Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Thanks to help from the Keene Sentinel and the people of southern New Hampshire, our balloon's red parachute was spotted in a clearing and we were contacted on October 24, 2013. We were thrilled to learn that our balloon had landed in a meadow without damage to the exterior of the payload capsule. The balloon's landing site is shown below.

We rushed home to open the package when it arrived in the mail from Bennington, New Hampshire. After cutting the duct tape sealing the capsule, we were excited to find that all the components were present and intact after their 200 kilometer flight and three weeks in the elements. After surviving nearly three weeks of rain, high winds, and below-feezing temperatures, we were shocked to find that many of the electronics turned on.

Upon closer examination, we were not so fortunate. The photos captured by the iPhone 4 were poor quality and the phone had a large damage mark in the center of the screen. 

We were, however, able to upload over 1,000 data points from the Arduino, which had recorded the capsule's altitude and the temperature and pressure of the upper atmosphere. We will be graphing these points and writing accompanying reports for our presentation at the New York State Science and Engineering Fair in 2014.

As for the future, we are preparing to launch a second balloon payload in mid-Novemver, 2014. After learning from our first launch, we have revised our payload design extensively and will be utilizing more advanced and lighter equipment. Our second launch, code named Mission Beta, will take more accurate readings of radiation throughout the Ozone Layer and will incorporate three tracking systems to ensure that its landing site is precisely recorded, making the balloon more easily locatable. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Launch Day

The weather looked suitable for launch on Sunday, October 6. To avoid the strongest part of the jet stream and to have a projected landing in a zone of strong cell reception, we drove south to Saratoga Springs. We assembled the time sensitive contents of the capsule in Saratoga Springs, but the launch was delayed due to a rain shower. To avoid tall cloud decks and light rain, we made a last minute decision to drive west and to launch from Amsterdam, NY. The contents of the finalized capsule were as follows: iPhone for tracking and photography, altitude sensor, temperature sensor, microcontroller, chemical hand warmers, tracking device, altoids mints, a simple geiger counter and external iPhone batteries. Exposed and unexposed polaroid film was attached to the capsule to analyze relative radiation in the upper stratosphere. The contents were sealed in the styrofoam capsule with hot glue and duct tape. A note was affixed to the exterior of the capsule with our contact information in case someone else located the capsule. 

We inflated the balloon in a park in Amsterdam and connected the parachute and capsule. Nervously, we released the balloon and watched our beloved sensors soar into a cloud deck. 

After the launch, we drove east to Saratoga Springs and waited out the flight time in a coffee shop. After 3 hours 22 minutes, a signal appeared on our portable tracking equipment. The iPhone had been located by cell towers just southeast of Stoddard, NH. We ran to the car and began the three hour drive east. During the drive, we received updated location information and were able to call the iPhone, confirming that it was still functional, despite its plunge from 90,000 feet and the frigid temperatures of the upper atmosphere. The software pinned the coordinates of the iPhone at 43.042184, -72.041516, about 1 1/2 miles east of the northern tip of the Robb Reservoir. Unfortunately, these coordinates are only expected to be accurate to about 1 1/2 miles due to the poor cellular reception in the area. We arrived in Stoddard at 5:30 P.M and hiked into the woods. The Robb Reservoir is surrounded by beautiful hiking trails, which made the search much more convenient. We reached the designated coordinates as the sun was setting but we were unable to locate the device in an hour of searching. Disappointed, we hiked out to the main road and returned to New York. 

Now, we want your help to find the balloon! The balloon is white and is affixed to a Styrofoam capsule with dimensions approximately 12in x 4in x 5 in. Between the balloon skin and research capsule, there is a bright red parachute with a 36 in diameter that should be easily visible. We would be thrilled to reward $100 for the safe return of this capsule if anyone is able to locate it in the woods. The Robb Reservoir is surrounded by beautiful hiking trails, which pass through the area the balloon may be located within. A map of the landing area is shown below:

If anyone is able to locate the balloon or would like more information, they should call Javier's phone at (310)795-0813. We would be extremely appreciative of any help from the people of New Hampshire!

