I Went To Space

June 9, 2013

Three weeks ago my little brother and I launched a high altitude balloon (HAB) attached to a styrofoam box with a camera to near space. Our capsule soared at a speed just below 4 m/s to an altitude of 31,000 meters or just about 101,000 feet. This was my second attempt as I did not recover my first launch due to an awful poor cellular coverage area of our projected landing site in Austria.

Our second launch was done in North Hampton, NH. We chose this site based on the forecasted wind pattern for the day which was quite an unusual south westerly breeze coming from the ocean for that time of the year. Based on the GSF, out projected landing site was to be around a golf course in the town of Framingham, MA give or take a 1 to 2 kilometer radius.

The point of this project was to have a picture of my logo with the curvature of the earth in the background and use this as the cover for my music. For the first attempt, I wanted to accomplish this cheaply as possible so I used an old Nokia with Symbian that I unlocked as a tracker relying heavily on A1, advertised as the best cellular network in Austria. Everything went smoothly during launch but I did not pay attention to the reliability of the cellular coverage of my projected landing site which was right in a village that remained in the twilight zone.


My luck of finding it ran out when I discovered that forests in Austria have all better coverage compare to some villages. I learned later that some villages sometimes voluntarily elect to not have cellular coverage which was strikingly a surprise to my modern thinking. A precautionary approach may be the underlying principle for this but, so far, according to a EU study from 2009 and others like it, cell phone radiation has not been linked to cancer.

For the second launch I budgeted for a better tracker. Relying on satellites rather than cell towers, I opted for the Spot Messenger. And that worked tremendously well. The balloon was filled with helium approaching a diameter of 1.5 meter and was set off with a payload of about 600 grams. That included the camera, the Spot, some foot warmers, the parachute and some crumpled up newspapers in a styrofoam box. After more than two hours of flight, I registered a coordinate about 225 km (70 miles) away which was right in the vicinity of the projected landing site.