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First Weather Balloon!

Updated: Feb 13



The Inspiration


So one day, I got a small helium balloon after I got some oral surgery. Now once it healed, I played with them a little. I wondered how much it could lift. Not a lot. Not more than a 10 paper clips. I wanted it to lift more, so the first thing that came to mind was a bigger balloon. That is when I remembered I learned about Weather Balloons in a Weather book. Then it came to me. I will make a Weather Balloon.




The Planning


I started planning right away. I went onto Amazon and searched "Weather Balloon." I got the first one I could find, which I will regret later on. Later, I will order more parts. While I was waiting for the balloon to arrive, I got to work on getting a box for the payload (the payload is the object sent up with the balloon). I thought maybe a shoebox could be a payload housing.



The Build


I painted a shoebox that I had red once the planning was over. Then, I put my contact info on it.


Once the balloons came, I got a parachute with a 2 foot in diameter. I then ordered some

strong nylon cord. Later, my dad found a small styrofoam box and I moved my electronics into there. I did some calculations, but sadly the 36" balloon is WAY too small. So, we got a 350g balloon. Then, I built an adapter with PVC pipe from Home Depot. Quick shoutout to Home Depot plumbing lady for helping us find the right adapters and fittings. The small side goes into the helium tank, and the big side goes into the balloon.





The Electronics


I started working on the electronics. My mom got me a "Raspberry Pi," which is a kind of microcomputer. I then ordered a "Pi Camera," which is a camera built for the Raspberry Pi. I then ordered a GPS Tracker from "Tracki," which is a (very) small GPS Tracker. I then made a hole for the camera to fit through. I inserted the camera lens in the hole then temporarily mounted everything.




The Basic Program


I started programming the Raspberry Pi. First, I was aiming for a video. But there was not enough SD card space. I settled on taking pics every 2 seconds. This would largely decrease the amount of space taken. I also did this because I did not know how long the battery would last, so if it turns off, it would still keep the images that it already took. NERD TALK: I basically define all my variables for the cam and then enter the main loop. I take pics in the Pictures folder every computer has. I then configured, wired, and soldered 3 buttons. One to start recording, one to stop recording, and an off button.




The Launch


I was ready to launch! After we got 4 helium tanks at target for $25 each, and drove the 2 hour journey to Agawam, MA, the ideal place to launch for our desired landing zone. We were planning to launch at the junior high school, and once we got there, we went to a nearby Wendy's to eat. Then, we drove back to the junior high school. I set up the the tarp, then unloaded everything from the car. First, I prepared the payload once I turned on the Raspberry Pi. I taped on the wings and put a hand warmer in the payload so it can stay warm in the stratosphere. I then filled up the balloon with all 4 of the helium tanks. Then, I tied the knots with the strong nylon cord to connect everything together.

Then, we went to the middle of the field, and counted down from 5 to 1. Then I let go!! At first, I thought it was going up, but then it came down. Then a little boost, and came back down. I tried again for 3 more times and one time it went over the trees and into some farmer's field. My dad jumped in and said he would go to a last min stop to Target to get 1 more helium tank. Me and my mom waited for I think an hour before my dad and my sister, Molly came back. But they surprised me with a jumbo version of the helium tank we brought earlier! We quickly untied the balloon to attach to the helium tank without losing helium. I filled up the balloon a little bit more with the helium tank (which took more time than we expected). I then detached it from the tank and tied everything back together. Then, I did the same procedure as earlier, and I counted down, and let go! This time, It worked!



The Trouble


We got in the car to chase and track the balloon. We got on the highway, and we drove for 9 minutes until the GPS stopped working! We were first thinking that it was from the cold. We drove to the predicted landing site. Which was Bridgewater, MA. We looked there and got takeout from a Chinese restaurant. We could not find it or get any signal!


The Investigation


Once we got back home, I ran to the computer, but no signal, which I expected. I did some google searching, and I found this thing called COCOM Limits, which restrict the GPS from tracking until out on the limits. but once it was out of the COCOM limits, it never got a signal. Maybe because it froze up in the stratosphere. We called the place where it last ticked, and they did an extensive search, but did not find it. But we expected that. So sadly, we were clueless on where it is.


How you can Help!


You can help! If anyone is generous enough, my first recommended place is to look in a town right next to Bridgewater called Halifax. There is a Birdwatching site named "Cumberland Farms IBA." It is possible to have landed there. if you find it, please email me at maxsrobotics@gmail.com. You should look for a yellow and blue parachute attached to a white styrofoam box. I will attach some pics below of it. If you have any questions, reply to this post with your name and question. Good Luck!


My Plans for Next Time


I started thinking about my plans for my next weather balloon launch. I thought maybe a bigger balloon so I could have a bigger payload. I would also need a lot more helium tanks to fill the balloon. That would cost a lot of money though. Probably some funding is required. I don't know where I would get a science grant or funding, but I will study online. I am also planning to get some sensors up there next time such as temp/humidity. I am also going to get a better GPS tracker, and get a Amateur Radio License so I can add in a radio transmitter to send files over radio,and record the location without GPS.


Overall, this was an amazing project! It was exciting to watch it to go up, up, and up! I was devastated to lose the GPS signal, and of course I would have rathered to retrieve the payload, but I am super excited to do another launch!



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