Jake Messner

Monday, October 7, 2013

Operation Defeat Icarus Plan

Operation Defeat Icarus

By Jake Messner

Objective: Launch a payload to the edge of space to take photographs and measure radiation, temperature, and pressure.


Weather Balloon: We will use a 5’ diameter weather balloon that will expand to a 20’ diameter in the upper atmosphere due to decreasing air pressure.
iPhone 4
Software: Frontback, duocam, intercam
We will perform tests regarding battery life and will need photography software.
GPS software
Pressure and Altitude Sensor
Arduino Microcontroller
Noise Device
Payload basket
Nylon Rope
Helium tank(s)
We will need ~75 cu ft of helium. 
External iPhone Battery
An external battery will ensure that the iPhone battery survives through the entire flight and gives us additional time to locate the device once it has landed. Batteries cost ~$3 for 2200mAh.
Chemical Hand Warmers
Aluminum Foil Radar Reflectors

Intro: In 2009, MIT students launched a weather balloon to 93,000 feet and photographed the Earth from the edge of space. We set out to reduce the cost of this project and add a radiation detector, thermometer, altimeter, and barometer to the payload. While the cost of our weather balloon and helium will be similar, we can reduce the cost of the electronics by using a device including both camera and GPS. We will use a GPS operating via cellular signal rather than satellite such that we will be able to locate the device whether or not it has an unobscured view of the sky. By adding a thermometer to the payload, within view of the camera, we will be able to track changes in temperature over time as the balloon rises. We expect the balloon to reach the upper stratosphere before popping due to low air density. In the event that the balloon does not pop and is neutrally buoyant, resulting from low air density, we will activate a popping mechanism.

In compliance with FAA regulations, the balloon will have a payload weighing less than four pounds, be less than six feet in diameter, be launched more than 15 miles from an airport, and have a tension of less than 50 pounds to disconnect the payload.

In keeping with the spirit set by MIT students Oliver YehJustin Lee, and Eric Newton, we will document our spending as the project progresses with the ultimate goal of spending less than $148 on components used in the final project.

Launch Location: The balloon will be launched from Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY. This site will allow for a large radius of area with strong cell coverage. 

Weather: While winds aloft in New York State blow west to east most frequently, the optimal launch conditions are in a northwest wind aloft.


We will not launch in a strong south wind due to the potential of flying into Canadian airspace.

In order to locate the balloon, we will include an iPhone equipped with GPS tracking software in the payload. This software should pin the location of the device to within approximately ten meters. We will additionally include an auditory alarm, in case the GPS cannot locate the device with sufficient accuracy. The iPhone (4) will be fitted with a microSIM card and will therefore require cellular service to broadcast a signal. Cellular service via AT&T can be seen on the map below.

Photos/Video and Battery Life: Data options include taking photos at scheduled intervals or recording video for the duration of the flight. The options would be equally stressful on the battery life of the iPhone, although recording video may fill the Phone’s 8GB of memory before the flight is over.

The iPhone’s battery life is 131 minutes while recording video on standard settings. By writing out own application, we will dim the screen while taking video and likely save 10-15% of the battery life, increasing the life expectancy to at least 144 minutes. Previous near-space photography flights have lasted from 100 minutes to 240 minutes. We intend to design a light capsule and use sufficient helium to keep the expected flight time under 120 minutes. By adding an external iPhone battery, we should be able to increase the life of the battery by at least 80%, creating a new life expectancy of at least 260 minutes. Depending on how much the battery life is hindered by the temperatures experienced during the flight, this expectancy should allow for 30 to 140 minutes to search for the capsule once it has landed.

Freezer Test: iPhone was placed in freezer with PMC battery plugged in and battery at 22%. Phone charged to 45% before shutting off due to the cold. After being removed from freezer after 60 minutes, phone turned on in 4 minutes. Charger lights remained on through entire test, apparently unaffected by cold.  

After two months of research, drawing, and assembly, we are prepared to launch our balloon on October 6, 2013.