What's better than launching a high-altitude balloon into space from Adelaide 20 times? Doing it live from Linux.conf.au in Ballarat. Check out our exclusive video and learn more about the Project Horus team after the jump, including their plans to launch an Internode Node Pony into space.
We first saw Project Horus at last year's Linux conference, when they showed off Tux flying majestically above South Australia. This year there's no penguin attached, but after a presentation about how the project works, a 100gm helium-powered balloon was launched live at Ballarat University, where the event is taking place. And it got moving pretty quickly, as you can see from the live online tracking — this screengrab was taken about 30 minutes after launch:
This is where it was a couple of hours later:
Despite the technical and logistical complexities of launching a high-altitude balloon with its own tracking system and a camera attached, Project Horus is an entirely amateur effort, with around half-a-dozen core volunteers. "The main reason for us doing it is we find it fun," founder Terry Baume explained. "It's to test our skills and what we're capable of." It's enough to make you want to go out and buy a balloon.
Some random technical facts about the project:
- Uninflated balloon sizes range between 100 and 2000 grams.
- Helium is used for inflation. Hydrogen is cheaper and potentially more efficient, but much riskier to handle. "We have seen what the Bureau of Meteorology do when they work with hydrogen and it makes us a little bit wary."
- The payload box carrying the telemetry and filming equipment is made from styrofoam, duct tape, string and superglue — all lightweight materials which can cope with temperatures of minus 50 degrees or lower.
- Favoured still camera: Canon models running the custom CHDK firmware, which makes scripting automatic shooting and motion detection easier.
- Favoured video camera: Go Pro HD Hero, despite some issues due to its normal shorter record times (one launch stopped filming abruptly after 40 minutes) and battery life. "We have experimented with other cheap video cameras, but most of the time they're not worth mucking around with," explained project worker Joel Stanley.
- Favoured GPS technology: uBlox GPS, which, unusually, doesn't have height limits (GPS systems normally include this to prevent them being used in missiles).
- The custom telemetry gear is named after Egyptian deities. Just because.
- Aside from Tux, payloads have included statues, a toy monkey and radio repeater gear. The main restriction is weight: the lighter the better, and 1kg is the upper limit.
So what's next? Baume says the team wants to run longer missions, with gear in the air for 24 hours or more. And work has already began on plans to launch one of Internode's Node Pony mascots into the sky. Here's hoping iiNet doesn't decide to block that project.