Where to Start

We began our project scouring online for similar projects that other schools or individuals have done. We found a range of successful and unsuccessful attempts, but more importantly we are starting to see some common resources that many used throughout their project. Even though all had different specific designs, most had basically the same common setup:

  • A weather balloon large enough to lift their payload.
  • A box or apparatus of some kind to hold equipment.
  • A camera that can record pictures and/or HD video.
  • A parachute to safely return the payload to earth.
  • A GPS system to locate the payload once it lands.

We will go through each of these design elements in detail throughout in future posts. For now, below is a list of links we are currently using of other people’s projects that is proving very useful in helping us decide what materials or equipment to use.

Based off of what we found from other similar experiments, here is a quick rundown of what we will have to deal with during our project:

– Most balloons ascend to an altitude of approximately 80,000-110,000 feet. As the altitude increases, the pressure decreases, which in turn increases the volume of the balloon until it bursts. Once the balloon bursts it will return to earth safely using an on board parachute.

– Temperatures are an issue for the electronics inside the payload since temps can get to -50 degrees F or less. Some element of our design will have to keep our electronics warm.

– GPS signals do not transmit as high as our balloon will travel, so we will lose contact with the balloon for some time. Also, most GPS receivers need to face skyward to work which may be problematic. Without a GPS signal we will lose the payload.

– Helium is expensive, so the weight must be kept as minimal as possible to minimize the amount of helium needed. Hydrogen is less expensive and has better lift, but it is recommended to avoid hydrogen since it is a flammable gas. Helium is an inert gas that is much safer.

– We discovered that unmanned weather balloons require notice ahead of time to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in the USA. We will need to contact them before launch day to notify them of our project.

Finally, after all our research we were able to determine about how much we wanted to spend for our project so we submitted a project proposal and were approved. Below is the final tally of our various materials and expenses. You can find details on each of these in future posts.

600g Weather balloon www.amazon.com $54.99
GoPro HD camera – Black www.amazon.com $399.00
GoPro HD camera – extended battery pack www.amazon.com $49.99
Parachute – 42” + shipping www.spherachute.com $38.00+$7
SPOT GPS Trace + Service West Marine / www.findmespot.com $99.99+100
MicroSD card – 64gb video storage www.amazon.com $48.69
Helium tank rental Airgas National Welders $90
Styrofoam box Donated free
Hand Warmers (to keep equipment from freezing) Donated free
Miscellaneous rope, tape, connectors, etc. Lowes/Radio Shack $50
Arduino, pressure sensor, datalogger www.amazon.com $80
T-shirts www.uberprints.com $175
Pizza, drinks, etc. for launch day Papa John’s $80
TOTAL: $1300
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