These two kids from California sent a weather balloon carrying two GoPros and a GPS to 80,000 feet over central California and captured all stages of ascent and descent. The results are absolutely AMAZING.
Here is their own account of the whole project:
Pre-launch preps. Liftoff occurred at around 7:30 AM from Porterville, California, about an hour away from Bakersfield. Payload was extremely low-tech. A shoebox wrapped in duct tape, it carried two GoPro Hero 2 HD cameras and a SPOT GPS. The balloon was supposed to carry the cameras to an altitude between 80,000 and 100,000 feet (24-30 km). It would drift south and eventually land in the southern Mojave Desert.
T+1 min. Camera 1 is pointed straight down at the ground. Unfortunately, we forgot to clear the memory card before launch, so it doesn’t record the whole flight. We were so focused on making sure the GPS was working that we neglected the cameras a bit. Oh, well.
Camera 2 is pointed horizontally. This one functions perfectly, taking a photo every few seconds for the entire three-hour flight. Cameras 1 & 2 took a total of 5,226 photos.
T+2 hrs. As you can see, condensation has formed on Camera 2’s fish-eye lens. This doesn’t turn out to be a problem; it disappears before the balloon reaches peak altitude.
T+2.5 hrs. Peak altitude. We didn’t have an altimeter on this flight, but based on pre-launch simulations, we’re estimating a max height of between 80,000 and 90,000 feet.
Balloon burst. During the entire ascent, the latex weather balloon has been expanding due to the dropping external air pressure. Finally, it can’t take the stress anymore and pops.
This is my favorite image from the flight, taken just after balloon burst. The payload is tumbling at this point, so it is by shear luck that we got a photo of this quality.
The payload tumbles in free-fall for about six minutes before the air becomes thick enough for the parachute to stabilize it.
T+2.75 hrs. This is the final photo taken by Camera 2, just a few seconds before impacting the ground. But…
…we don’t land in the Mojave Desert as planned. Instead, the balloon pops early (for some unknown reason) and touches down along the side of a ravine, smack-dab in the middle of the Tehachapi Mountains. AAARRRGGHHH. Time for a hike! By the time we reach the mountain, though, the setting sun forces us to head back to our home in Los Angeles for the night.
We return the next day. After an arduous trek through the middle of freaking nowhere, we find the payload. The shoebox has totally disintegrated, but the equipment is all there. Woot!
We have to say, even though this project has been done professionally and at an amateur level by many, the thrill of sending something up the stratosphere can’t be explained in words. Hopefully, futuristic commercial suits and parachutes would make this kind of trip possible for all of us. I don’t know about you guys, but I would. Just not with the trash bag parachute which these kids used.