Official Launch – We did it!

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!

UPDATE:
We got some great press on Ars Technica today. Hop on over and check it out: http://svns.in/ds

UPDATE TWO:
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: http://svns.in/dt

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