The Balloon Launch: Capstone 2015

Sorry in advance for all the pictures, and if this entry destroys the internet.
This is a big one, so let’s make matters worse and here’s a song to start you off.

We successfully launched and retrieved Hans’s balloon yesterday morning. Kind of. I have come prepared with pictures, don’t worry. Except for the most important ones. The GoPro camera on board the payload crapped out for whatever reason during the entire flight, like it has video of before launch and of Jeff picking it up after it landed but nothing from in-flight, so we don’t have any cool pictures of our own. I will include some from previous teams near the end. Our story comes first.

This was my team’s payload box that I described last time. It’s got a face and everything. The eye is the switch that controls the entire payload apparatus, the mouth is made of sensors that needed to be exposed to the air, and Susan drew on an eyebrow because it needed to be done.

The next picture is of both teams’ payloads bundled together. Our little brick dude is hanging out in the middle. Hans’s team had two payload boxes. One of them has the GoPro camera attached to it, but it’s not in the picture. That’s the antenna for the GPS sticking out the left side. Oh, yeah – right before launch, their team’s GPS shit stopped working too. There was still a cell phone inside one of the payload boxes, which had a tracker installed that spit out coordinates upon texting “gps please” to it, but phones can’t receive signals for the entire duration of the flight because of the high altitudes, and we are not legally supposed to launch without being able to know where our payload is the entire time it’s in the air. So none of the teams this semester were really cleared for launch at all. Reason number one why our launch was illegal.

But anyway, yeah, those are the payloads wrapped in that net. The maybe-orange-and-white striped wire is rigged to the FTU.


After a few mishaps that included a few members of their team rigging the FTU beneath the parachute (you know… the thing that cuts the wire… beneath the thing that stops everything from plummeting to its demise…), we were finally ready to let things go.

It was at about this point that the FTU wire from the picture before had to be severed because their team fed the wire through the parachute in such a way that letting go of the balloon would have shred the parachute. Remember how I said we needed two cutdown mechanisms? Reason number two why our launch was illegal. But oh well. Have another song.

In this picture, my teammates, Susan, Hunter and Matt, are holding the balloon. It was pretty windy, so it was Matt’s job to try to stabilize it whenever the wind got crazy enough. That balloon stretched out SO MUCH in the wind, I was sure it would rip before ever leaving the ground. Hans is standing in the background as some of his teammates are holding out the rest of the payload trail. The parachute is hanging out there in the middle by itself.

Since we launched at an elementary school outside of Adrian (sparsely populated), P invited the grade schoolers to come out when he initially got permission to launch on their premises. They gave us a countdown and then we were off.


Susan, Hunter, Matt and I went to a pub for lunch at around 11:00am to eat and kill time. We also had a celebratory beer (except for Susan who doesn’t drink), since I’d been up since 4am and their stories weren’t much different. Then we set out again, I texted “gps please” a few times (our phone signals were terrible, so the balloon’s was too), and met up with P and the others at the landing site.

The balloon payload landed right inside the perimeter of someone’s farm, so we just walked over and grabbed it. We didn’t even wait to get back to campus or even inside of a building to retrieve the data – we set up camp right on top of one of our cars on the side of the road, ripped the payload boxes apart (Hans opened his with surgical precision), took the SD card out of the DataLogger and plugged it right into Hans’s laptop.

We needed all that duct tape just to keep the walls together. See how the walls don’t quite fit together? This was an older team’s payload box designed for only their FTU that we ganked because we really, really didn’t want to make our own box all over again the night before launch. And see all those tiny little silver bumps on the red sensors poking out? Those are solder joints. I soldered those. Tiny-ass shit. I love it. And apparently Matt cut his finger in the ballooning events leading up to this picture.


Still waiting for data to be parsed out and distributed to the class, but that’s okay. I’m in no particular rush to write another paper.

Here are some pictures taken by other teams. Since I’ve already posted a ton of my own, I won’t post too many here.

That is Lake Erie off to the right. SPAAAAAAAACE!


Here is a shot of their balloon bursting. You saw how big the balloon was on the surface in the pictures. Apparently, by the time it reaches its target altitude, the balloon has a diameter of roughly 30 feet. That balloon was large enough to envelop several people. Think about it.


Time to come home!


There’s a possibility P will give some folks permission to launch another balloon over the summer. Since so far it looks like we successfully got all of our data between our two teams, I might see if he’d be okay with me just rigging up and launching a payload with a few cameras but without any sensors. The regular project costs about $1200 for all the equipment and sensors and everything. Launching just cameras, Arduinos and GPS shit wouldn’t cost nearly as much, and I think he likes seeing me enjoy myself in classes, so I might have a shot.

We’ll see.


~ by Ashley on April 17, 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: