Helios launches into The Stratosphere
Send a beer to space?
After spending a an hour or two researching high altitude weather balloon lift ratios and wind currents the idea seemed feasible enough. I bought a 600g latex balloon online and started designing a robust space craft out of spare junk in the garage and leftover crap from behind the fridge in the basement.
Ok, so it didn’t quite make it to “Outer Space” Space… but it did make it to approximately 110,000 ft (or 33.5 km) a region defined by Wikipedia as “near Space”. Stable low earth orbit starts at around 160 km… a few kilometers out of my spare parts budget.
After weighing out all the parts and re-configuring them about 20 times to cut down the weight, I arrived at the leanest payload mass I could muster out of the scraps of junk I was using.
According to the HAB landing predictor (yes it’s a thing that exists) 85 cubic feet of helium would take the payload up to approximately 100,000 ft. before the balloon would expand to it’s burst diameter and parachute safely back to earth landing in the uninhabited mountains somewhere on the Cascade Volcanic Arch. Safety was obviously the highest priority. Nav Canada was notified and the device was fitted with a radar reflector. It took a few months of patient waiting until the weather and upper atmospheric winds were predicted to be favorable for a safe landing in non-oceanic un-populated terrain.
The balloon was launched from a beach in Vancouver, BC one cold spring morning. It landed 3.5 hours later across the US border in the forest just off a logging road near Mount Baker, WA.
Once the GPS made it past a certain elevation it was not able to transmit it’s coordinates to cell towers, so I was pretty happy to start receiving transmissions from it once it began it’s descent over the boarder. The problem was it wasn’t able to transmit it’s final landing position (possibly because of dense foliage or landing upside down). I spent 3 days tramping through the forest along it’s predicted decent path with no luck, it was lost.
I kind of wasn’t sure if I’d ever see it again when I started the project. Malaysian flight 370 had recently disappeared without a trace over the Indian Ocean. If a muilti-million dollar high tech 747 can go vanish off the map, this thing probably didn’t have great chances of being found. Not really knowing if I’d ever see it again I posted in the Bellingham “Free Stuff” section of Craigslist. “Free Go Pro – You Just Need to Find It”. All in all I got about 400 eager responses, from people interested in helping to find it. 3 of these responses were from individuals who flew over the area with light aircraft, as well as an inquiry from Bellingham search and rescue asking for the raw GPS data so they could use it as a search an rescue training mission. We went through all sorts of data extrapolations and possible flight paths, but there really wasn’t enough data to be 100% sure where this thing was. It theoretically could have been anywhere over a 100km landing zone.
4 months later I got an email.
“I think I found your spaceship, it was against a log like 10 feet off the main trail”
I wish there was more footage. even with an extra “battery backpack” the Go-Pro ran out of power before it reach it’s highest elevation. Most likely due to the extremely cold (-60 °C) temperatures at 100,000 feet.