Four Spanish teenagers have just proved that you don't need millions of dollars of sophisticated equipment to capture stunning images of our planet from space - Some perseverance, combined with a little imagination, a helium-filled balloon and an $80 USD digital camera, will also get the job done.
The main objective of Meteotek08 was, to make a weather probe from scratch and then launch it and see if they could collect some weather data and capture images from space. The bigger challenge however, was to see if the team could track it, so that it could be retrieved, once it came back to Earth.
Working under the supervision of their teacher, Jordi Fanals Oriol, the four worked on the project in their spare time during the school year and even during the summer holidays. After an entire year of building and testing the probe, the team was ready to launch it in February of 2009.
Attached to a 1,500 lbs helium balloon, filled only partially with air, the weather probe, complete with sensor equipment and a Nikon digital camera, finally lifted off at 9.10 am, on February 22nd 2009.
The four waited with abated breath as their entire year's effort floated away in the atmosphere. In order to get any meaningful results, the team knew that the balloon would have to rise to an altitude of at least 10,000 to 30,0000 ft.
To their delight, everything worked like clockwork! The helium balloon reached heights of up to 100,000 ft, before finally losing its inflation and returning to Earth. The best part was that through the entire process, the probe withstood all the changes in atmospheric pressure, and their sensor equipment never failed, enabling them to track the progress of the probe until it landed back on Earth - about 10km away from where it had been launched.
The students, who are thrilled at their success, said it was a great learning experience, and definitely worth all the effort. To read in detail how they went about creating the probe check out their blog http://teslabs.com/meteotek08/. In order to be able to read it, you will have to translate the blog to English, using the translation tool from Google - unless of course you can read Catalan, the local Spanish language.
Sources: Meteotek08, Telegraph.co.uk, Dailymail.co.uk