The team with the recovered weather balloon, one of the balloons still intact

The team with the recovered weather balloon, one of the balloons still intact

The Vega 1 was a mixed basket as far as success goes. On one-hand, it took six months and a couple hundred dollars to complete, whereas future balloons would only take a couple weeks. It also didn’t really work terribly well, the cameras shut off before the module even lifted off, the chips froze out and the balloon took nearly six hours to touch down again after lift off, tantalizingly bouncing in and out of cellular range, leading us on an exhilarating and stressful balloon chase. Yet somehow, we still managed to recover the thing, not more than a mile from Midway airport. Both the one success and the many failures are undeniably due to how we designed our balloon. When we started this thing in December of 2012, we had absolutely no idea how to build a weather balloon capsule that would accomplish what we wanted it to. However, using the trusty (or not so trusty) tool known as the internet, we developed a design over a couple weeks. The main body of the craft was to be made out a Styrofoam cooler and its lid, with our logo and a letter to whoever found it before us. A solar panel would also be placed on the lid, feeding to a car battery which in turn feed into a power inverter which feed into a USB battery that would be used to power our instruments. Three holes would also be made in the capsule, two for camera lenses and a third for an electromagnetic radiation sensor called Mr. Ghost, which we connected to an iPhone (Joshua’s personal phone), that would also be be used for tracking the capsule below 10,000 feet. Finally, there would be an Arduino equipped with temperature, altitude and motion sensors. Each of these devices: the battery, the iPhone, the cameras, and the Arduino were stored in there own separate Styrofoam case,which were in turn stacked inside the cooler like modular bricks, surrounded by a sea of Styrofoam pellets. An electronic parachute release system that would utilize data from the Arduino was also devised. You can read more about it on this blog post. A few of these features had to be removed to due to numerous issues: the inverter sparked out multiple times, the car battery proved too heavy,  the solar panel wouldn’t charge anything correctly, and the parachute deployment mechanism only occasionally worked. So we ditched the inverter and car battery, replaced the solar panel with a smaller and less effective one, and finally moved the parachutes to hang under the balloon. Yet on launch day, everything still didn’t go according to plan, the box was packed in such a fashion  that it was hard to reach power switches, the cameras had a bad view, and the capsule weighed so much we had to use two balloons. It wasn’t all bad though, and you can read about the fun we had here, and we learned many things that would help us on our next project, the Gemini 1.