Donations will help cover expenses and are much appreciated!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where do we go from here? Higher....much higher!

The Anderson - 1 has landed, the pictures have been sorted, and I've had time to think about what went right and what could have gone better.  The parachute did slow down the craft, but tore on several grommets so we'll use a sturdier material next time.  I would like to use a larger balloon next time (1500 gram or larger), but the same amount of helium (120 cubic feet worked fine and had plent of free lift...maybe a little too much?).  A larger balloon with the same amount of helium will allow for greater expansion as it gains altitude, and a longer flight time. 

On the camera, I'm going to start using a polarizing filter.  Polarizing filters are used extensively in photography to cut down on glare and reflections.  They allow you to look past the water vapor in the clouds, and reduce the sun's intense rays which oftentimes result in an "overexposed" Earth.  I may also set the camera shutter speed to a specific number, instead of letting the camera decide which speed is best depending upon the amount of light in the photo.  I read that 1/800 of second is good for near-space photography, but I'll need to do more research and try a few experiments with it. 

This brings me to the more ambitious side of this future launch.  NASA launched a 2-ton solar telescope that stayed aloft for several weeks as it watched the sun from above the distortion of our atmosphere.  While I need to speak with an engineer and work out the technical aspects of this, I would like to put a solar filter on our camera (the kind used for viewing the sun through a telescope) and design a simple "sun tracker" platform for it.  While it wouldn't be magnified beyond what software could do, a simple tracking platform for our camera could allow for amazing views of the sun.  Since the balloon would sway and wander about with the wind, it will be more of a statistical increase in sun shots versus being able track it constantly.  The solar filter would cut out most of the sun's light, and we could view our sun as it truly is:  a star in space; a gigantic spherical fusion reactor.  Of course, I could just take my chances and launch a camera with a solar filter on it, but I think the tracking platform is doable and worth a try.  If we can track the sun, we can track the moon.  If we can zoom in on the moon and take photos, we can try other 100K feet, 99% of the atmosphere is below you, which is the reason Hubble is up there in the first place.  Balloon-based platforms will not be nearly as stable as one in Earth orbit, but it is worth a try.  On the second camera, I'm going to get my sunrise from the edge of space, and employ the polarizing filter.  If you have any ideas for launch, or would like to make a donation please do.  All monies donated will be used for helium, balloons, filters, and launch-related expenses.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Coming down from the mountain...

After spending many hours reviewing the photos, I have had thoughts I deemed worth writing down.  Seeing the Earth in such a manner, and having done it in such a humble manner, I find myself transfixed...and in awe of creation.  The blue orb of our home circles endlessly on a journey around a average star that is on the edge of a spiral galaxy....I was able to capture a brief moment in the history of our universe that will never happen again.  Once one has taken in those views, and pondered on how endless and vast our universe is, how can one come back and operate normally within human society?  After viewing such marvelous sights, how can I dare turn my attentions to mundane tasks such as taking out the garbage, paying bills, or checking the mail?  How is it our rather absurd existence makes any sense in the context of the photos you have seen (or are about to see)?  It seems almost a cosmic anomoly, a brief episode that will exist for a moment and disappear into the blackness of eternity, while the universe moves on. 

Our best hope for humanity is to spread out across the solar system, to boldy enter the void, and to colonize the solar system and beyond.  I can't wait, and hope I live to see the beginnings of a permanent base.  I think near-space is a wonderful place to offer affordable space-tourism for the masses.  Even the most humble among us would be changed forever upon seeing the planet in such a manner first-hand.  It is life-changing. 


Saturday, March 27, 2010

God must be a painter, to create such a beautiful world....

The pictures came through! I haven't been this tired since I was in my late teens....but the results are nothing short beyond words.
After fiddling with my 23-foot PVC pipe contraption for several hours of wrangling I was finally able to break the craft loose from its treetop resting point. Upon opening the payload I immediately noticed that the craft was in amazingly good condition. While the parachute was torn on two grommets, EVERYTHING in the payload was sealed and in the same position I left it, which is saying something because every single electronic device had been attached via velcro. Also, the movement I noticed on the video was not the constant spinning I've seen on similar projects, which tells me I'm on to something. While statistically the number of usable photographs was not what I'd like it to be, the fact that the camera continued shooting over 3500 photos without the batteries dying or anything freezing up is a testimony to modern engineering, and I'd say at least 50% of the photographs were usable, without a huge blur. I have painstakingly gone through all the photographs, and found the ones I thought to be the "best of the best" for your viewing.

