Noisebridge hackers launch balloon to 70K feet

Noisebridge hackers launch balloon to 70K feet

San Francisco hackerspace Noisebridge launched a balloon to the upper atmosphere, capturing numerous excellent photos as well as one super spinny video.

Declaring a week’s advance notice of a balloon launch to the edge of space when we hadn’t even bought most of the equipment, let alone built it, was probably an act of pique, if not madness. Remarkable how well it worked out, though.

The plan was simple: a ham radio broadcasting an APRS position beacon, a GPS that was known to work at high altitudes, a camera hacked for time-lapse photography, and an Android cellphone that we’d program to scream out its own GPS co-ordinates via SMS whenever it caught a glimpse of a cellphone network.

They thought they’d lost the balloon at one point, and just when they were sitting down at Denny’s to commiserate, the balloon’s onboard G1 sent a SMS and they were able to recover the payload. Whew!

Interested in learning more? Read team member Mikolaj Habran’s fascinating description of the project, visit the project home page or check out the Flickr set. [via Laughing Squid]

10 thoughts on “Noisebridge hackers launch balloon to 70K feet

  1. Andy says:

    Why do all of these projects check FAA regulations and use that alone to justify their legality, but not bother to check FCC regulations? Airborne usage of cell phones like the Android phone this project used is forbidden by the FCC (with a few rare and very specific exceptions involving shielded microcells in aircraft). The cellular network was designed with the assumption of ground-based users and only a limited number of “cells” being within range of any given mobile user. Airborne users -> far more cells within range of the user than the system was designed for.

    I would have expected more from this team since they are apparently licensed amateur radio operators – they should have known better.

    1. Alan says:

      Actually, it doesn’t seem to be that clear-cut. The CFR section on use of cellular phones in flight is here: ( From that, it appears that the FCC bans cell phone use on commercial aircraft, but leaves personal electronics up to the discretion of the pilot in command on noncommercial flights. The Commission is completely silent on the issue of unmanned balloons carrying cell phones.

      Furthermore, the FCC reasoning for the ban seems to be based mainly on the potential for cellular phones to interfere with the plane’s navigation equipment. The impact on the network is a secondary issue, and it’s not at all clear that’s a problem for modern digital networks – especially when the only communication involved is ultra-low-bandwidth SMS.

  2. Jake von Slatt says:

    My favorite part of the video is the stripy pants the guy who launches it is wearing!

    1. Mikolaj Habryn says:

      Thanks, they are amongst the most favourite pants in my wardrobe; glad you liked them :)

      The flickr gallery linked to above has only a subset of the full pictures; check for the complete set, including the lens icing over during descent and just starting to melt again when the camera fails (guess why?).

      1. Gareth Branwyn says:

        I bought my son (Blake) those very stripey pants for Christmas. Sadly, they didn’t fit him. They ARE nice. Got ’em from Slash n’ Burn.

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

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