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.
The second of three major solar eclipses in a mere six-year period swept across the United States last week. We managed to catch the first one back in 2017, and still have plans for the next one in April of 2024. But we gave this one a miss, mainly because it was “just” an annular eclipse, promising a less spectacular presentation than a total eclipse.
Looks like we were wrong about that, at least judging by photographs of last week’s “Ring of Fire” eclipse. NASA managed to catch a shot of the Moon’s shadow over the middle of the US from the Deep Space Climate Observer at Lagrange Point 1. The image, which shows both the compact central umbra of the shadow and the much larger penumbra, which covers almost the entire continent, is equal parts fascinating and terrifying. Ground-based photographers were very much in the action too, turning in some lovely shots of the eclipse. We particularly like this “one-in-a-million” shot of a jet airliner photobombing the developing eclipse. Shots like these make us feel like it was a mistake to skip the 10-hour drive to the path of annularity.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: October 22, 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.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: May 21, 2023”
Every now and again we stumble across something a bit unexpected, and today that’s the fact that there have been quite a few efforts at launching paper planes from as close to space as possible. The current record for the highest paper plane launch is a whopping altitude of 35,043 meters.
That altitude is considerably short of what would be called “space”, but it’s still an awfully long way up and the air there is very thin compared to on the surface. Space is generally (but not universally) considered to be beyond 100 km above sea level, a human-chosen boundary known as the Kármán line. 35 km is a long ways into the stratosphere, but still within Earth’s atmosphere.
Even so, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been efforts to go considerably higher. There was a Japanese proposal to drop airplanes made from special heat-resistant paper from the International Space Station, roughly 400 km above Earth. Success would show that low-speed, low-friction atmospheric reentry is feasible — for pieces of paper, anyway. But one of the challenges is the fact that there is no practical way to track such objects on their way down, and therefore no way to determine where or when they would eventually land.
There have been many other high-altitude paper plane launches, but the current record of 35,043 meters was accomplished by David Green in the United Kingdom as part of a school project. Such altitudes are in the realm of things like weather balloons, and therefore certainly within the reach of hobbyists.
As for the airplanes themselves, the basic design pictured here probably won’t cut it, so why not brush up on designs with the Paper Airplane Design Database? Even if you don’t send them into the stratosphere (or higher), you might find something worth putting through a DIY wind tunnel to see how they perform.
Some of the biggest names in technology have offered their help in rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. The newest name on the list? The X division of Alphabet, who want to help fill the huge communications gap using Project Loon, their high-altitude balloon network. It looks like X is going to get their wish, as they have just been granted license from the FCC to deploy LTE cell coverage to both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The plan is to launch 30 balloons that will act as a network of floating cell towers to radiate an LTE signal originating from the ground. This coverage would be a great boon to a devastated communications infrastructure, but it won’t be a cakewalk to implement. Some handsets of both major persuasions will require a temporary over-the-air update before they can use Project Loon’s network. For phones that can’t operate on Band 8, it won’t work at all. Even so, it’s a great start.
Now you would think that an emergency communications restoration plan like this would be met by all parties with open arms and a circle of pats on the back, but this solution requires a lot of cooperation. One of the major hurdles was to secure spectrum rights from some if not all of the incumbent wireless carriers. Miraculously, eight of them have agreed to hand over their bandwidth. Another issue is that the FCC license is only good for six months, although they would probably entertain an extension given the circumstances. Finally, the dual ownership of the Virgin Islands makes the situation even more complicated, as X must agree not to infringe upon the wireless coverage footprint of the British Virgin Islands.
Signals Intelligence (SigInt) isn’t something that you normally associate with home hackers, but the Deep Sweep project is looking to change that: it is a balloon platform that captures radio signals in the stratosphere, particularly conversations between drones and satellites. Created by three students at the Frank Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie-Mellon, Deep Sweep is a platform that is attached to a balloon and which captures signals over a wide range of frequencies, logging them for later analysis. The current version captures data on three frequency bands: LF/HF (10KHz-30KHz), UHF (650 – 1650MHz) and SHF (10-20GHz). The latter are often the bands used for satellite links between drones and satellites. They are difficult to intercept from the ground, as the signals are directed upwards towards the satellite. By creating a platform that can fly several kilometers above the earth, they are hoping to be able to capture some of this elusive traffic.
So far, the team has made two flights in Europe, both of which encountered technical issues. The first had a battery fault and only captured 10 minutes of data, and the second flew further than expected and ended up in Belarus, a country that isn’t likely to welcome this kind of thing. Fortunately, they were able to recover the balloon and are working on future launches in Europe and the USA. It will be interesting to see how the Department of Homeland Security feels about this.
It’s always exciting to see the photos from High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) outings. While it’s no surprise that the Raspi is a popular choice—low cost, convenient USB jacks, etc.—this is the first build we’ve seen that uses an OLED during the trip to show real-time data on-screen to be picked up by the on-board webcam. (Though you may have to squint to see it at the bottom middle of the above image).
[Fabrice’s] payload made it to 26,000m, and the screen he chose, an ILSOFT OLED, performed admirably despite the extreme conditions suffered (temperatures can reach -50C). The last time we saw a near-space Raspi payload was a couple of years ago, when [Dave Akerman] was closing in on UK balloon altitude records. [Dave] hasn’t stopped launching balloons, either, testing new trackers and radio modules, as well as his most recent build that sent a Superman action figure to the skies—all recorded in glorious HD.
Check out both [Dave] and [Fabrice’s] blogs for loads of pictures documenting the latest in High Altitude Ballooning, and stay with us after the jump for a quick video of [Fabrice’s] OLED in action.
Continue reading “Throwing Pis Into The Stratosphere”