Friday, September 28, 2007

Doctor,, doctor

Welcome to Project-WARPED Michelle, Ryan, Mark, Aaron, and James!! We now have enough members with a PhD that all WARPED meetings will begin as shown above :)

Another cool balloon project

I stumbled across the blog for GeoCam the other day. These guys are working on a project to photograph a large geographic area following a natural disaster (think New Orleans the day after Hurricane Katrina). The logic is that it can take several days to reposition a satellite to photograph the disaster zone so why not use a high altitude balloon with a digital camera to do the job ASAP.

They have developed a mechanical device to twist and tilt the camera so they can photograph a wider area than if they only snapped photos with the camera pointed straight down. The pictures are then stitched together to form one larger picture like so:

It seems like a good idea. Hopefully they are able to get the kinks worked out before the next big hurricane hits.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Overall gameplan

One of our motivations for blogging this project is that we haven't been able to find any good "from start to finish" documentation on how to launch a camera with a weather balloon and recover it. We found several other balloon blogs but none of them gave much detail on how they did everything. We're going to try to document as much as we can so that hopefully someone can use this blog as a reference for their own balloon project. That said, here is a rough overview of how we think this will work. We're learning as we go though so I'm sure this will change.

  • Ascent - This is the easy part (we think). We buy a weather balloon, put our camera and other electronics gear in some sort of styrofoam box, attach the box to a parachute and attach the parachute to the weather balloon. Then we fill our balloon with enough Helium to lift the payload (camera, styrofoam box, parachute, etc) plus 1 lb to 1.5 lbs of extra lift. Dale found a chart that shows what the ascent rate should be based on how much extra lift you have. I'll get that from him and will link it here. I found one balloon site where the group was using Hydrogen to provide lift. Didn't the Germans give that a try a few years ago? :) I like having eyebrows so I think we'll stick to Helium.
  • Descent - At some point the weather balloon will burst due to the expansion of the Helium. Of the other balloon project websites that we've read the highest launch was to 117k feet. That's pretty darn high if you stop and think about it! I know I'll be very happy if we get anywhere close to that. Anyway, once the balloon pops you need a parachute to get your payload back on the ground in one piece. Parachutes from model rockets seem to be the popular choice. We haven't ordered one yet because we don't know how much our payload is going to weigh.
  • Camera - Obviously we want something digital and we need a way for the camera to take pictures without any user intervention. The easiest thing to do is buy a camera that has an intervalometer feature which allows you to set the camera to take a picture every X seconds. The other option is to rig some sort of mechanical device to push the shutter button every X seconds. Dale has tracked down a free camera for Project-WARPED but it doesn't support invervalometer so we will have to rig a mechanical solution. Here's a great website for some more information on time lapse photography.
  • Tracking - This is the tricky part. If you launch a balloon to 100k feet and take lots of cool pictures you need a way to recover the camera when the balloon finally lands. We will be using Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) to track the balloon's location. In a nutshell, APRS is implemented by using a GPS receiver that attaches to a RF transmitter which in turn transmits the GPS coordinates via packet radio (this is why we needed our ham radio licenses). We will pick up the RF signal from our transmitter (the Micro-Trak 300) by using a RF scanner on the ground. The headphone output from the RF scanner feeds into a laptop's microphone input which decodes the data from the scanner into a digital format containing the GPS coordinates of the balloon. Doing this last part on the laptop is something we don't have working yet. The following powerpoint presentations have more detail on APRS and how it ties into ballooning:

What's our vector Victor?

The FCC was faster than we expected :) We were added to their online database on Friday, September 21st (6 days after passing the test). Alli's callsign is KI4ZNJ, Dale's is KI4ZNK, and Daniel's is KI4ZNL.

Getting our technician license wasn't too bad. We studied for the test using HamTestOnline and found a testing location in our area via the AARL website (American Radio Relay League). The test is 35 multiple choice questions and you have to get 26 correct to pass. If you decide to take the test be sure to bring $14 cash, a photo ID, a No 2 pencil and a calculator.

Monday, September 17, 2007

3 for 3 on ham radio licenses

All three of us passed our ham radio license test on Saturday morning!! I was sitting next to Alli when I heard the test administrator whisper to her "congrats, you only missed two" so I just guessed "C" for all remaining questions on my test. We only needed one of us to pass anyway and I really had to pee so I figured why not :)

We have to wait for our names to show up in the FCC database before we are officially licensed. That's supposed to take about two weeks so it isn't the most efficient process in the world. Once that happens we'll be able to begin testing our GPS and the little radio that transmits the GPS coordinates over radio. In the meantime we're going to start working on some sort of payload box to hold the camera, radio, etc. That's all for now...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Green eggs and ham...

OK so in order to track our payload when we send up the balloon it must transmit on amateur radio frequencies, so we have to get ham radio licenses in order to even turn on the transmitter and check it out. So this saturday the three amigos go to take our exams. Good thing we all have some electronics background, we already learned a lot of this. And who needs books these days, you can find everything you need online! (More ham links).

Green eggs - well supperclub was yesterday and the theme for dinner was breakfast foods, ok so we didn't have green eggs, but it would have been fun :) Dang now I'm hungry for french toast again.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Why "Deathstar"?

What does the Galactic Empire's Deathstar have to do with tying a digital camera to a balloon and floating it to 100,000 feet to take some cool pictures? Well to be honest with you....absolutely nothing. Alli came up with "Wolfpack Amateur Radio Photo Experiment" but WARPE doesn't sound nearly as cool as WARPED so we started brainstorming for a word that begins with D that we could somehow relate to cameras or balloons or amateur radio or space. Alli came up with Deathstar (can you detect a theme here with Dale and Daniel's lack of creativity?) and so "Wolfpack Amateur Radio Photo Experimental Deathstar" it is. BTW did you know that Warpe "is a municipality in the district of Nienburg, in Lower Saxony, Germany"? At least that is Wikipedia's take on Warpe.

I feel like I should mention that this is my very first post in a blog ever!! I read blogs on Trail Journals and I frequently check out Dave Samuels' blog but I never got around to participating in a blog until now. Don't you feel special knowing you've read my first blog entry?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

planning the deathstar

Ok so we picked a name, that's a good start!
Wolfpack Amateur Radio Photo Experimental Deathstar - WARPED - nice ring eh?
Other ideas were WARBLE and HERPES (don't ask...)

Stage 1 - So the idea is to get a small (lightweight) camera as high as we feasibly can and get some cool pictures with the curvature of the earth, maybe some cool cloud cover, etc.... We think we'll probably have to drive west to release the balloon to make sure that it doesn't end up in the Atlantic ocean. The guys are currently ordering parts from wherever they can be found the most cheaply (eBay, Nascar websites, radio shack, etc...)

We got our hair brained ideas mostly from a group called SABLE who got some pretty darn cool photos of the earth (see photo at left, click to see full sized image), and our ideas have exploded from there.

Stage 2 thoughts - 2 way communication with the payload
Stage 3 thoughts - wireless downloads? Maybe a powered webcam?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Balloon Blog!

This blog is going to be where we (Daniel, Dale and I (Alli)) are going to keep a running blog of our adventures in High Altitude Ballooning and Photography. Oh yeah and throw in Amateur Radio operation in for good measure… We are compiling a list of things we need and things we have purchases as well as a bunch of good links to other ballooning sites.

Check back often for more updates.