Archive for September, 2010

Official Launch – We did it!

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Wow. What a day it was. Not only did we launch a 12′ 3000gram Weather balloon in 25+ mph winds (stupid move on our part, BTW), we got some AMAZING images/videos from low orbit space. Our guesstimation based on what data we DID get from the handheld GPS providing altitude combined with what we know of the rise/lift in the upper atmosphere when there’s no wind present to alter our ascent, is we topped out somewhere between 95,000-105,000 feet. So that was our goal and we are confident we accomplished it.

So how did it all go down, you may ask… well, let me recap the day, starting with prep.

11:15am – Arrive at Sodbusters field. Winds are insane and we second guess ourselves, but decide to go forth.

11:30am – We set up at the far end of the field due to concerns with the wind blowing us right into the power lines.

11:45am – Our balloon has popped off the filling nozzle at least three times now and there are 6-7 people attempting to keep the balloon from:
A) blowing away as its become a giant sail in the wind,
B) tearing at the base, again from the sheer force of the wind,
C) prevent the balloon from flopping against any sharp surfaces in the are (ie: box corners, scissors, zip ties, dogs, sticks and grass.

12:05pm – The balloon is full to appropriate lift capacity, payload is ready for takeoff… now we wait for a slight break in the wind so we can get some height before the power lines.

12:15pm – We catch our break and let the guy fly.

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So, at that point we were on our way. We stood around and chatted, cleaned up a bit, etc. Then we hit the road. Considering the change in Jet Stream we didn’t want to get TOO far out again, so we stopped at that familiar Perkins in Menomonie, WI to wait it out.

Just as we were getting the check, low and behold, the lil’ guy showed up on our radar and we were on the chase again. This time it was due east of Eau Claire, and as we discovered, nearly 3/4 mile out from the road, in the thick woods.

After one rejection from a woman who did NOT want us anywhere near her property, we found another home, who’s owner was not around, but who’s buddy happened to see us and offered to take us as far back as his “deer stand” about a half mile back on the property.

After about a good 45 mins of trucking through the woods, we finally found the guy and managed to make our way back out. Once we got back to the office, though, we discovered how fortunate we’d been. The balloon had snagged in a tree on the way down, and judging by the pictures from the iPhones running Time Lapse, we were stuck up there for about 20-30 mins before the wind pulled it down to the ground, where we so thankfully discovered it. Talk about a lucky break.

So, now why was it more successful this time over the last? Well, we think a few key things made a big difference.

1. The larger ballon was a HUGE factor. Granted it was a near hellish experience trying to fill the thing in the wind today, but it made a big difference in the height we were able to achieve.

2. The addition of the SharkFinTail™ device really helped keep the payload spin factor to a minimum.

3. The addition of the desiccant packets clearly worked. We did get a little fog on the Flip Cam side for only a few minutes shortly after coming out of the clouds and hitting the higher altitudes. But once the desiccants starting kicking in, it was a clear shot of the deep dark space.

4. Lastly, the addition of the filling hose system coupled with the water jug just slightly heavier than our payload to indicate when the balloon had enough helium to achieve desired lift was another stroke of brilliant research on our part. Made the concept of “overfilling” pretty much non-existent.

And what would be do differently, you may ask? Well, as with any project, there’s always a million things you’d have done differently if you could do it again (and you KNOW we’ll do it again).

1. We would’ve called it off for today and done it tomorrow. We’re damned lucky those winds didn’t tear our balloon or cause just enough damage to the balloon to shorten the flight. Additionally the clouds made the “downward” facing cam pretty pointless. We got some blurry shots of us as it went up, but everything after that is just clouds… pretty uninspiring.

2. We wouldn’t have forgotten to put the flashing light beacons on. We realized about 5 minutes after launch we’d forgotten those. We got lucky we spotted the thing when/where we did. It could’ve easily been nested in the thick brush we walked through plenty of to get there, and that beacon would’ve saved us.

So anyway… enough babbling on about what we learned, blah blah blah… lets get to the good stuff. PICTURES AND VIDEOS!

First, some great video from the Flip cam of a bit of the ascent, the upper atmosphere and the balloon burst.

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And lastly, all the best pics from the flight (which are also available on Flickr)

So there it is. A successful launch of a low-orbit space probe capturing images and tracking location all done with mobile technology.

Thanks again to everyone involved and all who’ve so eagerly followed and written about our adventures. We couldn’t have done any of this without you all!

