Filming The Eclipse From 80,000 Feet

Watching an eclipse from the ground is pretty fun. Depending on where you live, you might even get a decent view. But what if you wanted a truly unique vantage point? You could replicate the work of [Tarik Agcayazi] and [kemfic], who set about filming the recent eclipse from an altitude of 80,000 feet.

That’s what the eclipse looks like from 80,000 feet.

The duo didn’t rent a high-performance aircraft from the US military. Instead, they relied on a high-altitude balloon carrying a glider with a camera payload. The idea was for the balloon to go up, and have the camera capture the eclipse. Then, it would be released so that it could glide back home in controlled flight. However, time constraints made that too hard. Instead, they simplified to a parachute recovery method.

The project video covers the development process, the balloon launch itself, and of course, the filming of the eclipse. High altitude balloon launches are stressful enough, but having a short eclipse as a target made everything even more difficult. But that just makes things more exciting!

The project builds on earlier work from the duo that we discussed back in 2017.

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3D Printed Axial Compressor Is On A Mission To Inflate Balloons

[Let’s Print] has been fascinated with creating a 3D printed axial compressor that can do meaningful work, and his latest iteration mixes FDM and SLA printed parts to successfully inflate (and pop) a latex glove, so that’s progress!

Originally, the unit couldn’t manage even that until he modified the number and type of fan blades on the compressor stages. There were other design challenges as well. For example, one regular issue was a coupling between the motor and the rest of the unit breaking repeatedly. At the speeds the compressor runs at, weak points tend to surface fairly quickly. That’s not stopping [Let’s Print], however. He plans to explore other compressor designs in his quest for an effective unit.

Attaching motor shafts to 3D printed devices can be tricky, and in the past we’ve seen a clever solution that is worth keeping in mind: half of a spider coupling (or jaw coupling) can be an economical and effective way to attach 3D printed things to a shaft.

While blowing up a regular party balloon is still asking too much of [Let’s Print]’s compressor as it stands, it certainly inflates (and pops) a latex glove like nobody’s business.

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Parachute Drops Are Still A Viable Solution For Data Recovery From High Altitude Missions

Once upon a time, when the earliest spy satellites were developed, there wasn’t an easy way to send high-quality image data over the air. The satellites would capture images on film and dump out cartridges back to earth with parachutes that would be recovered by military planes.

It all sounds so archaic, so Rube Goldberg, so 1957. And yet, it’s still a viable method for recovering big globs of data from high altitude missions today. Really, you ask? Oh, yes indeed—why, NASA’s gotten back into the habit just recently!

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Balloon To Fly During Solar Eclipse

The Great American Eclipse was a solar eclipse that passed nearly the entire continental United States back in 2017. While it might sound like a once-in-a-lifetime event to experience a total solar eclipse, the stars have aligned to bring another total solar eclipse to North America although with a slightly different path stretching from the west coast of Mexico and ending off the cost of Newfoundland in Canada. Plenty of people near the path of totality have already made plans to view the event, but [Stephen] and a team of volunteers have done a little bit of extra preparation and plan to launch a high-altitude balloon during the event.

The unmanned balloon will primarily be carrying a solar telescope with the required systems onboard to stream its images live during its flight. The balloon will make its way to the stratosphere, hopefully above any clouds that are common in New Brunswick during the early spring, flying up to 30,000 meters before returning its payload safely to Earth. The telescope will return magnified images of the solar eclipse live to viewers on the ground and has been in development for over two years at this point. The team believes it to be the first time a non-governmental organization has imaged an eclipse by balloon.

For those who have never experienced a total solar eclipse before, it’s definitely something worth traveling for if you’re not already in its path. For this one, Canadians will need to find themselves in the Maritimes or Newfoundland or head south to the eastern half of the United States with the Americans, while anyone in Mexico needs to be in the central part of the mainland. Eclipses happen in places other than North America too, and are generally rare enough that you’ll hear about a total eclipse well in advance. There’s more to eclipses than watching the moon’s shadow pass by, though. NASA expects changes in the ionosphere and is asking ham radio operators for help for the 2024 eclipse.

Balloon-Eye View Via Ham Radio

If you’ve ever thought about launching a high-altitude balloon, there’s much to consider. One of the things is how do you stream video down so that you — and others — can enjoy the fruits of your labor? You’ll find advice on that and more in a recent post from [scd31]. You’ll at least enjoy the real-time video recorded from the launch that you can see below.

The video is encoded with a Raspberry Pi 4 using H264. The MPEG-TS stream feeds down using 70 cm ham radio gear. If you are interested in this sort of thing, software, including flight and ground code, is on the Internet. There is software for the Pi, an STM32, plus the packages you’ll need for the ground side.

We love high-altitude balloons here at Hackaday. San Francisco High Altitude Ballooning (SF-HAB) launched a pair during last year’s Supercon, which attendees were able to track online. We don’t suggest you try to put a crew onboard, but there’s a long and dangerous history of people who did.

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Networking With Balloons

Starlink has been making tremendous progress towards providing world-wide access to broadband Internet access, but there are a number of downsides to satellite-based internet such as the cluttering of low-Earth orbit, high expense, and moodiness of CEO. There are some alternatives if standard Internet access isn’t available, and one of the more ambitious is providing Internet access by balloon. Project Loon is perhaps the most famous of these (although now defunct), but it’s also possible to skip the middleman and build your own high-altitude balloon capable of connection speeds of 500 Kbps.

[Stephen] has been working on this project for a few months and while it doesn’t support a full Internet connection, the downlink on the high altitude balloon is fast enough to send high-resolution images in near-real-time. This is thanks to a Raspberry Pi Zero on board the balloon that is paired with an STM32 board which handles the radio communication on a RF4463 transceiver module. The STM32 acts as an intermediary or buffer to ensure reliable information is sent out on the radio, rather than using the Pi directly. [Stephen] also wrote a large chunk of the software responsible for handling all of these interactions, optimized for balloon flight specifically.

The blog post for this project was written a few weeks ago with a reported first launch date for the system already passed, so we will eagerly anticipate the results and the images he was able to gather using this system. Eventually [Stephen] hopes the downlink will be fast enough for video as well.Balloons are an underappreciated tool as well, and this isn’t the only way that they can be used to help send radio signals from place to place.

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Hackaday Links: May 21, 2023

The reports of the death of automotive AM radio may have been greatly exaggerated. Regular readers will recall us harping on the issue of automakers planning to exclude AM from the infotainment systems in their latest offerings, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense given the reach of AM radio and its importance in public emergencies. US lawmakers apparently agree with that position, having now introduced a bipartisan bill to require AM radios in cars. The “AM for Every Vehicle Act” will direct the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to draw up regulations requiring every vehicle operating on US highways to be able to receive AM broadcasts without additional fees or subscriptions. That last bit is clever, since it prevents automakers from charging monthly fees as they do for heated seats and other niceties. It’s just a bill now, of course, and stands about as much chance of becoming law as anything else that makes sense does, so we’re not holding our breath on this one. But at least someone recognizes that AM radio still has a valid use case.

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