ALIEN – ALtitude Imaging Entering Near-space

March 27, 2009

About the project

It has just occurred to me: we haven’t yet told you anything about what ALIEN actually is! You’ve heard titbits about latex balloons, GPS and “high altitude”. But how do these things tie together into something special; something to get excited about? Sit back, put your feet up and prepare for a sharp dose of inspiration.

We intend to obtain a high-altitude, meteorological balloon, fill it with helium and launch it to an altitude of ~30km (100,00ft for you imperial nuts). This in itself isn’t very interesting however, so we’ve decided to spice it up with a super-high-tech payload attached to the bottom!

On board we will be flying a Canon Powershot A80 camera (courtesy of Alex) in order to take pictures of the view from the balloon at regular intervals. Rest assured, they will be stunning, complete with lens flare and Earth-curvature.

In addition to the camera, we will also launch two temperature sensors (one internal, the other external) to log data throughout the flight. This is partly “just because we can”, and party to see how well the insulation (in the form of polystyrene and a space blanket) holds up against the stratosphere, which is -56.5 degrees Celsius and then warms up a bit to -46.5 degrees at around the 30km mark. This is also because the school want the project to sound remotely scientific as opposed to ‘just for jokes’.

This is all very good, however we also need a way to recover the payload when it comes back down to Earth (all balloons, sadly, burst) under a rather hefty parachute. To this aim, we are including a GPS module linked to a radio transmitter. The payload will be broadcasting its exact co-ordinates (and altitude) for us to pick up on the ground, and follow. As well as sending the co-ordinates over radio, we also hope to be able to hack my Sony Ericsson w800i mobile phone so that we can send text messages over the cell network containing this information. Unfortunately, this only works under an altitude of a few thousand feet – hence the need for radio.

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