Amazing Videos: Stuff Launched into (Near) Space with Weather Balloons

by Greekgeek

Lots of amateurs are attaching cameras (or even iPhones) to weather balloons and launching oddball objects into space to make amazing videos like these.

It takes an insanely gutsy, fit and experienced skydiver to ride a weather balloon 24 miles up and jump out. Felix Baumgartner, we salute you!

However, for the rest of us, there's a fun alternative. With a weather balloon, a video camera, some minor engineering, and permission from the FAA (very important!), we can send ourselves virtually into the edge of space and see what it's like!

Here's some of my favorite YouTube videos from our nearspace pioneers. Most of these videos involve a toy or some other interesting object attached to the camera with a rig, providing us with a surrogate.

Above: Photo by k2gxt on Flickr, Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

The Toy Train that Went Viral

This first one is adorable

You may have seen this video: a son's toy train flies to outer space.

It's utterly heartwarming. Ron Fugelseth animated the toy's eyes and mouth, but otherwise it's all from a video camera. 

More importantly, Dad was careful about safety precautions. Click the video's title to view it on YouTube, then scroll down and click the "Show More" toggle to read about the steps he took, with FAA guidance, to make sure his fun science experiment did not endanger any airplanes or people on the ground. 

Stanley: A Toy Train in Space

(minor facial animations added with Photoshop After Effects)

Raising the Spaceship Yamato

For Starblazers Fans

What do you get when you take Starblazers, one of the first anime series ever imported to U.S. soil when we were kids, and reconstruct the opening sequence of the show with a weather balloon to launch a magnificent scale model of the beloved spaceship Yamato?

Shear awesomeness. 

This video can be improved very slightly if you open this concert cover of the theme song in a spare window, hit pause, start the "2D" video below, pause it at 0:25, hit play on the music video, immediately switch back and hit play on the "2D" video, and then watch the launch with a suitable soundtrack.

I cannot describe how happy this makes me. I was utterly hooked on Star Blazers at age 6.

Best of all, this Star Blazers homage video actually raises money for the Wonderland Elementary School in Los Angeles, which means you're wasting time in a worthwhile cause:

Star Blazers in Space: LIVE ACTION VERSION!

Sing it with me: "We're oooooofff to outer space, to saaaaave the human race...."

Lego Toys in Space

Look, ma, no spacesuit!

Next up — literally — is a lego toy space shuttle.

NASA's budget has really been cut to the bone, hasn't it? Take a close look: beads of moisture condense on the plastic, and I think they may be frozen in the stratosphere. 

Also, two Canadian teens have staked a claim on the stratosphere with their LEGO man. 

STS-136: Lego Space Shuttle

Yet another flying toy video

Canadian LEGO Astronaut

Up, up, and away, eh?

A REALLY Cold Beer

I suppose this was inevitable...

Of course, various people have started using "launched into space" videos to promote everything from armchairs — or was that a flat screen TV commercial? — to their favorite political candidate.

Knowing human nature, however, it was only a matter of time before somebody decided the weather balloon method would be a great way to chill beer.

Natty Beer in Space

I don't even LIKE beer, but the commentary on this one is cute. Like the landing.

Or you could just.... BUILD YOUR OWN ROCKET.

This is harder than it looks.

I remember my Dad agonizing for months over some problem with solid fuel pulling away from rocket casing, in a commercial aerospace company that had been flying rockets for decades.

Even now, building rockets that don't blow up or misfire is expensive and not simple engineering. It's still a task for companies funded by billionaires.

However, one millionaire, who made his money in the gaming industry and then founded his own aerospace company, offered a $5,000 prize (upped to $10,000 through donations) to amateur rocketry enthusiasts. John Carmack's challenge: send up a rocket to 100,000 feet, and recover the complete rocket intact. Here's the rules he spelled out.

So far, a few attempts have been made, but I don't think anyone has collected the prize. The following launch came very close: it lost the GPS data to verify its altitude, and was a little banged up on the landing. The video footage is spectacular. 

Skip forward to 1:30 for the start of launch.

Qu8k Rocket Launch: Multiple camera angles, plus onboard footage

This is the fastest rocket launch I have ever seen. Wow.

Recommended Links

Do NOT Launch a weather balloon without getting in touch with local aviation authorities

U.S. Regulations for Unmanned Balloon and Rocket Launches
It's very important to understand the rules for unmanned balloons and construct a safe rig that will not be a hazard to airplanes or people on the ground. You must contact local aviation authorities and get clearance.

Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning
An organization for hobbyists who launch weather balloon experiments. Click the "Members" tab, and you'll find the contact information of members who may be willing to share their expertise.

Check Before Launching a Weather Balloon: WIRED Magazine Article
Yikes! This article mentions several incidents that caused thousands of dollars in damages to vehicles. Sooner or later, someone could get hit. A good parachute system is essential!

GoPro Camera

This is the camera most weather balloon videos use
GoPro HD HERO2: Outdoor Edition

View on Amazon

Weather Balloon

You'll also need helium.
30ft dia. Professional Weather Balloon, 1200g

1200g Professional Meteorological Weather Balloon, Project Aether brand. Diameter at release = 10 ft. Diameter at burst altitude = 30 ft. Volume at release = 100-150 cuft. Nomin...

View on Amazon

Updated: 10/28/2012, Greekgeek
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