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Space Technology

Low Budget Air Space Photography 162

An anonymous reader writes "With a budget of just 350 pounds, two British PhDs in engineering sent a balloon with cameras attached to a height of over 30 km." The photos and video are pretty amazing. Especially the very hi-tech styrofoam box.
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Low Budget Air Space Photography

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  • heavy! (Score:3, Funny)

    by chihowa ( 366380 ) * on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:24PM (#35080178)

    With a budget of just 350 pounds...

    That's some heavy styrofoam!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:32PM (#35080246)

    Neat video. Of course, amateur groups have been doing this for decades, so it's not really news:

    • And Slashdot has posted a lot of them. Used to be the easiest way to get a mention on Slashdot was design an interesting case mod. Now it seems to be balloon space photography.
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      And I was involved into a similar project last summer: Video on YouTube []

      A few of the pics in the video are mine, other pics by other people or the onboard camera.

    • by Ugmo ( 36922 )

      350 pounds? With a weight budget like that, they could have sent me to the edge of space. That would have been an amateur record.;)

  • by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:33PM (#35080262) Journal
    Are people supposed to get air clearance before launching a balloon that passes through altitudes used by commercial aircraft. Just curious.
  • Is there anything they've improved upon versus the other dozens that have been done? I'm too lazy to RTFA after the nth one of these stories.
  • If you watch the video carefully, you will see they invented time travel as well!

  • And at least three Slashdot stories in the past couple years. Its a pretty common science fair project now.
    The "swiss-army-knife" smart phone is the device that makes this possible. It does almost everything you need for a couple hundred bucks..
    • I thought the same thing - "This AGAIN?", but at least this time the guys putting together the video made it entertaining.
      • by sznupi ( 719324 )
        The guys putting together the video apparently couldn't be innovative even regarding the soundtrack; it's non-viewable in many places / some copyright hiccups, it seems.
    • by sznupi ( 719324 )
      At least three Slashdot stories in the past couple months... (easy and inexpensive enough (or less, regarding price...) without smartphone, too)
    • Indeed. I'm surprised this story keeps getting posted every time some group of geeks decides to do this. It isn't newsworthy anymore and the pictures, while great for amateurs, are not so worth my time compared to NASA or USAF photos.


      • by louic ( 1841824 )

        It isn't newsworthy

        This is about the 10th comment I read about the article not being original. Should be modded +1 funny for the irony of it. If you are criticising an article for not being original, what about the comments?

  • by the_other_chewey ( 1119125 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:51PM (#35080448)
    "This video contains content from UMG. It is not available in your country."
  • This video contains content from UMG. It is not available in your country.
  • It could have been way cooler if they used multiple cameras, or at least one more pointing down toward Earth. And how feasible would it have been to add some sort of shared storage device so they wouldn't run out of space and could record the entire flight?
    • by hubie ( 108345 )

      If these were Ph.D. graduate students, they don't have a whole lot of disposable cash in their pockets. Feasibility comes down to how much do they want to spend of their own money on something that might be destroyed or lost, or how much feature creep do they want when they just want to launch it. If their motivation was to move the bar on amateur balloon launch innovation, then perhaps they could/should/etc. have done what you suggested or much more. However, if it was something more like the desire to

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        I think they're a bunch of lying pretentious twats too. They were using an iPhone as their ground based tracking device. That's their £350 budget blown immediately and they should've gone android.

        Not to mention launching from Derbyshire. I hate Derby supporters. They're all twats :(

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      A fisheye lens would do - couple of those and you only need two cameras - use video processing to stitch the two movies together and you have a full 360x180 view. Or get one of those "Gorgon Stare" military surveillance camera systems.

  • Or is it that my computer's clock is really off? Because it was done in December of 2011 according to the video in the article. Anyway this hardly is something new since there was this £500 launch this summer in fancy orange styrofoam [] and even this 150$ launch from September 2009 and subsequent Project Icarus []
  • I expected there to be less swinging and swaying well above the clouds. Commercial jets, at a mere 10 km high (very roughly) are able to often find very still air. Three times higher isn't very very very still? Do we have any experts here?

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )
      Their balloon had no provisions to efficiently damp acquired oscillations.
      • by pz ( 113803 )

        Their balloon had no provisions to efficiently damp acquired oscillations.

        I know nothing about balloon design. How do you dampen perturbations?

        • I know nothing about balloon design. How do you dampen perturbations?

          With water.

