So, five days after the launch of Operation Ice Dragon I received a call from a kind fisherman stating he had found the cooler. I couldn’t believe it, he said he would be coming into Port Canaveral the next day, and said if you would like to come pick it up your more than welcome.
So on the 29th of November I drove two hours to Port Canaveral to grab the payload and what was left of the balloon. Below are two shots of the cooler right after popping open the lid, as you can see everything was still right where we left it.
I quickly unloaded the SD Cards from the cameras and the phone and washed them with distilled water. Everything had been drenched in ocean water for the last five days so it was important to get as much of the salt water off them as possible. After a quick washing I placed the cards in a container of rice in hopes of drying out internals. I also removed the wooden trinkets we had placed as souvenirs in the payload and placed them in a separate bag of rice to dry them out.
Some disappointing news, looks like the payload never reported back after the flight, I’ve run though a bunch of scenarios in my head, among them:
- The tracking battery died before touching down, I did some pretty extensive testing, so this is not really my first thought.
- The payload landed in the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast. Looking over the initial assent reporting it looks like the balloon was rising at 600 feet per minute instead of 1000 feet per minute, this could have caused the balloon to go further east than expected, and maybe as far as the ocean.
- The payload landed in a area with no reception and could not report it’s location. Reviewing Verizon’s coverage area, it appears that just beyond and to the south of the estimated landing area, there’s a fairly large area with no coverage. I’m leaning toward this scenario.
- Some other error, the app failed, the package hit too hard or landed in water and broke the phone, I find this unlikely.
So looks like the weather this weekend might not be perfect, nice thing is I have next week off as well so if worse come to worse I can wait for it to clear a bit. I ran the current forecast though two sites that plot where they think the balloon will go based on weather, and they are both showing fairly close landing points. The downside to this is they are both a bit to close to the Green Swamp for my tastes. I’ll have to run a few more as the week goes on and see where things end up. If it stays where it’s at I’m going to lean toward heading further south for launch (means getting up earlier blah) but aside from the ocean that’s another area I’d really like to avoid.
I found a great set of videos that go over the preparation and filling of the balloon itself. They are just loaded with information about the process and I found them a great resource for getting the last bits of information I need to get ready for the launch in a few weeks.
I’ve selected the weekend of November 24th and 25th, 2012 (Weekend after Thanksgiving). The plan is to release the balloon on Saturday and if the weather isn’t cooperating give it a shot on Sunday.
I have all the parts and found a supplier for the helium close to my work. The balloon came in last week, and I ran some tests with the cameras to make sure they worked and had enough power to last the flight, all looks good.
I’m figuring on releasing the balloon either from the park in Hunter’s Green or the schools soccer fields around the corner unless the winds change direction drastically. I’m going to be including some wooden tokens in the payload to give to anyone who wants one assuming balloon is retrieved of course.
The balloon will report until it reaches 4000 feet and then most likely go dark until it falls back to earth. The entire flight takes around 2.5 -3.5 hours and once it goes up, it’s a bunch of waiting for the tracking to come back online, thinking of hitting a restaurant for breakfast after launch to burn some time.
If anyone is interested in coming to help/watch with the launch or help retrieve the balloon your more than welcome, kids and adults alike. There’s really know way to know for sure where it will land, if a signal will be returned, or if anything will come back in once piece, but hey that’s sort of the fun. Assuming the tracker kicks back in, it could land anywhere from 10-80 miles away (I hope).
Please feel free to email or call if your interested.
Let’s Go Shopping!
Been awhile since the last update, but I’ve slowly been collecting the items that will go in the payload for the balloon. I’d started off quickly finding a camera for a great price on Craigslist and a found decent deal on a parachute from a military surplus store online. The camera turned out great but the parachute was far to heavy, and I ended up having to order another which was a bummer. I also decided around that time I wanted another camera as a backup but it took quite a while to find one that would work with the software I needed and was priced where I felt ok picking it up.
Today I’ve ordered the balloon and it should be here early next week, I’ve also found a local helium supplier that has the gas and a regulator for good price. So that leaves the cooler and the various parts and pieces to hold everything in place. I’d hoped to have launched around this time, but finding the second camera really slowed down progress.
I’ve reached out to the FAA in regards to the legalities surrounding launching balloons and received a call back from a gentleman in the Tampa office last week. Overall he was very helpful and pointed me to the same portion of the regulations I had been looking over. Based on section 101.1 and 101.31 of the FAA code regarding balloons it appears I can launch the balloon without notifying air traffic control and do not need to worry about the type of airspace I’m launching from based on a few rules.
According to the exceptions listed in 101.1 of the FAA code, as long as I do not exceed the items listed in section 4, the balloon will not apply to the sections, in particular 101.31, following:
It went where?!
One of the most crucial portions of this project is the recovery of the balloon, which will take a bit of technology. Since I’m a programmer I couldn’t resist building the tracking application myself.
The tracker is an Android app that will be installed on an old phone and placed in the styrofoam cooler during the flight. The tracker uses the phones built in GPS to then track it’s position and report it back in the following ways:
- A file on the phone will record every position it observes, so if there’s no cell or internet connection, I’ll have a copy of where the balloon was to see later.
- If the phone has cellular coverage it will send me a text message with it’s position, battery remaining, as well as it’s speed and altitude.
- Finally, if the phone has internet connectivity it will submit information contained in the text message to a web server that will then plot it’s position in real time on a Google map.
Below is a screenshot of the application on my phone, and then the Google Maps view of the points received.
Ice Dragon GPS Tracker
Ice Dragon Google Maps Tracker
A few people have been asking about my posts on Facebook lately regarding sending a weather balloon into space. I’ve indeed decided to try and accomplish this project following the footsteps of many others around the world.
The basics of the project work like this, you buy a large weather balloon to which you then attach a parachute and then a small styrofoam cooler. You then fill the cooler with various electronics such as cameras and some sort of tracking device so you can figure out where your balloon lands when it comes back down. I’ve dubbed this “Project Ice Dragon” complete with logo for the mission.