Project Icarus had its humble beginnings with a dream to see what the world looked like from the sky. At first, images were captured using a balloon tethered to the ground with fishing line, but then we dreamed bigger. After some research into high-altitude balloon flights, we were ready to start planning.
A major limitation to our work was the fact that we, being poor college students, had a very limited budget to spend on the electronics. The radio equipment necessary for tracking and retrieval of the balloon/camera was simply too expensive. Fortunately, we discovered that gps-enabled cell phones (and several models of these phones well within our budget-range) can be turned into trackers that would lead us to the balloon.
The next problem we faced was geographical in nature: we live on the coast, and if we launched the balloon from Boston, the prevailing West -> East jetstream would push the balloon into the Atlantic ocean. From previous low-altitude launches, we estimated that the balloon could drift as far as 200 to 300 miles during the course of its flight.
Knowing this flight risk, we planned to launch the balloon somewhere in the vicinity of Albany, NY. We planned to drive half of the distance the night before and finish the rest of the 250 miles on the day of the launch. We camped out in a Target parking lot because we could not afford to spend any money on hotel.
Fortunately for us, the wind conditions during launch day were minimal. The University of Wyoming hosts a balloon trajectory website, and we checked it to determine probable landing locations of our balloon. Since it seemed that the balloon would not be going far on that windy way, we decided that Sturbridge, MA would be far west enough to compensate for our balloon’s drift.