Enough are the photos I went through so much trouble to obtain. I may add more later, as well as the video which is not at quite as high a resolution. I'll need donations and sponors to invest in an HD video camera and build upon this success, but more about that later...

For now, enjoy the photos...I certainly have been.  To see the full photo, click on them because they are partially cut on the webpage, so click and check them out the way they should be viewed, or visit the photobucket site for more pictures from the final frontier.

And they are...

Selected Pictures from Anderson - 1

Sunrise.  I did not complete my secondary goal of sunrise from near-space, which would have viewed the sun as it comes around the sphere of our planet, with the backdrop of black space around it.  I was too late.  I was extremely cautious on this first launch, as it is too easy to fumble and either burst the balloon, tangle a line, forget to press a button on the camera, release the balloon before you attach the payload, ect. I did obtain a sunrise, but the space sunrise will be for the next launch and I am confident we will obtain our photos.  Anderson - 2 is already in the planning stages, with many lessons learned and improvements already in the works.  Hopefully through sponsors & donations I can purchase a new or used high-definition video camera for the next launch.  If anyone has an older yet functional one they're willing to donate, I'd love to send it up!

Glare, or meteorite?  Could be glare....

Condensation on the camera lens is apparent

After journeying to the edge of space...we get stuck in a tree!  That was the hardest part of the entire project, besides getting stuck in the mud at the launch site.  More pictures are posted at:

Until next time....enjoy the view, and remember how special and fragile our world truly is.  Indeed, we know of no other place like it at this is a veritable Garden of Eden in a cosmic without measure or boundaries.

SUCCESS! Well, for the most part!

The launch, flight, & landing of our craft was SUCCESSFUL! It was released around 6:40 a.m., a bit later than anticipated due to this being my first launch and my desire not to rush anything. I have to tell you, it is really easy to screw something simple up (like filling the balloon too rapidly and accidentally popping it, or having a hand slip and letting the darn thing go without the payload, ect). The ascent rate was downright awesome. The craft flew immediately over lake DeGray and disappeared from view within 3-4 minutes. I have read of people being able to see their craft and track it for an hour...this thing was MOVING! About two hours later, at 9:15 a.m. I received a gps signal from 80 miles away, south of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Unfortunately, my SUV was stuck in the mud all the way up to the door and was so frustrating I almost took it as an omen and cancelled the launch, but realized this was my only good window to launch before spring break is over. The winds were 4-5mph but had been at 25 mph and would soon return since we have a new front coming in Saturday. The cell phone battery died, I was stuck in the mud, and I walked all the way to the ranger station, who graciously allowed me to call a wrecker. $75 later, a nice guy named Ray pulled me out of the mud.

We then went home, fed the children and set lunch out for them, and set out to retrieve our craft. Honestly, I half-expected to receive no signal at all, but there it was...every 10 minutes, it was sending out a signal within the same 20-foot area. It landed in a wooded area, full of pine trees (go figure, Pine Bluff?). A bit of a drive later, we were walking around in the wooded area. You can look at the map where it landed at the link I provided below. Have to say, finding it on the sattelite image is a lot easier than findng it out in the woods. While this thing should stick out like a sore thumb (and I have those now!), it took 2 hours to find it. We were actually starting to think we wouldn't find it. I used my cellphone (with a car charger now...good investment!), called my oldest daughter and had her guide us from the sattelite image. In the future, I'm going to bring the cellphone gps which displays your current gps coordinates and can be compared to the SPOT gps image (so then you can compare where you are to where it should be). After 2 hours or so of searching, my wife FOUND IT! There it was, dangling in the trees....about 40 feet above us. Also, I need to mention that we walked 2-3 miles before coming to where it is since the area is blocked off from vehicle traffic. I tried shaking it, climbing it, using a fallen tree to retrieve it...we were there for HOURS trying to get this darn thing down! After realizing we'd need something else to do this, and darkness approaching, we went back home. I'm going to Atwoods this morning and will piece together several lengths of PVC pipe to form a long pole in sections. That should do it. So, at this point we have had a successful launch, flight time, and landing (the craft is completely intact from what I can see). It is still possible the cameras failed and we have no pictures, but I think it is unlikely. I used brand-new lithium batteries in the camera and gps unit, and used two cameras for images (one video and one still) in the event one fails. I do not yet know if the images of sunrise were successful, or if the camera took pictures all the way up and down. I am leaving right now to put a pole together, which will be useful for future launches since we have so many trees in Arkansas. Once we retrieve the craft, I'll start going through the up to 5,000 still images and video we have potentially recorded. I'll post when we get back home this afternoon and then the work of sorting all the images will begin (provided they are there, of course). Talk to you soon!

