured high shutter-speed images, movies and computation of brightness level that took into account large areas of black space or views that included the sun.

  6. My friends and I did a launch over the 4th of July using a SPOT and a GOPRO camera.

    We had a problem with our SPOT, though, where it turned off after going above the altitude limit and didn’t turn back on on the way back down. Slight damage to the buttons makes us think that the high speed spin on the way down (4.25 rot/sec) shook the SPOT loose and ran it into other components in the case.

    A farmer found our payload and kindly called the number on the case, or we’d still be wondering where it all went.

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