MacGyver would be so proud!
A group of teenagers from Catalonia, Spain launched a $100 Nikon point-and-shoot into space using a helium weather balloon. The four students of the IES La Bisbal school call themselves Meteotek and under the guidance of their teacher Jordi Fanals Oriol, built the system in hopes of getting it to about 30,000 feet. It went over three times that height reaching an altitude 20 miles above the ground.
Gerard Marull Paretas, Sergi Saballs Vila, Marta Gasull Morcillo and Jaume Puigmiquel Casamort launched the balloon on February 28th. The 18-year-olds built the electronic sensor components from scratch. Paretas explained the process to the New Scientist:
We used a cheap camera that you could buy for under €80 ($108). We had a microcontroller that could be called “the flight computer”, as well as a pressure sensor, a temperature sensor, a GPS receiver (used to determine position, altitude and speed over ground).
Finally, there was a radio transceiver that automatically sent us position and sensor reports, so we were able to follow the balloon all the time.
They followed the progress of their balloon using high tech sensors communicating with Google Earth.They used a simulator from the University of Wyoming to predict the trajectory. Using the sensors on board, they were able to retrieve the camera which landed roughly 40 miles from the launch site.
One would assume that a cheap point-and-shoot went up and a pile of broken parts came back down. Not so, according to Paretas.
Only the servo – the motor that was used to orientate the camera – was broken. The other equipment, even the box, was intact.
After retrieving the camera, they loaded the memory card in a computer and were excited to discover dozens of pictures documenting the cameras exciting trip.
The group spent about $1,500 on the project from start to finish. They hope to raise the funds make improvements and launch again next year.
You can see the pictures the camera taken, along with images documenting the process on Meteotek’s Flickr page.