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phonesetupWe designed a low cost balloon-launch platform that did not require the use of expensive equipment such as radio modems (the total cost of our device did not exceed 150 dollars) or complicated hardware hacking (all of the components of our device were common electronics available off-the-shelf in stores).

The GPS receiver was a Motorola i290 “Boost Mobile” prepaid phone with internet and GPS capability (set up with Accutracking to constantly report its GPS location).

We bought a AA-battery cell phone charger to sustain the phone’s power over the duration of the flight, and we used Energizer lithium batteries (rated to operate at temperatures are low as -40F) to power both this charger as well as our camera.

As a further safeguard against electronic/battery failure due to low temperature, we utilitzed Coleman disposable hand warmers (placed near our electronics) to help keep our equipment warm in the cold of the stratosphere.

We loaded a Canon A470 camera (bought used on Amazon) with CHDK open source software to enable a feature which allowed the camera to take pictures continuously (intervalometer). Using this feature, we set the camera to take a picture every 5 seconds at a 1/800 second shutter speed. With an 8GB card, the camera was able to chronicle the whole journey of the balloon from launch to retrieval. (~5 hours)

Equipment Used in the Launch Capsule
Sounding Balloon 350g from Kaymont350g~$20 +$20 (helium)
Motorola i290 Prepaid Cellphone~90g,~$50**
Styrofoam Beer Cooler~15g~$0
Duct Tape~10g~$0
Zip Ties~5g~$0
Canon A470 with 8GB SD card~165g,~$40***
Insulation material- newspaper~5g~$0
Duracell USB phone charger powered by AA batteries~20g 1oz~$10
Instant Hand warmer~5g~$2****
4 Ultimate Lithium AA batteries~15g * 4 = 60 g~$5
Radar Reflector (aluminum foil)~0g~$0
Total~800g, /w misc.~$150

* Two things:
(1) We had one of these laying around, so we’re actually a little unclear about how much it would cost to get a plastic parachute  with strings, but we can’t imagine it would be that much. However, we actually created a second launch vehicle using a trash bag as a parachute, so that is one way people could probably cut costs.
(2) It may not even be necessary to attach a parachute. For instance, I think that a large number of streamers dangling off the back of the box might provide enough drag to slow it down to a comparable landing speed.

** Some people have told us (and we have confirmed after some searching online) that the cost of the cell phone (usable for a similar launch) can actually go as low as $30. We paid $50 for ours though.

*** This was a lucky grab for us. One can do the same with a 4GB SD card with picture intervals of 10s each, and that will save you about $10. You can find cheap cameras on ebay or Amazon (used). You probably want to send a used one up anyways, considering the harsh conditions it will be subject to.

**** A packet of 6 handwarmers can be bought for ~$5 from Target. We used two handwarmers for our launch, one pressed against the camera and one pressed against the cell phone.

***** Many people have asked about the antenna in our pictures. It was an extra part from a used wireless router. However, i don’t actually think it’s necessary to have one (and in our second vehicle, we actually didn’t add the antenna.) As long as the cell phone can report its location after landing, one should be okay.

255 comments to Hardware

  • stoudsinator

    To the young men who accomplished this: AWESOME!

    To all of the people chattering about the FAA, FCC, and hitting pedestrians: You all have a bright future as shitty lawyers.

  • Jeff

    You guys are awesome and inspiring. My kids (3rd and 5th grade) are completely psyched about the possibility of doing this, and if we do it, we brainstormed about what we’d do differently. Stabilization would be a good start. Do you have thoughts about how to stabilize it? They also want to put an indoor/outdoor thermometer in to record the highs and lows. We also thought about adding a strobe and noisemaker to the outside to help locate it. Their little brains are on fire with possibilities!

  • spaceseattle

    Why didn’t you just use the camera on the phone to take pictures?

  • John Buchanan

    Hey Guys,

    Good job. I fly r/c planes with high power live feed cams while wearing video goggles. I have a question. I am sure you guys attempted to track the vehicle as it climbed to altitude. At what height did you lose cell signal?


  • SupahLovah

    It wouldn’t have taken high quality pictures, or been able to store nearly as many.

