CNN launches balloon mission to 'near space'
CNN's video-equipped weather balloon shoots skyward on Saturday from its liftoff point in Peachtree City, Georgia.
June 21st, 2012
03:56 PM ET

CNN launches balloon mission to 'near space'

  • Saturday, June 23, 9:49 a.m.ET update: CNN's ground crew is tracking the "Yeager" video-equipped weather balloon across Georgia. You can track it too by clicking here and entering this code into the search window: AE5JY-8
  • Saturday, June 23, 9 a.m.ET update: Our video-equipped weather balloon nicknamed "Yeager" is on its way toward the edge of near space!

Just about anybody nowadays can reach the fringes of space - if they have the "right stuff."

In this case, the right stuff might include a weather balloon, a GPS unit and a video camera. Destination: the region where air and "near space" meet. Now CNN is going to give this a try.

We're gonna [hopefully] launch a weather balloon and video camera on Saturday, June 23, at 7 a.m ET.

And you can follow our mission on Twitter at @CNNLightYears.

The goal: capture some cool video up there in the rare air.

The camera [hopefully] will return by parachute safely back to Earth. Then we'll post the video here on Light Years.

CNN producer Chris Erickson and his team have partnered with technology enthusiast Desha Rogers to venture to - as they call it - "near space"

We're not going to "infinity and beyond," to quote Buzz Lightyear. We're actually hoping to see what it's like at an altitude of around 100,000 feet.

For perspective, many cross-country airliners cruise between 30,000 to 40,000 feet.

The weather balloon and camera payload delivery system that Rogers and his 8-year-old son help make will be loaded with video and tracking equipment. CNN will join and film the space adventure.

Here's our project checklist:

1. See how others have done it

Rogers got some tips on how to build a weather balloon from those who have gone before. The Bespin project, documented here, is pretty widely known among aficionados. Another cool one is Dinomission. See how CNN iReporters have gone NUTS with weather balloon projects. It's crazy, really. 

Watch this amazing video that students at University of Southern Indiana retrieved from a weather balloon.

2. Obtain a weather balloon and a parachute

A weather balloon was ordered from Kaymont Balloons and a parachute from The Rocketman.

3. Video equipment

CNN provided Rogers with three GoPro waterproof cameras which will attach to a styrofoam container  on the weather balloon. These cameras cost us about $300 a piece. You know, it can get pretty chilly up in "near space" - well below freezing. Will our cameras survive? They're protected by waterproof housing seals and experts tell us the heat generated by the cameras themselves will keep them warm enough - as long as they remain sealed.

4. Tracking

Our balloon is equipped with SPOT GPS unit at a cost of about $200. This technology allows us to track our equipment via GPS - helping our human trackers-on-wheels follow the balloon wherever it may lead.

We guess - based on typical local weather conditions - our balloon will travel about 40 miles. Erickson said he was hoping the balloon won't travel more than 100 miles.

Oh yeah, we hope to map our balloon-camera's updated position in real time, every 2 minutes via online mapping. Check our CNNLightYears tweets for links after we launch.

5. Launch site

A word of warning: do not - I repeat - do not launch a weather balloon without permission from the FAA or other appropriate aviation authorities. Failing to do this may put you in serious trouble with The Man.

In our case, the National Weather Service has been kind enough to let us launch from its station in Peachtree City, Georgia.  Sorry - for obvious reasons - the NWS won't be able to do this for individual enthusiasts.

Finally, we want to know: have you - or has anyone you know - launched a video-equipped weather balloon?

Please share your stories, ideas and tips below. Join CNN's mission to reach for the edge of space.

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soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. David marder

    Beebusters launches weather balloon from laguna hills ca 10/13/2012 with 2 go pros and gps tracker max alitude 100,000ft
    recovered 10/14/2012 great pics of near space and lots of fun also got FAA aproval 24hrs before launch

    October 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  2. Marcus

    Really?

    "A word of warning: do not – I repeat – do not launch a weather balloon without permission from the FAA or other appropriate aviation authorities. Failing to do this may put you in serious trouble with The Man."

    Followed by
    "have you – or has anyone you know – launched a video-equipped weather balloon?"

    Really?

    September 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
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