We got some great press on Ars Technica today. Hop on over and check it out:

Our good buddy Chris Swenke over at Enjoy Collisions was on hand launch day and snapped some great shots of the event. Check ’em out over here:

Today is the Day

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Today is the official launch of the Yavin IV Low Orbit Space Exploration project. We’ve got as many of the kinks worked out as we can expect and we’re set to go higher than we’ve gone before! The jet stream has changed so we’ll be heading north of Eau Claire this time, but we’re expecting great results.

Check in later for more updates!

Official Launch – September 24th

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Gearing up for our official, real, final, whatever you want to call it, LAUNCH on Friday, September 24th from Sodbusters RC Airfield in Lake Elmo, MN.

Again, the details are as follows:
Launch Date: Friday, September 24th
Launch Time: 11:30am CST for Balloon/Payload Prep, 12:00pm CST for Let Go
Launch Location: Sodbusters RC Airfield, Lake Elmo, MN
Estimated Recovery Time: 3:00-4:00pm CST
Estimated Recovery Location: Southeast of Eau Claire, WI

Anyone and Everyone is invited to come watch the launch. We’re excited as all get out!

Test #1 – What we got, what we learned

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Today was out first un-tethered, “REAL” test run of the Yavin IV Low Orbit Space Exploration project. Everything went off without a hitch, we were up and flying by 12:10pm CST and our fear of losing our payload was squelched when we received contact from our device at approximately 1:42pm CST.

We went up and down in just under two hours, as per our estimates. Our destination couldn’t have been any closer to our estimates as well. We landed just southeast of Eau Claire (seen here: in a small rural residential neighborhood. We quickly found our payload about 15 feet off the east side of a lovely home’s driveway nestled about 5 feet into the woods. We were easily within 30 feet of landing on their roof (yikes)!

So from start to finish things went as well as to be expected. We didn’t get as high as we’d liked, we had some fog on the plexiglass sealing the holes we’d cut for the cameras, but we have solutions for all of that going into next week’s official launch.

So, here’s what we got and here’s what we learned.

– Some pretty good photos, not great (we didn’t send up the GOOD cameras this time anyway), despite the fog:

– Some pretty good video from the flip cam:
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– We got some great media coverage:
Pioneer Press:
Your Tech Weblog:
TPT Almanac:

– We over-inflated our balloon. We need to decrease the amount of helium we fill into the balloon to ensure it flies higher before bursting.

– We need to seal the top of the cooler after loading the gear and prior to launch. The fog we saw on the plexi was due to an issue of the hand warmers inside and the cooler air seeping in. We’ll get better photos if we seal the lid tighter.

– We need to try and find a way to reduce the amount of spinning. Our parachute lines were all twisted and a majority of the video is high pace spin… enough to make you nauseous.

– We need to make the view holes larger to avoid any “cropping” if that cameras shift at all due to abrupt wind changes, etc.

– Our GPS solution worked perfectly. Our biggest fear was that relying on cell signal and an app would yield shotty results. However, we were pleasantly surprised that it worked without a hitch.

– Our estimation of travel time and distance were dead one. We will however need to take into consideration that the next payload SHOULD travel higher, which will of course alter both time and distance.

So that’s what we got out of this. We couldn’t have asked for a better test run… aside from maybe not such an overcast day. Outside of that, perfect!

See you next Friday for the second launch in the Yavin IV experiment.

Launching Today, Press Coverage

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Not only is our first “real” launch today, but we’ve managed to garner the attention of the local Not only did we make the cut, but we made the FRONT PAGE! Wow, we’re quite honored.

Everyone go check it out!

Test #1 – Sept 17th

Monday, September 13th, 2010

As the supplies roll in one UPS visit at a time, Friday’s test launch grows nearer and nearer. This test is simply to evaluate the Droid Eris GPS tracking capabilities (and Verizon’s claim of amazing coverage even in central Wisconsin) and will be launched from the Sodbusters RC field in Lake Elmo, MN.

So this Friday, September 17th, we’ll be sending up our first payload carrying a Droid Eris for GPS tracking and an iPhone 3Gs for photos, since we’re going up un-tethered we might as well snap some shots, right?

Our kit will consist of one 8′ weather balloon, one 4′ high-altitude recovery parachute (for the ride back down), one Playmate Mini Cooler, one Knog Boomer LED Bike light (as a tracking beacon in case it gets darker out), one Grabber™ Sleeping Bag warmer, one Droid Eris for GPS tracking via Loopt and one iPhone 3Gs to take photos via Time Lapse.

So, check back this weekend for (fingers crossed) photos of the trip up/down as well as a full report of the days activities. You can also follow @Yavin_IV on Twitter for Real Time updates from the launch.