Concept and Research

Project Icarus, a project by students from MIT, inspired me to use my engineering experience to perform a similar experiment. Their results were the catalyst, but having an interest in photography, space, and engineering was what kept the project going month after month.


Research Process:

Reviewed The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14--Aeronautics and Space--Part 101 which pertains to unmanned free balloons. In accordance with §101.1, most of the requirements would not be applicable because the payload would be less than 4 pounds. However, the regulations were reviewed and integrated into the design and launch process where applicable. §101.27 is useful because it discusses the information that needs to be provided to Air Traffic Control 6-24 hours in advance of the launch. The Aeronautical Information Manual was also reviewed early in the project in order to gain a basic understanding of restricted air space classifications.


The National Weather Service launches sounding balloons and meteorological equipment twice a day from numerous locations throughout the country, so understanding their system was a good starting point. The Federal Meteorological Handbook No. 3 (Rawinsonde and Pibal Observations) was helpful to understand typical setup and ascent rates. The Aerographer's Mate was useful for understanding how to tie-off the balloon.


The balloon and payload would be going to the Stratosphere, where it can reach below -70°F, so insulated containers and thermal resistance were reviewed. Although I did start to review thermal properties of materials, I reasoned that a simple Styrofoam packing container can keep a block of dry ice from melting, so it was assumed that the container could just as easily keep cold out to protect the equipment. Battery performance vs. temperature was reviewed and it was determined that alkaline batteries would fail to function and that lithium batteries would perform well even in colder temperatures. Lithium batteries are also significantly lighter and long lasting, making them an excellent power source for the project.


Rope knots were researched to help ensure that the various tied components would withstand the jostling from wind, balloon lift, parachute loading, etc. Some information was obtained from the International Guild of Knot Tyers to understand what type of knot would be appropriate.


Other projects and hobby ballooning organizations were also reviewed for concepts, pitfalls, etc. Below are the projects that were reviewed:

Edge of Space Sciences: A great FAQ section that answers loads of questions

Near Space Ventures: An organized group of launchers with a good ascent rate calculator

Bear: A very technical group with exceptional results

Sable 1: Experienced issues to avoid

UX-1: UK launch from 2005 with general information

Parallax Inc: A book worth of knowledge

HALO: Reaffirmed the University of Wyoming wind model

Pacific Start II: Actually, this wasn't seen until after the launch of Curve_One launch, but it was launched prior to mine and puts me to shame. It's already inspiring me to do more!