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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

  • Amazing to see so much achieved with so little. MacGyver would be proud.


  • CM

    People have been doing this for years with the same equipment. This isn’t anything new –

  • Jeremy

    Regarding the liability, what happens if this parachute lands in the middle of an interstate or some other situation that would cause an adverse response? I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s parade – I think this is an awesome experiment. But I’m guessing that if any device you launched, no matter how or where it was coming from (model rocket from backyard for example), and no matter which speed it is descending, causes injury and you could have foreseen the result of your actions, you will very likely be held liable for the consequences. Disclaimer – I am not a lawyer, just a reader who had a thought.

  • You guys are awesome. Makes me want to set-up a similar project here at my school in Brunei. Keep them flying.

  • Geeze, some people.

    Do you think a rubber baloon and a digicam are going to be more of a risk than the billions of birds that roam the sky?

    At least at 18miles the pilot can glide around and find somewhere to park up – at 1,000ft it’s just St Peter time. QED planes are designed to not be seriously damaged, even by multiple 10lb objects.

    Great work – when are you putting @Milesotoole up? :-)


  • Ian

    You guys are amazing! Timelapse video would be really cool. The gps path is awesome too especially since it captures velocity and altitude. Really cool guys.

  • Steve 2

    Good show guys! I’d hire one of you guys, that’s for sure. For those interested, Nuts & Volts magazine often covers near-space balloon experiments.

    And for those nay-sayers: The FAA is very conservative. If they unregulate anything under 4 pounds, then they feel it is not a threat. So get off their backs!

  • humana medical insurance

    Got here and seen your stuff – way to go!

  • SWP

    CM – Yes, this has been done for years, but with bigger budgets. I am familiar with EOSS (Edge of Space Sciences). They use MUCH bigger baloons and a much more expensive payload and tracking system. What is significant here is the cost, they did it with unmodified, off the shelf parts for less than $150. The EOSS amature radio payload has a lot of customized / modified electronics and off the shelf radio equipment and costs hundreds of dollars more.

  • Planetary

    So the Earth is round after all! Congrats folks!

  • David

    Incredible!!! I work for a local high school. Would you be interested in working with me to turn this into a project for the students?

  • JohnM

    Very cool, guys. I did something similar a while back but I had to use several balloons to lift my payload. Unfortunately, I dropped my BB gun and it took me a few days to land. Got some awesome pictures before I blacked out, though!

  • Ralph

    Great jobs guys, nice work!

    FYI To all the naysayers and safety freaks, the National Weather Service launches about 2 (two) each day from 92 different stations in the United States. To each ballon is attached a payload that measures temperature, relative humidity and barometric pressure; the ballons are also tracked with a RDF so that horizontal wind velocity can be measured. Worldwide there is about 800 stations….okay how many accidents have your heard of related to these weather ballons?

  • Matt

    While it’s certainly a nice project, and some cool pictures, it’s illegal the way it is implemented. FCC rule 47 CFR 22.925 ( forbids the use of cell phones in aircraft, including balloons. It’s because, as mentioned above, it will be received by every tower in its range. It is taking up far more limited radio space than it is supposed to as a consumer device.

    The cheaper a radio system is, the more prevalent, and the more likely it will have restrictions such as the above. Being an amateur radio hobbyist I tend to have a lot of respect for FCC regulations personally, they keep the airwaves working smoothly. A system which maintains radio contact up to the full altitude and doesn’t violate US law wouldn’t be too hard to build, but it would be harder to find one that can be done completely off-the-shelf with no hacking. It would also be more expensive.

    If you want to do your own radio module, rather than cell-phone, I’d start with an Arduino type board that has a microcontroller ready to go, and a ready-made 433MHz RF modem from sparkfun with a directional antenna. Note that when close to ground you’d want to reduce transmit power while using a high gain antenna to comply with FCC regs, something you might be able to do just by reducing power supply voltage (control it with the Arduino), or you can switch an attenuator in and out of the signal path. Nicer ready-made RF modules will have a digital or analog control input to control output power level, but something this nice and ready-made is usually expensive. Find a local HAM and I’m sure you could entice them to do it for you.

    • danahyatt

      Someone did their homework, not MIT.

    • Lars

      Matt.. be proud you are a troll and be done with it. As for looking into what is or isn’t legal, why don’t you research something useful like government waste (i.e. you) You are not an authority on anything but yourself. Stay under your own bridge and leave everyone else alone.

    • Mark L Johnson

      Matt, since you appear to be very concerned with the letter of the law (or rule) you may want to look up the FCC’s definition of “aircraft” as it applies to that section.

    • MiLK42

      the world has changed so much. people so riddled with fear and caution that they refuse to live with any spirit of discovery. go outside. something might happen to you. take a step. go further. what if it had landed on someone? what if something lands on you? meteors. airplane waste. bullets from the hood. the only thing for certain is WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. scary? inevitable. sometimes the reward outweighs the risk. what would you give to reach the edge of human existence and back again? (“apparently 150 bucks!” lol)

      “you see a kid fishin’ in a mud puddle. is that any reason to take away his fishing pool?” –napoleon stone

    • MiLK42

      (and this would be FAA jurisdiction, not FCC. get your agencies straight…. besides… who cares what a group so opposed to boobies thinks!!!)

  • Allison

    Haha… Ralph– Aren’t weather balloons the ultimate cause of the incidents in so many X-files episodes?

  • JoeTimeZone

    I suspect your launch time was actually 11:45 EDT, not 11:45 EST.

    By the way, way cool!

  • FromTokyo

    You guys are total rock stars!

  • danahyatt

    uppty do, you guys must be with that girl professor, ex-Airforce, Smarty, Smelly, or something Phd. that made the model air plane as a graduate program project. I told you this has all been done long ago, appox. 1938. Of course without the go-phone.

  • TT

    Another issue: what if the camera/phone had been ingested by a airplane engine? They’re designed for birds, but not electronic equipment. Surely this is an issue you [should have] considered? Details, please.

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