How to Send a 360 Camera to the Edge of Space

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Introduction: How to Send a 360 Camera to the Edge of Space

About: Making (and breaking) projects in my shop every 2 weeks (or so)

After falling in love with the Mandalorian I knew I wanted to make a project with Baby Yoda. I couldn't think of a better place to send him than space (well the edge of space). I partnered with Insta360 to attach the Insta360 One X to a weather balloon and capture the adventure.

Supplies

Step 1: Purchase Supplies

The goal for everything you purchase is to keep it as light and small as possible. This allows you to use a smaller weather balloon and parachute plus purchase less helium. I used a DIY approach but there are several kits available if you wanted a one stop shop.

If you want one of the best kits possible be sure and check out: Eagle Pro Weather Balloon Kit. It's not the cheapest ($750) by any means but their custom flight computer will allow you to measure temperature, altitude and wind speed which my DIY solution doesn’t. For a DIY approach this is what you will need:

Weather Balloon

I used a 300g version. Weather balloons are measured by their weight in most cases. The size you will need is based on the weight of your payload plus factors like your burst altitude and time of flight. We will get into all of that in the calculations section.

Parachute

The size of your parachute will depend on the descent rate you are shooting for. In my case I was wanting around 17ft/sec so I went withthe 4ft version since my total weight was about 2 lbs.

Insta 360 One X

There are lots of projects that will use a standard GoPro, for this one I wanted to get 360 footage so I used the Insta360 One X.

GPS Tracker

You are not getting your payload back without one of these. Some people will try an old cell phone with it’s built-in GPS. Most of these work off of the cellular network which won’t work at high altitude. Make sure and get a dedicated GPS unit.

Payload Box

These are insulated and small, which is perfect to project all of your gear. Fishing Line To tie your payload to the parachute and the parachute to your balloon you’ll need to use line that can break with a 50lb force. This is per FAA regulations.

External Battery Charger

This will keep your camera powered the entire flight.

Nitrile Gloves

Weather balloons are pretty easy to poke a hole in, these are just added safety to keep the oils from your hands from getting on them.

Step 2: Build the Payload

The assembly of the payload is pretty simple. I actually wound up having to buy a cooler from our local grocery store that was too tall. I cut this down to size to help keep the payload from tipping over once it landed. This was to keep the GPS unit always pointing towards the sky.

I created an X assembly with the combination of the selfie stick that comes with the Insta360 and a wooden dowel. Not only did this get the camera pushed further from the payload for a better shot but gave the overall assembly a wide footprint for landing.

Step 3: Find the Weight

Once you have completed the payload make sure and get a weight of everything except the weather balloon. This includes the rigging, payload box, and parachute.

You will need this weight for some calculations.

Step 4: Check Your Regulations

The following is specific to the United States if you are launching a weather balloon outside of the US make sure and check with your local authorities.

For the US 101.1 from the FAA applies

So if your payload is less than four pounds, and your rope can be broken with 50 lbs you are good to go!
While not specifically required by the FAA here are a few best practices I would recommend (and ones I would use if I was going to do the launch again:

1. Issue a NOTAM

This is a Notice to Airmen. It is a means of contacting your local FAA Air-Traffic Control. You will want to do this 6-24 hours before launch and let them know the following:

  • Launch date/time
  • Launch location
  • Estimated time to burst altitude or 60,000 ft.
  • Expected flight duration
  • Estimated location of impact
  • Diameter of ballon
  • Weight and length of payload.

We will get to all of those calculations in the next section.

2. Find an optimal launch location

It’s best practice to make sure your launch and landing locations are out of controlled airspace. A great way to look this is up is at SkyVector.

These are VFR charts (Visual Fight Rules). The biggest thing you want to look out for is airports.

Step 5: Calculate Positive Lift

In order to figure how high the balloon will go, how fast it will take and approximately where it will you land you will need to know your positive lift. Positive lift is the extra lift your weather balloon needs to rise upward in addition to the lift required to carry the weight of your payload, all the rigging and the balloon itself.

I used High Altitude Sciences Balloon Performance Calculator to figure this out. They have a great walkthrough of the process on their site.

Using the calculator you will adjust your positive lift to get the amount of helium, burst altitude, ascent rate and ascent time the amounts that you like.

For me, I was trying to get the highest altitude possible while remaining under 5 ft/s on the ascent rate. Anything higher than that you can run the risk of the turbulence messing up your flight.

Also the Helium tank I rented contained 75 cubic feet, so I had to keep my positive lift low enough that I had enough helium for the calculations.

I went with a positive lift of 700 grams. Which got me just under 5 ft/s with enough Helium.

Step 6: Determine Landing Zone

Now that we know the positive lift we can get a ballpark of where the balloon will land.

I used Astra-Planner, which not only will give you a single simulation of the flight but can run up to 400 different versions that will vary some conditions so you can get a good range on the potential of flights.

Here is an example of a simulation I ran. One thing to note is that the Nozzle lift is the total weight of your payload PLUS the positive lift. So literally the amount of lift you will need if you measured it from the nozzle of the balloon.

Step 7: Attach Weather Balloon to Helium

I used a metal bracket to attach some clear tubbing to the helium regulator. I had to use my heat gun so that I could slip it far enough down the nozzle.

For the weather balloon I used a 1.5 section of PVC that inserted into the throat of the balloon. It was zipped into place with a string that I would use a safety line as well as the string that would go to the parachute.

I could then insert the smaller clear tubbing through the PVC tube and sync it down so that no helium would leak.

Step 8: Fill Up Weather Balloon

Since I know that my positive lift is 700 grams I used a fish scale to measure the amount. This scale also served as my safety when filling up the balloon. One end of the scale was tied around the PVC pipe at the mouth of the balloon and the other end was tied around the helium tank.

For the actual reading on the scale, I need to add the weight of the payload and rigging plus the positive lift. The weight of the scale was then subtracted from that number to get around 3.1 lbs. I filled up the balloon until I got to that point.

For this launch, I actually wound up having a tank smaller than I thought so I only got to 2.8 lbs which lead to a much slower ascent rate (and a MUCH longer driver time to recover).

Step 9: Prepare Everything for Launch

Before launch, I tied everything together. The payload was attached to the parachute with about 4ft between them. The parachute was then attached to the weather balloon with another 4-6ft of line.

I removed the helium tube careful to not allow any other helium to escape. I quickly twisted the end off, folding it and secured it with several zip ties.

Step 10: Launch the Weather Balloon

Here are a few things you will want to double-check before launch:

  • NOTAM filed with FAA (if you go this route)
  • Balloon Nozzle Lift is confirmed from fish scale
  • Camera on and Recording
  • GPS Tracker on and sending GPS data
  • External battery powering all electronics
  • Contact information placed inside
  • Payload is sealed (in case of a water landing)
  • All strings are tied and double-checked
  • Sky is clear of obstructions plus any planes/balloons

Once everything was good to go all that was left was to let the balloon go!

Step 11: Track Weather Balloon and Recover

I used a SPOT 3 GPS tracker to follow the weather balloons journey. The GPS will send a signal roughly every 5 minutes. To save battery it won’t send any new signals if the unit hasn’t moved.

As I was tracking everything from the app I thought that payload had landed but it actually had gone past the altitude that allowed it to record data. So once the balloon had popped and the payload had reduced in altitude I started getting more data points.

By the end the payload traveled nearly 200 miles away and landed in a big field behind a chicken processing plant.

Step 12: Be Amazed by the Pictures/Video!

So this is the real reason you are doing this project right? I sent up both a 360 camera and a GoPro. Unfortunately, I covered up the hole for the GoPro with tape right before launch, but the 360 footage came out great!

Step 13: That's It!

If you try something like this or have any questions let me know!

Here are some other great resources:

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    81 Comments

    0
    trutrvl
    trutrvl

    1 year ago

    Man, endangering commercial aviation for the self-satisfaction of achieving a height not much more than Concord achieved regularly. Did you even think of getting clearance before sending your basket through the flight air corridors?

    0
    JackB116
    JackB116

    Reply 7 months ago

    You clearly didn't read the full article. Also, you are a very unfriendly person. Seek help.

    0
    knyque
    knyque

    Reply 7 months ago

    You should probably check the instructable and the video before you criticize. He put the regulations in both and followed them.

    0
    isomorphic
    isomorphic

    Reply 7 months ago

    He did!

    0
    DineshB23
    DineshB23

    Question 7 months ago

    I have one weird question what if you send drone made with solar panel?
    for example hydrogen balloon with 360 and once it reach the edge of space! it lauch drone in space with navagation system!

    0
    Harvey
    Harvey

    7 months ago

    One of the best videos I've seen in years. My first experience in controlling a 3D video and I am thoroughly impressed with the entire process from initial research through calcs and execution. Your attention to detail along with safety and wonderful documentation made this a real pleasure to witness :thumbsup:

    0
    charlessenf-gm
    charlessenf-gm

    7 months ago

    Nice work - too bad about the GoPro though.
    Funny how you got comments about why you shouldn't have done it, all the risks to General Aviation, etc. etc.

    While I found myself concerned about the expense involved (don't worry so much about the roof of the chicken plant as landing in a body of cold wet water - or a fast moving stream full of cold wet water), I admired you for risking the expensive gear to learn something firsthand.

    Man is advanced with every such 'daring' or 'foolhardy', "dam the torpedos, full speed ahead" venture. And relatively few, it would seem are the "catastrophic" dangers so quickly imagined by those whose first saying is too often "nay."

    0
    pdriscoll4
    pdriscoll4

    2 years ago

    Really cool project.
    But did you hear the noise of the plane at around 1:46:10 on the full video clip? Think that pilot may not have been so keen on it. I wonder how far they were away from the plane.

    0
    makeorbreakshop
    makeorbreakshop

    Reply 2 years ago

    Yeh the plane stuff is a little crazy but everything why by the book on the FAA side of things. If you want to see something crazy look at 2:47:45 😃

    0
    charlessenf-gm
    charlessenf-gm

    Reply 7 months ago

    I hear nothing at 1:46:10 (and before and after - till the balloon breaks?)
    2:16:25 +/- when things get really noisy and the payload starts moving as if in a storm. https:// youtu.be /XPweRTljgG4?t=8187
    Is there another video?

    0
    UnstoppableDrew
    UnstoppableDrew

    2 years ago

    I really want to try this, but I live in Massachusetts and my simulated flights are splashing down in the Atlantic south of Nova Scotia.

    0
    charlessenf-gm
    charlessenf-gm

    Reply 7 months ago

    Well, then, you've an axcuse to buy yourself a boat!

    0
    pkorn
    pkorn

    2 years ago

    Coolest ever! Where is the F-16 flyby? What time indicator?

    0
    Don Barthel
    Don Barthel

    Reply 2 years ago

    You have to virtual-point the camera down and 135 degrees around back to the left. The plane is at the middle bottom of this screen capture, its clearer in the video. The whole project is awesome. The Insta 360 camera is awesome.

    Screenshot from 2020-01-24 18-01-22.png
    0
    charlessenf-gm
    charlessenf-gm

    Reply 7 months ago

    Hmmm, here's what I see / saw (pun intended) at 2:47:48

    2 47 48.jpg
    0
    charlessenf-gm
    charlessenf-gm

    Reply 7 months ago


    This link begins closer to the brief appearance of what appears to be the silhouette of a fighter jet.

    0
    charlessenf-gm
    charlessenf-gm

    Reply 7 months ago

    Way cool!
    Though I wouldn't think the pilot had been "hanging around" watching it descend. Surely 'we' have the ability to determine what this UFO was without scrambling a fighter jet to try and intercept it for a 'visual' at 400 knots or so!

    0
    redbeardtrev
    redbeardtrev

    Reply 1 year ago

    I first spotted it at 2:47:02 (looking straight down) although you can hear it at around 2:46:50. Then it flies around for a bit (mostly out of visual range) until about 2:49:00, when the pilot loses interest.