For MAKE Volume 24 I had the good fortune to be able to write about a very cool phenomenon that has exploded in the maker scene — geeks launching their own weather balloons into the stratosphere, carrying coolers packing cameras and sensors. To be sure, these recent launches are not revolutionary, hams have been launching balloons forever. But it’s a cool and exciting project for individuals and hackerspaces to work on.

Outwardly it’s a very simple proposition. Buy a weather balloon, fill it with helium, and launch it carrying a parachute and a beer cooler holding video and still cameras. But there are hurdles. The appropriate federal regulations are confusing and contradictory. You have to deal with the possibility that stratospheric cold will hurt your instruments. And even if all goes well up until the time the weather balloon bursts, you aren’t guaranteed be able to recover the payload.

My article gives an overview of how to create your own balloon project, offering suggestions for equipment and providing links to previous launches and FAA regulations. The best part is the excellent illustration James Provost created for the article. In fact, you can download a tabloid-sized PDF of the article at the above link.

Check out MAKE Volume 24:

MAKE blasts into orbit and beyond with our DIY SPACE issue. Put your own satellite in orbit, launch a stratosphere balloon probe, and analyze galaxies for $20 with an easy spectrograph! We talk to the rocket mavericks reinventing the space industry, and renegade NASA hackers making smartphone robots and Lego satellites. This, plus a full payload of other cool DIY projects, from a helium-balloon camera that’s better than Google Earth, to an electromagnetic levitator that shoots aluminum rings, and much more. MAKE Volume 24, on sale now.

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2 thoughts on “Weather balloon space probes in MAKE Vol. 24

  1. I have seen way too many high altitude ballooning projects recently in which FAA regulations were analyzed and the builder said, “Yes, we’re legal!”, despite the fact that they were blatantly violating FCC regulations.

    Airborne cellular phones are not permitted except in specific circumstances where measures have been taken to prevent interference with the terrestrial network. (Shielded aircraft cabin, microcell in cabin that causes handsets to drop their transmit power.)

    An airborne cellular phone communicating directly with the terrestrial network is NOT legal, but at least 3/4 of the articles on HAB projects indicate that the primary means of communication with the ground was a cell phone.

    So this new edition covers FAA regulations, do you finally properly cover FCC regulations?

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My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net

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