September 15, 2015

Go-Pro: Grand Canyon From The Stratosphere! A Space Balloon Story


Normally when you send something up in a weather balloon, you expect it to come back down again. The only problem is, what if you lose the ability to track your package… and the terrain it lands in is a virtually endless desert up to 80 kilometres away from your original launch location? Gulp.

That’s what happened to this group of Arizona-based university students who wanted to find out what their GoPro camera would see if they attached it to a weather balloon and sent it to the edge of space over the Grand Canyon.

The team’s video shows they weren’t exactly unprepared for the voyage, either, spending months testing parachutes, calculating wind trajectories, and custom 3D-printing their GoPro camera chassis for its maiden flight.

Everything goes swimmingly at first. On launch day the students drive out to their chosen spot, 32 kilometres west of the Grand Canyon. They release the balloon, which swiftly ascends to an altitude of more than 30 kilometres in less than an hour and a half, at which point the Grand Canyon has become more of a grand indentation on the distant orb below.

However, sometimes no amount of preparation can fend off bad luck. As one of the team recounts in a Reddit post, due to GPS and data coverage difficulties, their package’s return to Earth didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned:

“We planned our June 2013 launch at a specific time and place such that the phone was projected to land in an area with cell coverage. The problem was that the coverage map we were relying on (looking at you, AT&T) was not accurate, so the phone never got signal as it came back to Earth, and we never heard from it….

The phone landed ~50 miles [80 km] away from the launch point, from what I recall. It’s a really far distance considering there’s hardly any roads over there!”

AT&T may well have been responsible for the group losing their device, but as luck would bizarrely have it, it would later come to the team’s rescue also.

Two years after losing track of their GoPro, an employee of the company happened upon the device while hiking in the desert. She was able to identify the SIM card and return the camera – and its valuable recorded footage – to the owners.

An amazing story and an awesome video.

By Peter Dockrill

With many thanks to Science Alert