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Welcome to — Project Icarus, home of the original $150 near-space launch!

UPDATE: 8/7/10  We have created a forum.  If you have questions, comments, or just want to show your near-space launch, post HERE!

UPDATE: 5/12/10 Check out!  We’re helping citizens to use balloons, kites, and other simple and inexpensive tools to produce their own aerial imagery of the spill… documentation that will be essential for environmental and legal use in coming years.

UPDATE: 10/30/09:  Want to do it yourself? Visit GUIDE, a compilation of detailed information regarding what we did for our launch.

Click Here for archive of updates

1337arts Space

***CAUTION/DISCLAIMER: Launching things into the stratosphere can be DANGEROUS! Please contact the FAA before trying any launches (even if they are under 4 lbs.) to make sure your vehicle won’t be entering restricted airspace and PLEASE check the University of Wyoming’sBalloon Trajectory Predictor(or a similar website) to make sure you balloon won’t be landing in the city/a populated area where it might cause significant damage. Also, be sure to test your balloon’s terminal velocity for descent before launching. We tested our parachute by putting eggs inside of our styrofoam box and tossing the box off of a 5 story building. We were not satisfied with the landing speed of our box until the eggs did not break upon the box’s impact.

About Project Icarus

We are a group of MIT students seeking to share the artistic aspects of science with others. On Sept. 2, 2009, we launched a digital camera into near-space to take photographs of the earth from high up above. (see “Flight”)

Several groups have accomplished similar feats (see “Other Launches”), but as far we know, we are the first group ever to:

(1) Complete such a launch on a budget of $150 total. All of our supplies (including camera, GPS tracking, weather balloon, and helium) were purchased for less than a grand total of $150.

(2) Create a launch vehicle without the use of any electronic hacking. We used off-the-shelf items exclusively (i.e., no electronic chips or soldering) to create our launch vehicle.

The results were fantastic. Our ultra low-budget balloon went 17.5 miles high into the uppermost parts of the stratosphere and returned 5 hours later.  We tracked the device with GPS and found it some 20 miles away from the launch site.

Check us out on CNN, FOX, ABC! Click here to watch the Fox video, Click here to watch the CNN video.  Click here to watch the ABC video

Project Icarus Details:
WhoOliver Yeh Justin LeeEric Newton
Launch Date/TimeSeptember 2nd, 2009, 11:45 EST
Launch LocationSturbridge, MA - 42.12074, -72.06233
Impact LocationWorcester, MA - 42.25504, -71.71943
Distance Traveled~20 miles
Altitude Achieved98,000 feet, 17.5 miles
Helium Used~65 cubic feet
Weight~800g, 28oz
CameraCanon A470 /w chdk open source firmware
Batteries4 Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA Batteries
GPS RecieverMotorola i290 Prepaid Cellphone (“Boost Mobile”)
Tracking SoftwareAccutrackingInstamapper
Flight pathGoogle Earth kml
FAA regulationLegal as long as payload is under 4 pounds

**Below is a video for people who cannot access Youtube (e.g., people in China)

Timelapse on Vimeo.

1,589 comments to Project Icarus

  • Dave

    This is an amazing feat. Great pictures, too (POTN).

    One question, though…. you don’t list an ATC transponder. Did you coordinate the launch and recovery through Air Traffic Control?

  • Patrick

    Fantastic work!
    One question, how did you go about getting the helium? was it hard to source ,expensive to buy?

  • Tom

    Here’s a student group that launches weather balloons with all the proper clearances:

    It is especially interesting to note that the space shuttle was in orbit at the time of the balloon launch. Even though their flight path is usually at a lower latitude than the balloon, it would be bad if the shuttle ran into it.

    • Tom2

      Tom (the first one): The balloon only went to 18 Miles altitude. The Shuttle flies at 300Km altitude. I doubt there is any chance of a collision even if the balloon was flown at a low latitudes. FAA clearance depends on the class of airspace. If you went to the student website, you would have found that their airspace was pre-cleared for weather balloons with up to a 4 pound payload. The Texas students are obviously in different airspace.

      • Tom

        Sorry about my worries, I’m glad it was okay and I consider myself educated now. (I posted before Andy so I didn’t see his link.) And yes, it would only have been during a shuttle re-entry that it would even be remotely relevant.

        Very cool project! I know a lot of people who send up balloons like this but not with off-the-shelf payloads. Can’t wait for detailed instructions!

  • Steve

    Congratulations, guys! If more people saw earth from space, humanity’s perspectives would be more in-line with each other.


    “The line between art and engineering exists only in our minds.” — Theo Jansen
    Two Tons, wind animated:

  • Steve

    Congratulations, guys! If more people saw earth from space, humanity’s perspectives would be more in-line with each other.


    “The line between art and engineering exists only in our minds.” — Theo Jansen
    Two Tons, wind animated:

    (adding email; your duplicate detection bits could just update the header fields!)

  • Fantastic job guys! That took some great thinking, a little bit of ingenuity and a lot of heart. A great inspiration!

  • Hey guys, found you via Slashdot, just wanted to congratulate you, I think this is awesome! I used to write my name/address on those little mylar/party balloons and let them go. Received a couple of them back in the mail! Some of them had quite a journey.

  • Jon

    I would love to see detailed assembly instructions for someone like me who does not have EE experience, but would like to repeat your experiment. If you could email these or post them (with particular emphasis on the programming of the camera and cell phone), I would be very excited to invest the ~150USD to try this myself. Any details you can offer on the construction, programming and final assembly (lots of pictures, please!) would be appreciated.


  • Kevin McEntee

    Do weather balloons always pop at high altitudes? I’m wonder how certain you are that the descent will be ‘same day’.