Here is the GPS page link...check it out!

Aaron & Danielle

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Launch time!

The helium tank is loaded up in the back of my vehicle, and the two cameras have been positioned and tested. I spent some time earlier this week balancing the payload and checking a few things here and there. I have prepared, I have read all I can find, and I figured up a few calculations. The best time I found to launch is tomorrow morning at about 5:30 a.m. on Friday, March 26th. Sunrise at 100K feet occurs about 24 minutes sooner than where I am currently at, so I have to factor that in. Also, with a calculated 4 pounds of free lift I'll have an ascent rate of 1200 feet per minute (which should be great). Given the balloon is 500 grams (larger than some, smaller than others), I calculated the burst diameter & height at various amounts of free lift (from 1 to 8). It's an educated guess, to be sure, but I am hoping it will take about an hour to reach optimum altitude. At that point, it's up to a bit of luck and certain variables coming together in a fashion that results in what I am hoping to accomplish: sunrise from space. The two cameras each have their own settings: one will take still photographs every 5 seconds, and the other will take video. Fresh lithium batteries have been placed into each device, and it's all up to the wind and fate at this point. As far as a launch site, I considered my front yard, but there are far too many tall trees and I don't want to risk the balloon getting tangled up and popping. Even the Quad at HSU has quite a few risky objects that could spell potential doom before we get over a thousand feet. So, where to release? About a week ago, I was looking through my 10" dobsonian out near Lake DeGray and found an area that is free from trees and other obstructions. The dike on your way out to Hot Springs (Highway 7?) offers a good spot to release the craft. I'll pull out to the end of the dike to fill up the balloon and make final preparations, and then walk out to the crest of the hill to release it. Even though it will be dark, I might be able to see the craft for quite a while. There you have it! The next post will either be my endless lamenting on how it didn't work out, or photos from near-space. Wish me luck, I'll need every bit I can get!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Everything complete!

The parachute is finished, the payload layout finalized & balanced, and I am now waiting on one thing: the jet stream. The jet stream, as most of you probably already know, is a relatively high-speed wind that can easily be over 100 miles-per-hour. While we could potentially launch into the jet stream, I want to maximize the chance that our humble near-space nanosatellite will land as close as possible to our launch site. I love a good road trip, but I'd rather not drive a hundred miles or more to pick up our payload. The balloon we're using has a normal inflation rate diameter of 10 feet, and the volume of a sphere (4/3 X pie X r^3; so, I computed 4/3 X 3.1416 X 5^3 which equals 522 cubic feet of helium at "normal" inflation). I weighed the payload at 1.8 pounds, and I read from the students at MIT that they calculated a "free-lift" ascent rate of 300 feet per minute for each 1 pound of free lift (free lift is the force of lift the balloon will have in addition to the payload; more free lift means a faster ascent rate, which is good so long as the balloon is not filled up to the point where it will burst before reaching 100K feet). If we want our balloon to reach 90-120K feet in about 30-45 minutes, it will need 10 pounds of free lift, or about 12 pounds of lift entirely. 15 cubic feet of helium lifts one pound, so we are looking at 12X15 = 180 cubic feet of helium. At 10 pounds of free lift, the balloon should rise at 3,000 feet per minute and reach 120K feet in 40 minutes. Additionally, we will be filling the balloon about 1/3 of it's "normal" inflation size, so there should be enough room for expansion.

Well, that about does it. If anyone has anything to add or something I might have missed or miscalculated, please don't hesitate to let me know. This is a first-time launch by someone without an engineering or physics background/training. I will be checking the weather reports, and plan the launch for the early hours so we can get our sunrise photo. With an estimated 30-40 minute ascent to a decent view of our planet, and the fact that at 100K feet the sun rises as if you are 6-degrees further towards the direction the sun rises (about 20 minutes earlier), I'm taking a stab at launching about an hour before sunrise. That gives us time to obtain a great photo, and I'm not having to launch too early in the morning! It is spring break, and sleeping in is almost a tradition for those of us in higher education! I'll post the evening before launch. Wish me luck, comrades!