Don’t Get Lost in (the) Heaven(s): MIT DIY Space Balloon

preparing weather balloon

When a group of Spanish students managed to launch a weather balloon into space, it made international news. Now a team of MIT students has completed a similar project, but they’ve done it for a fraction of the cost. The shoestring-budget space launch was the world of Oliver Yee, Justin Lee and Eric Newton. Using a weather balloon and a few simple household items, Project Icarus was able to reach an estimated height of 98,000 feet (or 17.5 miles).

mit students weather balloon space pictures

The materials used in the launch were a sounding balloon ($40 including helium), a pre-paid cell phone with recycled antenna ($50), a charger to supplement the phone’s battery ($10),  a parachute ($3), a second-hand digital camera with 4GB card ($40), instant hand warmers to combat the extreme cold of high altitudes ($5), a styrofoam cooler and various odds and ends already on hand or obtained on the cheap. They set the camera to take a picture every five seconds, and it chronicled the entire flight, from launch to retrieval.

After the balloon popped at a height of 98,000 feet, it only took the assembly about 40 seconds to descend. The above video is a compilation of all of the time-lapse photos, and it’s guaranteed to make you dizzy. The team’s amazing feat is thought to be the first ever to be completed for such a low material cost. They’ve detailed the project specs here so that other space explorers can launch their own missions. What’s next for the team? They plan to launch a trans-Atlantic balloon flight and in the process break the records for distance traveled and time aloft for amateur balloon with their Project Lindbergh.

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See more in Do It Yourself or under Technology. December, 2009.

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