If you’ve arrived here at my blog recently, you’ve probably already heard about our upcoming launch. But just in case you haven’t, or if you want some more details, here’s the project description:
In less than a week, weather permitting, we will be launching a gigantic solar balloon. This balloon will rise at least 10 miles into the sky (possibly a lot more) and will likely travel hundreds of miles. It will be carrying a satellite tracker, so we’ll know exactly where it lands, but it will be far out of our reach. This is where you come in.
With Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, we have an unprecedented ability to reach large amounts of people. I suspect that given enough starting population, we could use these social networks to reach people in any town in the United States. So here’s the plan: tell lots of people about the launch, give them the website for the satellite tracker, and when the balloon comes down, maybe we’ll have reached someone near enough to go pick it up and mail back the two cameras, GPS data logger, and tracker using the prepaid shipping label we’ll include with the instrumentation. What this depends on is sheer volume of people, so forward this to all your friends and maybe we can pull this off!
Be sure to like it on Facebook, and post a link on your wall so that all your friends see it too! Also, send emails to anyone you think might be interested in watching it fly across the Southwest.
What is a solar balloon, you ask? It is simply a solar powered hot air balloon. The envelope (outer part of the balloon) is dark, which heats up when the sun hits it. In turn, this heats up the air inside, causing a density difference that gives the whole thing enough buoyancy to lift off. Solar balloons have been around since the seventies, but most launches are quite small-a few trash bags taped together and set loose from someone’s back yard. Our balloon is 43 ft in diameter, almost the size of commercial hot air balloons. Our balloon will be carrying a video camera and a still camera, and I think it will be the first to actually take video from free flight (if someone has already done this, they have not bothered to put it on youtube). Plus, the data we get from the onboard GPS will tell us how high the solar balloon goes. If we’re lucky, we could get to the 70,000 ft range, where the sky is black and the Earth’s horizon starts to look slightly curved.
This isn’t the first solar balloon we’ve launched (see our successful 20′ balloon launch in the above photo, or watch the video here), but it’s by far the biggest. Before packing it yesterday, I had to stretch it out-and it went from one end of my house to the other. In fact, I held off writing this post until I was sure I could actually pack it, but after 2 hours of folding and pressing I managed to get it into a duffel bag. When it’s fully inflated it will be about as tall as the tallest building in Socorro, New Mexico (my home town and launch site), but the plastic is so thin that the whole thing can be smashed into a suitcase-see the before and after pics below: