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Flight Pictures

The GPS cell phone we used to track the location of our vehicle lost reception soon after launch (at an elevation of ~2500 feet). Although we had expected to lose contact with the balloon, the altitude of “last-report” was much lower than expected.

After loss of electronic contact, we could continued to track the capsule visually for about half an hour until the glare of the sun prevented further viewing.

GPS information recorded in the flight logs reported a maximum altitude of 19,853 feet due to software limitations.  With some simple approximations (linear extrapolation of velocity – a fair assumption justified after looking through flight trajectories of similar balloons), we estimated that our balloon achieved an altitude of about 93000 feet before returning to the earth. The balloon’s ascent took about 4 hours, and its descent took 40 minutes.


Picture from 93000 feet up

Earth from 93000 feet. Long Island in the background.



glowing atmosphere

Glowing from the sun



Balloon popped at around 93000 feet, beginning its 40 minute descent

Our balloon popped at around 93000 feet, beginning its 40 minute descent



Balloon w/ the earth as a background

The falling balloon


 sky4 sky5
 sky6 sky3

533 comments to Flight Pictures

  • [...] then used a Canon A470 loaded with the chdk open source firmware to take pictures. After seeing the results of their launch, the team hopes that this could rejuvenate interests in science and the [...]

  • SM


    Consumer-grade GPS units are subject to ITAR restrictions, specifically Federal Codes CFR22 Parts 121, Category XV, Paragraph (c)(2). As you will see if you look up that document, there is some ambiguity in the wording — but the most conservative interpretation would limit position reporting to an altitude of 60,000 feet. So if the GPS chipset in your phone is designed to be compliant with (the most conservative interpretation of) that spec, you wouldn’t get much information at the kinds of altitudes your balloon is reaching.

    On the other hand, a less restrictive reading would require the balloon to reach a velocity of 1000 knots before the GPS output cuts off, so maybe this is a non-issue. In any case, nice work!

    -C.F. (Course VI, ’93)

  • stef

    Then of course there is the question of legality of transmitting from a cell phone at that altitude?

  • Joe T

    ITAR restrictions? …gimme a break. Very, very nice work guys. You have shown outstanding initiative, creativity and innovation in deploying a really cool solution using cheap, readily available components. I wish you the best in the exceptional future you have in front of you.


  • Sean

    I think the coolest part about this experiment is that it was completely independent from the traditional mediums for accessing space: national space-agencies. I think it shows the world that access to space doesn’t have to be centralized and politicized.

    Great job.
    Toronto, Canada

  • Some guy

    All he’s saying about with the ITAR restriction thing, is that the GPS hardware in the phone is limited according to those restrictions. He’s not saying anything about the students needing to do anything about it, its just the GPS hardware that has built in restrictions.
    He’s trying to explain why the GPS would cut off.

  • hope you got more then 4 pics. 1st pic is my wallpaper.

  • Miah

    Hey any chance you could make a fast-motion video of the entire trip using the 5 second camera snaps? It would be awesome to watch it over the course of the trip. Quicktime7 will do this for you, or mencoder or ffmpeg or innumerable other tools.

    Also have you considered calculating the cost/kg payload of your method against other methods of moving cargo into high-altitude orbits? I can think of building a shoestring space station.. 1 kg at a time. Send more hand-warmers! Very cold in space!

    Great work!

  • [...] then used a Canon A470 loaded with the chdk open source firmware to take pictures. After seeing the results of their launch, the team hopes that this could rejuvenate interests in science and the [...]

  • d.

    outstanding work, well done!
    I especially love the solderfree approach.
    I loved the Coleman disposable hand warmers solution for cold…

  • Peter

    “Space” is a bit of an exaggeration. 93000ft (who the hell uses imperial units?) is about 28km which is not even a third of LEO. I’m sure the experimenters didn’t call it space, on the basis that their delivery system is based on buoyancy which only works in atmosphere.

    Great work, but “space”? Get real.

    I’m very curious as to how they ensured the camera survived the return journey. Altitude triggered parachute, perhaps?

  • Chad

    Awesome guys, to debate on weather this is a pic from space is irrelevant as nobody any of us knows can climb that high to get a pic like that. At a price like that it would be easy for a huge group of peeps to get together and launch many of these. the pics would be great, imagine a swarm of picture taking balloons taking pics of eachother, plus the the implication (if done under cover and conspicuously) of some kind of attack on whatever country said balloons were over at the time!!! I would LOVE to be in on something like that!!

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by xlotlu andHacker Links. Hacker Links said: Flight Pictures | 1337arts [...]

  • ifarmbetterthanyou

    I digest!. who uses metric?… i personally prefer the standard Apartment unit system… The average living room in a 3 bedroom apartment is 12*12, and by the natural laws of the universe space as seen from earth is only 6000 living-rooms (Lr) away. we don’t use the acronym LEO its someone’s name..and a lion…and using super maths I compute your maximum altitude to be 7750 !!! 1750 Lr above space!!!!

    Great fkn work!!! i don’t think some “smarter” people that know about space measurements could do what u guys did.

    and im sure a $0.89 bag of marshmallows would cushion the landing…

  • Steve 2

    Hey Chad…your idea about a “mass launch” sounds like an 80′s song….but it would be cool to get photos of other ballons, though.

  • Jwolfe

    hah i may not fully understand the math and science, and all the spacifics, but i am very impressed. I think it’s amazing what people can do if they really think about it. I’m an art student in boston, and well, lets just say, this just proves how liberating the enviorment there can be. :)

  • Balt

    This is majorly awesome. Don’t care if it’s space or not, it’s really high and looks really cool and you did it really cheaply.

    Also, altitude is measured in feet by international treaty. Even in metric countries like here in Australia.

  • Mertz

    This could become the modern-day version of kids sending up mass numbers of helium balloons and letting random people find them… Imagine hundreds of ppl in CA sending THESE balloons up into “space” to be found hundreds of miles away by others… so fun!

  • Butch

    Screw the Government and the regulations people. Our Government violates more of it’s own rules than these people could ever hope to. Besides, they already stick their noses into more of our lives then they should be. It was a “simple” science project. For Christ’s sake, get over yourselves and the violations.
    Good job, and great project!

  • Dave

    altitude is measured in feet by international treaty, by the way, because of international space cooperation. you can’t have engineers converting 3 meters to 9.842…. feet in specs, and expect components to work, space vehicles to hard-seal, rockets to not blow up, etc.

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