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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

  • yigit

    Hi cong. you with that great project.

    dude you are in our news :)–_41993.html

  • Pat Ronan

    Hi Guys,
    Awesome. I am thinking about doing this as a project for an elementary school class. Main concern is that we are in Sioux Falls SD and the balloon whatever direction the ballon goes it will drop the payload in a rural area with, perhaps, spotty cell phone coverage. I am willing to fork out the dough for the Spot Satellite Tracker (very cool) but after just speaking with a customer service rep at their company, am not sure that would work either. It needs an unimpeded view of the sky so it would have to be attached to the outside of the cooler. It would likely freeze and stop working, which would in effect turn off the unit so even when it warmed up the on button would have to be pushed to make it functional. Hmmmm. Might have to overlay a coverage map for the various cell phone providers with trajectory estimates under different wind conditions. Just thought I would let you know…and I will keep you posted on our results and pass the hat (PTA) to get you guys some money.

    • Steve

      Check with local Ham Radio operators. We are planning a launch for a couple weeks from now and will provide tracking with aprs (automatic position reporting system) using ham radio. If you have aprs repeaters with internet access, it will report the location on Direct connection to the chase team with packet radio will provide updates about every 30 seconds of latitude, longitude and altitude.

  • Casey Cappoen

    This is a wakeup call!!
    Im getting my buds to help me make one.

  • excellence25

    How did you guys predict where it would land?

  • Jeff Girkin

    How did you measure the altitude? Most GPS devices don’t report altitude levels above 50-60K. Did you have an altimeter on board?

  • Brent Ferris

    Looks like it popped @ 2:48 of the video… fun project… keep it up…

  • Serkan

    Hello from Turkey. Friends congratulate you really think is great. I would like to take part in this project.I wish you continued success..

  • Martin Browne

    Where did you bought the weather ballon

  • mike

    epic win are you guys considering another project earth orbit perhap with some subsidiseation?

  • Thank you very much for this post.

  • tom

    Perhaps a Java application could be written to send SMS text messages to another phone with the primary phone’s GPS location. This would save the cost of purchasing the data plan (although one would have to purchase the less expensive text messaging plan). Most phones now can run Java apps. I know this can be done, although I don’t know the Java Mobile Edition well enough to write this myself.

  • Esquire Boys

    We are planing a launch and we wantto know if you have any advice

  • kanth

    Did u use a wireless camera, or hw did u record the whole flight course ?

  • Matt

    I’ve completed a similar project in VA with great results. Documentary:

  • NMT girl

    Thanks so much for the guide! I am launching tomorrow with my middle school students. I purchased a zoombak locator, it needs cell coverage too, but I am hoping for the package to land near a major road.

    Word to the wise, the FAA turned me down the first time. I contacted my local National Weather Service, who launches weather balloons every day twice a day and asked them if we could launch together. The only way we got clearance to launch was by piggybacking on their launch.

    We also got the local fire department out with a big truck and a 95 foot ladder to drop our practice parachutes. There aren’t any big buildings near our school, and the fire department was happy to help out. Thanks Albuquerque Fire! I managed to complete the project for about $230 we fundraised most of that by selling soda after school.

  • Querido Pedro

    Amazing very good experience conglatulations. Brazil

  • tyler

    How did your 350 gram balloon reach 98,000 feet? Balloons of that size can only reach around 60,000 feet. If you did in fact use a heavier balloon, then your budget was more than 150 dollars. I am skeptical about that price as it is, because I did the exact same thing and it costed around 300.

    • tyler

      The fact that the balloon could only reach 60,000 feet doesn’t make the pictures any less spectacular. There is no need to lie about the altitude.

      • Evan

        (A)There are many different 350gm balloons…the one you purchased may have different characteristics than the one these guys got.
        (B)If you under-inflate any balloon, there is more room for expansion. It won’t rise as quickly and will travel further from the launch site, but a smaller balloon can achieve higher altitudes if you don’t put as much helium in it.

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