  • Sean

    I was talking to the guys at my schools chem department and they said that when it comes to the helium, it’s not just the volume, but the pressure you have to be concerned with. That being said, do you guys know the pressure at which you filled the balloon up to? Or did you just eyeball the thing? And would one of those typical 50 dollar disposable, small helium tanks do the job?

  • Guys!

    Great pioneer project!

    This is the way, how to show to the all world what the simple people can do:
    - without money
    - without emission
    - without projektmanagers, officers, office building, billion dollar’s money loosing on nothing, lawyers,lobby, political fighting, etc….

    The NASA can be learn from 1337 guys :)

    Nice job!

    On the next fly, please combine two cameras and some gyroscop :)

    One to see the planet (full frame to down direction), one to see the space (full frame to up direction) :)

    Nice Nice nice :)

    I will donate the next space project with some dollars :)

  • George

    What is the Radar reflector for? So planes can see it??

    Also, where is the cheapest place to find the i290 phone?

  • If you are interested in stabilizing your system you might want to look at what the KAP (kite aerial photography) guys do. They use a rigging system referred to as a picavet (defacto name)which is quite easy to make. Since KAP systems also need to be lightweight this would most likely work really well for you.

    There is a good chance you already know what I’m talking about but I figured I’d mention it just in case, also it doesn’t hurt for other readers to learn about it too.

    Cheers and kudos on a wicked little project.

    PS I have an A470 as well which I got off kijiji for $20

  • Vlad

    Can you please give me a link of where to buy the balloons because i can’t seem to find them anywhere

  • Vlad

    BTW Great job on what you guys did

  • UCDropout

    where do i get the beer cooler for free?

  • Chuck Gullage

    Nice going! That was a very exciting and successful project – congratulations. One thing though – you are lucky that the parachute opened. I’d hate to think about a cooler full of equipment and batteries streaming in and hitting someone/thing other than a construction site. I think on your next attempt you should consider a backup chute system – I think they use them with model rocketry projects. In any case, you might check with a parachute rigger or model rocketry expert to get some ideas.

    • Matt

      You do realize that the NOAA and other weather organizations all over the world do this on a daily basis, right? It’s not rocket surgery. It’s a cooler with a parachute. The parachute is attached to the same line the balloon is on. It doesn’t have to deploy out of a bag or anything. As soon as the object starts to fall, the chute catches some air and opens up. Also, their cooler weighed about 2.6 pounds. I doubt it would fall that fast even if it didn’t have a chute. Probably wouldn’t even scratch a car.

  • Tim

    I agree this is an awesome project! I can’t wait to try, I mean my kids can’t wait. ;-) I have a 13 yr old son is pumped to give this a shot. We did come up with a slight change… let me know what you think. Your design has the parachute and balloon on the same line with the camera always pointed at the horizon. How about putting the camera pointing out the bottom of the cooler and the parachute attached to the side, this would allow pictures of the ground on the way up and pictures of the horizon on the way down. Just a thought. I would also like to record altitude and temp during the trip.

    Way to go guys and thanks for sharing!

  • [...] Bonus: remember those kids who photographed space for $150? They’ve now put together a time lapse video of all the photos their rig took during its flight. Not quite as cool (or expensive) as the video above, though. [L337arts] [...]

  • [...] The camera was kept in place by froth blocks, as well as bending up to 5 AAA Lithium L91 battery cells. With a additional legs, it prisoner roughly 4 as well as half hours of footage. Mercifully, they’ve edited which down for a formula we see below. [BEAR] Bonus: recollect those kids who photographed space for $150? They’ve right away put together a time relapse video of all a photos their supply took during a flight. Not utterly as cold (or expensive) as a video above, though. [L337arts] [...]

  • [...] Bonus: remember those kids who photographed space for $150? They’ve now put together a time lapse video of all the photos their rig took during its flight. Not quite as cool (or expensive) as the video above, though. [L337arts] [...]

  • [...] Bonus: remember those kids who photographed space for $150? They’ve now put together a time lapse video of all the photos their rig took during its flight. Not quite as cool (or expensive) as the video above, though. [L337arts] [...]

  • [...] Bonus: remember those kids who photographed space for 0? They’ve now put together a time lapse video of all the photos their rig took during its flight. Not quite as cool (or expensive) as the video above, though. [L337arts] [...]

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