To celebrate its launch on 9 September, our Austin-based team successfully “launched” an Intel Edison module into near-space on the underside of a Helium-filled weather balloon. The payload consisted of a battery-powered Edison gathering position data from one satellite system (GPS) and transmitting it to the ground via another (Iridium), while a GoPro camera gathered high-resolution full-motion video. The Edison in Near-Space team of Evan Carrillo, Rich Cherry, Julie Cummings, Mikal Hart, Bruce Hutton, Ricky Llamas, Chris McKean, and Dave Strohmeyer, all members of Intel’s Networking Division (ND), monitored the flight from an ad hoc command center at Intel's central Austin campus.
Liftoff took place at 8:48 Wednesday morning (September 3rd) near the Intel AN4 campus, and about 2 hours later our balloon burst (as expected) at an altitude just shy of 100,000 feet. The bursting balloon jostled the onboard GoPro camera just enough to capture a spectacular image of its shards flying off into space with the delicate blue atmosphere band miles below.
Milliseconds after balloon burst
Shortly before liftoff there was a bit of excitement on the launch pad when the helium tank out ran out unexpectedly during the fill process. The balloon by this time was buoyant enough to get off the ground, but we worried that if we launched the batteries wouldn't survive the slower ascent. The batteries need to stay alive long enough for at least least one successful post-landing transmission if you want to locate your payload.
The moment Chris discovered we didn’t have enough helium
Eventually we made the executive decision to launch anyway, and this proved to be the right one. As a bonus, because the balloon was somewhat underinflated, it actually flew substantially higher than predicted before the pressure differential did it in. Thus, we managed to capture images above the coveted 30km barrier, which is quite unusual for a balloon with a payload above 1kg.
At about 18km, one of the two Iridium satellite transmitters went offline, making the ground crew quite anxious. A second failure would have likely meant the loss of over $1000 worth of equipment—not to mention all the spectacular video and flight logs. But it later recovered—we now understand what happened—and by the time the payload parachuted back to earth, both transmitters were again operating beautifully.
The quirky flight path
The view from 50,000 feet
After burst the payload parachuted quite quickly to earth, and by 11:15 it was transmitting from the ground. Thanks to some excellent navigating by Chris McKean and Evan Carillo, we were able to recover the balloon rather rapidly in a field about 16 miles west of Austin.
We managed to capture some rather spectacular mission video. If you'd like to explore some of it, we've culled some of the best bits:
Serenity and Chaos at 99,000 feet
Balloon Burst in Slow-motion
Those Last 600 Meters in Real Time
Recovery Team Spots the Payload
Computer Animation of Flight Data
Thanks for all the great feedback and support.