Blasting a Camera into Space

Shortly before I left the US in June 2017, me along with former coworkers worked on our very own space balloon project. Our goal was to send a video camera up to 100,000 feet via a Helium balloon and shoot video footage of the journey.

It took three attempts for us to succeed, and we were blown away when we first saw the footage. Our payload and camera got to an altitude of almost 100,000 feet (~30.5km) - roughly three times the altitude that a commercial airplane usually cruises at.

On the first trial we miscalculated the amount of Helium to bring and pump into the balloon, so unfortunately it wasn't enough to carry our payload. Being the software engineers that we were, we weren't being as careful as we should with how things weigh. Our radar reflector, for instance, was made of cardboard and shiny gift paper. We started glueing the gift wrap onto the card board in the car on our way to our launch site, and of course, we didn't account for the weight of the glue in our equations. The glue made the radar reflector extra extra heavy.

For our second trial, we re-engineered our radar reflector to be light - really, really light. Instead of a thread we used floss, and instead of card board we used a paper-bag with tin foil inside. We were on the launch site the second time though, the nozzle of the helium tank we rented was broken (sigh). We quickly went to a store nearby, found a replacement, and we were good to go.

I must say, weather-wise it was hot. Like, really, really, really hot! Nick was debugging the board he built for collecting sensor data in the extreme heat.

Last, but definitely not least, here's the awesome team that made it happen:

Team Space Dust: (left to right) Carlos Gasperi, Nishanth Alapati, Sai Pinapati, Nick Pisarro, (bottom center) Islam El-Ashi, and (bottom bottom) our shitty radar reflector that we used in the first trial.

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