  • James

    Kevin, the decrease in surrounding pressure will cause the balloon to expand, popping it once this becomes too great for the strength of the material.

  • Zane

    Great job! ! Have you considered using a hydrogen filled balloon? While it is a little dangerous, as long as you don’t start smoking a cigarette while inflating, you should be okay. We fill hydrogen balloons alot for chemistry magic shows. Do you know what altitude you might expect using the same setup but with hydrogen instead of helium?

  • Kevin McEntee

    What was the estimated velocity as it neared the ground? How did the you measure the threat of injury to bystanders upon impact?

  • QuentinC

    Kevin McEntee – There photo and descriptions show there was a parachute. It’s trivial to test a parachute near the ground to ensure that it descends at a safely slow speed. There was little threat of injury… particularly because there’s a lot of empty land on a continent. Get outside more often.

  • German Guy

    Hello, I found your story by reading slashdot. I want to congratulate you with your great achievement. Keep on going. How did the camera and the other equipment survive the trip? Did you have to wait for some specific weather conditions to start the action?

    Best regards
    from Germany

  • Morons! Great job at putting the public on the ground and in planes at risk so that you could have some childish science experiment. I hope you kids are not allowed to graduate and that you do not get jobs in the real world. I would hate to see what kind of havoc you moronic kids would cause if you were allowed to run free in the real world.

    How much pot were you little punks smoking when you came up with this idea

    • Tom2

      You obviously got up on the wrong side of the bed this evening. We are talking a 3 ft balloon. There is a lot more space up there than you realize. This is exactly the types of experiments that students should be running. I wish my students were as enterprising.

    • aussie

      you really are the Moron.
      Aside from the statictical possibility of “how likely would it be for any aircraft to hit this (tiny piece of latex and plastic)”
      Have you considered that not that many aircraft fly at this height; and that any that did would easily suck up and spit it out… (they actually test this!)
      have you considered that their experiment it is close to (if not smaller) than a bird… that fly in formation.. both horisontally AND vertically.
      Do you seriously consider that aircraft should be grounded because pelicans can fly?!
      Sheesh.. pull your head in..
      Its because of people like this – we have an internet that allow people like you to publish your dribble.

      • Lanc

        Thanks for expressing your mental capabilities. Aussie…
        The state of Mas. is a very high traffic area for aircraft. Flyover East West arrivals and departures for Boston, New York, New Jersey. 1000+ flights a day visit that airspace. As for planes dont fly that high.. well the first 7 miles going up and the last 7 miles going down are in traffic altitudes. As for testing metal through an engine.. Thats why engines get replaced long before their service life. Rocks, sticks debris off the ground. BTW..They test hail, water and birds, none of which are as strong as a camera.

        • swampthing

          Yes, yes! And it landed on me head! There I was, just a-walkin’ and mindin’ me own business and DONK! Soze I put down me bong and called out sick to work, blamin’ the camera fallin’ from space, but they fired me anyways. And those brutes, they left me in the filed a-bleedin’ and a-jobless, and they didn’t even have the decency to duct tape me bong, and they runs aways with their prety pictures! A crime I says! And never you mind about the 747 that smashed me in the gourd just as I was gettin’ up and dustin’ off. But dontcha worry ’bout me, cause after the odds of that a-hittin’ me and the plane and all that, I tooks a stroll and bought me a Mega-Million lottery ticket, and sures enough I WON!

    • anomulously sarcastic

      Haha these guys are free thinkers and ingenious ones at that. They haven’t done anything wrong and what they were doing wasn’t illogical or wrong in any way. You, sir, are on pot :P

    • Steve

      Quotes from Milesotool
      “planes at risk”
      “I hope you kids are not allowed to graduate and that you do not get jobs in the real world”

      Dear M,
      a plane flies (cruise) at 30,000 99.9% of time.
      It took 4 hours for the balloon to go from 424 feet to 93,000 and 40 min for the descent.
      Please calculate how many seconds planes were at risk of a collision with an object of less than the FAA specification. (density, mass, etc )

      They WILL graduate, and as for jobs, let me tell you: They delivered a project at a fraction of the research and dev cost, using already existing off the shelf products.
      just for that, I’ll give them 99%
      You Fired, They are hired !!!

    • Lenny

      The ignorance of the uneducated is staggering.
      Milesotool, before you spout your hateful drivel in a public forum, consider if the emotions driving you have any factual basis whatsoever. There is a very clear reason that the FAA permits exactly this type of launch: Decades of experimentation and empirical evidence have shown that the risk is negligible, both to aircraft and humanity.
      If only people like yourself would stand up and get this angry about the risk we put the majority of life on this planet (read: other than homo sapiens) on a daily basis in the process of infinitely more trivial and more common human pursuits.
      However, the sheer ignorance of your statements suggests you’re a friend of guys who ran this project, and are giving them a sarcastic hard time – so I’m probably the one who’s over-reacting.
      Cheers Oliver, Justin and Eric. Thank you for inspiring me, and countless others, to explore our world in clever new ways.

  • steve

    Fantastic work! I’m very impressed

  • steve

    It would be interesting to see a timelapse video of all the photos from ascent and descent. Any plans to do something like this?

  • Zifre

    @Milesotoole: I imagine that the device descends slowly enough with the parachute deployed for it not to be an issue for people on the ground (i.e. you would probably see it coming and get out of the way). The probability of it hitting a plane is very close to zero. (The atmosphere is very, very, very big, and planes and balloons are very, very, very small in comparison.)

  • ss

    is a camera necessary? why not just use the inbuilt camera of the cellphone to take the pictures?

  • Internetzreader

    Nice job, y’all.

    Also, pease don’t feed the trolls (milesotoole)

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