Eclipse 2017 High Altitude Balloon

A handful and a half of our hackers collaborated over the past several weeks to design and launch a high altitude helium-filled balloon during the recent total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

The balloon was kitted out with cameras, sensors and way-finding equipment. After being aloft for about 3.5 hours, the increasing altitude contributed to the balloon’s anticipated popping and rapid fall back to earth. It traveled around 100 miles, capturing video and photos before, during and after the eclipse.

This project page from our Wiki, prepared pre-launch, contains a wealth of details about the endeavor, including specs of the equipment, testing needs, and compliance considerations leading up to the launch. Member Dan Julio also posted about the project on Hackaday.

The balloon crew included SSD members Brandon Skari, Dan Julio, Tim Pegg, Andrew Bigoney, Specter, Rob Bryan, Sarah Gjestvang, along with additional crewmembers Kate, Bob, Tessa, Jason, and Sarah’s family.

A remote launch site surrounded by land with considerable public access to make recovery easier was carefully researched prior to the launch, though modified after reviewing different wind forecasts. The crew gradually assembled starting Friday night through Sunday, traveling from Boulder to an area about 10 miles ESE of Shoshoni Wyoming. The group split into three teams: a launch team, a recovery team and a remote telemetry receiver in Casper.

Most team members were on the launch team, who released the balloon at about 10:30 am. The initial climb rate of 2.5 m/s was a bit slower than expected and meant that the balloon was ultimately aloft for longer than initially anticipated.

The balloon traveled almost due east, eventually succumbing to the effects of partial vacuum about 20 miles north of Casper after reaching a maximum altitude of over 90,000 feet! At that point the balloon burst, and it and its payload quickly fell to earth. The recovery team, consisting of Kate, Bob, Sarah and her family, found out that the payload had landed on a private ranch. The balloon was found in about 5 hours near the last LoRa telemetry message.

In 360-degree video footage captured aloft during the event, a noticeable shadow can be seen visibly encroaching from the west over the land below. A few minutes later, totality arrived at approximately 11:39 AM. The darkened sky showed stars and the solar corona. The balloon’s cameras continued filming along its eastward trek for almost another hour before the balloon burst.

This endeavor generated a lot of interest and activity at SSD, and many thanks for helping go to: Todd LaWall, Chrobi, John West, and John Maushammer!

Stephen in the news

Member Stephen Chavez has been making waves again — following his presentation with an SSD member at Defcon 24, he travelled to China and won an award at the GeekPwn 2016 hacking contest.  And now, just after his graduation from Metro State University in Denver, he has been featured on Denver’s 9News.

Stephen and friends have been hacking his electric wheelchair with the goal to make it semi-autonomous.  Unable to talk, he uses a computer keyboard to communicate; a task that cannot be done while controlling the chair’s joystick. As a result, he cannot “talk” and “walk” at the same time.  With a semi-autonomous chair, he can set it to follow a friend or drive on a path while avoiding obstacles — freeing his hands to type and communicate.

Stephen’s wheel chair is a product of PGDT.  The chair utilizes a proprietary protocol that runs over the same CAN interface found in all late model cars and trucks.  PGDT calls the protocol R-net.  R-net is deployed on the wheelchair to allow the various devices and interfaces on the vehicle to communicate with each other.  There are no public documents about the R-net protocol.  Stephen worked with a team of hackers to reverse-engineer this protocol and take control of the wheelchair’s internal network.  “We’ve learned that power wheelchair hacking is also closely related to car hacking”

Stephen Chavez. Photo by Sara Hertwig

Stephen Chavez.
Photo by Sara Hertwig

Member Project of the Week!

This is not shameless self-promotion. This is what happens when no one sends me a project to post by Thursday — I post a project of my own! If you’ve been at the space over the last week or two, you’ve seen this taking shape:

100APPLE_IMG_0321

It’s a desk I’m making using reclaimed pine boards. They started life as my parents’ fence, looking like this:

A few passes through the auto planer, and voila! A finished desk. Well, almost finished. I’ve got a couple more rounds of sanding to do, then I’ll stain it and install. The legs in the picture above are just saw horses; it’ll be mounted on black steel pipe with flanges for feet.