          • by pz ( 113803 )

            I know nothing about balloon design. How do you dampen perturbations?

            With water.

            Seriously? As in, you put a small amount of water in the balloon along with the helium?

        • by sznupi ( 719324 )
          Using long tether helps a bit... or an aerodynamic 'brake'/ribbon while going up. But generally: good question, for something so dainty, and with such weight constraints.

          In my occasional toying in this area I might even one day try a variant of Picavet suspension [], or segmented tether made from partly-rigid segments of unequal length (to get in the way of clean or even self-exciting oscillations), just to mention two (quite possibly ineffective) ideas (plus especially the second might have problems with r
          • by mspohr ( 589790 )
            The GoPro cameras ( have up to 170 degree field of view and are affordable. Would be good for this kind of project.
            • by sznupi ( 719324 )
              Hm, still quite expensive, when compared with new Canon digicams (A1200 and A2200 just around the corner...), and almost certainly not so nice video capabilities - heck, none of the other big digital camera makers comes close to Canon now in video (and I'm thinking about really ridiculously wide FOV / total fish-eye, to have a shot at stabilization in post-production ;>> / video per se isn't even required, just time-lapse of most-of-surface-capturing photos)
              • by mspohr ( 589790 )
                Canon makes nice cameras but the OP was looking for an inexpensive fish-eye lens and these Canons are merely wide angle (28mm) ... no where near fish-eye (10mm). (It also apparently lacks image stabilization.) The GoPro has a 170 degree field of view.

                Also, the price for the A1200 is $229 which is not much less than the GoPro at $259.

                • by sznupi ( 719324 )
                  The OP is me ;p

                  Where were you able to find such rip-off for A1200? (while still barely available, it's already at a bit over $100 / should be sub-100 relatively soon; oh, and in practice the differences are much larger for me - the less prosperous the place, the bigger the premium on top of US prices, doubly (or triply, or...) so for niche products - OTOH not so bad for mass consumer ones)

                  Generally, that 170 degrees seems horizontal / full-frame. What I had in mind would greatly benefit from hemispher
    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      Simple answer: Stillness isn't a monotonic function of altitude.

      Simplified more complicated answer: Air comes in layers, many layers, depending on the local weather, but there are generally several major layers covering the whole earth (stratosphere, troposphere, etc.). Each layer has its own characteristics of temperature gradient and general wind pattern. Between the layers is where the most turbulence is, because air really doesn't like shearing. And in one of the upper layers winds of hundreds of kph

      • by hubie ( 108345 )
        Plus, once you start swinging there isn't a whole lot that will dampen your oscillations.
    • by qmaqdk ( 522323 )

      At high altitudes there's much less friction from air to dampen oscillations.

    • The payload is suspended from the balloon and is essentially a pendulum. Any buffeting or motion takes a while to damp down. Just the simple motion of the balloon itself might be enough (I don't know the damping function well enough to figure out what frequencies and amplitudes of forcing functions are relevant).
  • Good example of "duct tape engineering". After all, it is not recommended to use duct tape on ducts.
    • Its called "duck tape". The plastic backing causes water to bead off rather than soak through, just like a duck's feathers. "Duct tape" has a foil backing that is airtight but not very flexible.
    • I've found that it's a much better idea to use duct tape on ducts, than to use gaffer tape on gaffers.
  • It was news the first time someone did it, but not the 100th or whatever we're up to now. I've lost count of how many times slashdot has run "balloon takes camera to edge of space for $x" stories.

  • Many have pointed out that the idea is not new and they are right. Although, IMHO, it is still cool to see stories about near space activities by amateurs.

    Here are some resources to explore:
    * Nuts and Volts magazine has run an excellent series of articles on constructing all sort of instruments and flight gear for near space projects. Including the basics of regulations, etc. (US centric). They still run the odd piece now and then on updated and additional tech solutions from readers.

    http://www.s []

  • Wake me when a group of amateurs puts a rocket into orbit, or, better yet, when a group of amateurs demonstrates some kind of new technology on a piggyback payload in space. I like the DIY scene. I like the Space industry. Hell, I'm a member of both. But until the DIYer's start putting hardware on orbit, then the only thing they will be contributing towards the actual space industry is weather balloon data for a particular date (a compendium of which, for numerous dates, is actually useful in the launch ind
  • but that video almost made me cry. It's just... Ah, forget it.
  • Why didn't the GPS work until it landed? Also, when I enter precise coordinates into Google Maps it gives precise location, not just the nearest road. What happened there?

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI