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:

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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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    50 Discussions

    1
    UnstoppableDrew
    UnstoppableDrew

    12 hours 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
    RigoC
    RigoC

    14 days ago

    Congrats. It's kind of awesome to think, that's your footage. Also congrats for doing it by the book. Imagine if you didn't and there was an accident?

    3
    jimvandamme
    jimvandamme

    23 days ago

    Wouldn't it be cool to make your own hydrogen and use that instead of buying helium? Just supposing.

    0
    Don Barthel
    Don Barthel

    Reply 20 days ago

    Yeah because hydrogen is even lighter than helium. And hydrogen, unlike helium, is plentiful in the universe. Great idea. Except hydrogen is explosive.

    hydrogen.jpg
    0
    RigoC
    RigoC

    Reply 14 days ago

    Hydrogen is more flammable than explosive. Even that zeppelin, if you watch the video, it mostly burns. That being said, sending something flammable into a busy skylane sounds like a news story ready to happen.

    0
    Henkie
    Henkie

    23 days ago

    Nice project!
    Where did you buy the balloon? The link directs to the camera. As the link for the camera does.

    0
    Don Barthel
    Don Barthel

    Reply 20 days ago

    Someone asked in another comment above and got a fixed link.

    0
    pkorn
    pkorn

    23 days ago

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

    0
    Don Barthel
    Don Barthel

    Reply 20 days 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
    DanielI44
    DanielI44

    23 days ago

    I think soon you will receive a visit from the DoD asking for your Stratosferic Flight Permit!
    But very cool project though...

    0
    makeorbreakshop
    makeorbreakshop

    Reply 21 days ago

    Check the part on the rules for from the FAA, I wanted to make sure everything I was doing was legal

    0
    DanielI44
    DanielI44

    Reply 20 days ago

    Good for konw that.
    But as you mention on the video, the ballon traveled hundred of miles, so for sure those F16 did not made those flyby on a random chance, is quite possible the ballon was detected on the air space and those fighters were scrambled to check it out.
    I'm just curious if for a chance an experiment lile that drops close to an army base or critical governamental facility, to have it recorded a SAM shot or an air interception! :)

    0
    kjlpdx
    kjlpdx

    22 days ago

    as a private pilot i know this thing could kill me if i hit it at 175mph. comments about sending up pallet wood or whatever need to be thought through. these would be very difficult to see up high, being relatively small .

    0
    pierrecarles
    pierrecarles

    Reply 21 days ago

    But then, he had a NOTAM issued.

    0
    kjlpdx
    kjlpdx

    Reply 21 days ago

    to a non-pilot NOTAM likely means little. as a pilot you are required to have accessed all avail flight info, which includes NOTAMs, prior to any flight. when i was learning to fly i came across some balloons once. it was very strange to aim at them and pop them with the prop. also very scary how quickly they approached you at high speeds, more than you would ever drive a car at. a second time i came across some balloons. i cranked a 180°, headed back and at the last second pulled hard on the stick. the balloons had a wine bottle attached. i was that close to see. never again will i "attack] balloons. plus, a mechanic told me the balloon string can wrap around the prop and ruin the crankshaft seal [$$$]. i am amazed that no one to my knowledge has died from hitting a drone. i see pix all the time that have clearly been taken from above 400' agl. pilots are reporting all the time of idiots shining laser beams at landing aircraft. people think that if they spend big bucks on a drone they have the rights to fly it anywhere they wish. i feel all drones should have geo-fencing software to inhibit their range of flight. i see drone pix where life-flight helicopters fly routinely to get to local hospitals.

    2
    makeorbreakshop
    makeorbreakshop

    Reply 21 days ago

    I wanted to make sure I was covering all my basis on the safety side of things. I took a look at Part 101 from the FAA and since my payload was small enough, light enough (under 3 lbs) and all the rigging would break with a 50lb force I was clear to do it.

    1
    stevemoseley
    stevemoseley

    25 days ago

    Awesome job. Thanks for sharing that. So cool to see the balloon pop!