The $150 Space Camera: MIT Students Beat NASA On Beer-Money Budget

Discussion in 'OFF-Topic / Misc.' started by syscom3, Sep 15, 2009.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    The $150 Space Camera: MIT Students Beat NASA On Beer-Money Budget | Gadget Lab | Wired.com

    The $150 Space Camera.

    Bespoke is old hat. Off-the-shelf is in. Even Google runs the world’s biggest and scariest server farms on computers home-made from commodity parts. DIY is cheaper and often better, as Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh found out when they decided to send a camera into space.

    The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

    Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

    Launch

    Two weeks ago, on Sept. 2, at the leisurely post-breakfast hour of 11:45 a.m., the balloon was launched from Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Lee and Yeh took a road trip in order to stop prevailing winds from taking the balloon out onto the Atlantic, and checked in on the University of Wisconsin’s balloon trajectory website to estimate the landing site.

    Because of spotty cellphone coverage in central Massachusetts, it was important to keep the rig in the center of the state so it could be found upon landing. Light winds meant the guys got lucky and, although the cellphone’s external antenna was buried upon landing, the fix they got as the balloon was coming down was close enough.

    The Photographs

    The balloon and camera made it up high enough to see the black sky curling around our blue planet. The Canon was hacked with the CHDK (Canon Hacker’s Development Kit) open-source firmware, which adds many features to Canon’s cameras. The intervalometer (interval timer) was set to shoot a picture every five seconds, and the 8-GB memory card was enough to hold pictures for the five-hour duration of the flight.

    The picture you see above was shot from around 93,000 feet, just shy of 18 miles high. To give you an idea of how high that is, when the balloon burst, the beer-cooler took 40 minutes to come back to Earth.

    What is most astonishing about this launch, named Project Icarus, is that anyone could do it. The budget is so small as to be almost nonexistent (the guys slept in their car the night before the launch to save money), so that even if everything went wrong, a second, third or fourth attempt would be easy. All it took was a grand idea and an afternoon poking around the hardware store.

    The project website has few details on how the balloon was put together — but the students say they will be selling step-by-step instructions for $150 soon. That means you will soon be able to launch your own balloon for just $300 — $150 for the instructions and $150 for the parts.
     

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  2. B-17engineer

    B-17engineer Active Member

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    Wow!!!! just with 150 dollars. Jeez.
     
  3. ccheese

    ccheese Member In Perpetuity
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    Bravo to Justin and Oliver. Just goes to show you......

    Charles
     
  4. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Certainly a cool idea put through to execution. Would certainly give it ago except for the fact that from here it would end up in the sea so you wouldn't get it back :/
     
  5. 109ROAMING

    109ROAMING Active Member

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    Great stuff

    How long though before this happens

    "Pilot to copilot WTF is that?"
     
  6. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    That is fricken awesome!
     
  7. B-17engineer

    B-17engineer Active Member

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    :lol: tomorrow you hear about a flood of UFO sightings. haha
     
  8. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    #8 RabidAlien, Sep 16, 2009
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2009
    :occasion5:

    ETA: Never underestimate the devious cunning of smart people who are bored.
     
  9. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    Even across continental North America
    I'm surprised there wasn't a chance of it drifting off the continent and into the Atlantic - 18 miles is a long way up to hope there's no air currents and to a lesser extent, on the way down as well.

    Great story though, two guys who have done their Institute proud and not through high-brow academic nous, simply through resourceful thinking.

    No reason why those photos couldn't be entered in a photo competition either, the project's a winner from start to finish, a photography award would be the icing on the cake.

    Thumbs up to the pair of them, outstanding.
     
  10. Vassili Zaitzev

    Vassili Zaitzev Well-Known Member

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    Gotta say, wow! Pretty cool idea those guys cooked up.
     
  11. proton45

    proton45 Member

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    Some people on a tv show did something very similar...it was a uk "science show" call "Bang goes the theory"...they did it in the uk so maybe the currents don't take it that far (?). :idea:
     
  12. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    When I was a kid, I had one of those Black Estes rocket kits that had a kodak 110 camera in the nose...

    When I had the film developed, I was in awe of the images taken from heights about 500 feet...

    But flying a camera to the edge of space...that's incredibly cool!

    Gotta hand it to those two, way to go!
     
  13. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    :lol:

    I remember those rockets. I believe it was called "CamRock". I think they also had a movie camera version called "Cinerock".
     
  14. wheelsup_cavu

    wheelsup_cavu Well-Known Member

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    That was a neat idea.
    IMO, the pictures are very good too.


    Wheels
     
  15. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Holy crap, I'd forgotten about those things!
     
  16. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    Makes NASA look pretty stupid to be honest... incredible.
     
  17. proton45

    proton45 Member

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    One kind'a wonders how many of the pictures where actually worth looking at... I assume that the camera was just clicking away for 5-10 minutes and then they just kept the photos that where worth looking at...

    Still a fun idea, I'm not taking anything away from the initiative these young lads are showing...but maybe the idea can even be improved (a little). :oops:
     
  18. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Why?

    NASA (and the NRO) invented digital cameras. And it was the forerunners of NASA that did this very same thing in the 1930's.
     
  19. proton45

    proton45 Member

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    I kind of had the same thought... :glasses3::dontknow:
     
  20. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    Ditto.

    As for the number of "bad photos", there were probably quite a few. No photographer, with the exception of Ansel Adams, ever took just one picture and walked away from a scene with a winner. Back in the 35mm film days, professional photographers were generally happy with one marketable shot in a 36-exposure roll. Digital just makes it that much easier. If Evan himself were to strap his best camera and lens inside a $1.50 styrafoam cooler and send it into the stratosphere (he'd probably have a coronary!), even he'd get blurry, out-of-focus, pitch-black-of-space shots. Its the nature of the beast.

    Story goes, about NASA and its R&D: they spent billions researching and coming up with a pen that would write in the absence of gravity. Russia sent its astronauts up....with pencils. Who knows if its true....its still funny as heck!
     
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