Teens send balloon into space, get aerial photos of Earth

Teen scientists at IES La Bisbal school in Catalonia sent a latex balloon 20 miles into the sky, to the edge of space, and took stunning photos of the Earth with it, using a cheap digital camera:

Building the electronic sensor components from scratch, Gerard Marull Paretas, Sergi Saballs Vila, Marta­ Gasull Morcillo and Jaume Puigmiquel Casamort managed to send their heavy duty £43 latex balloon to the edge of space and take readings of its ascent.

Created by the four students under the guidance of teacher Jordi Fanals Oriol, the budding scientists, all aged 18-19, followed the progress of their balloon using high tech sensors communicating with Google Earth.

Team leader Gerard Marull, 18, said: "We were overwhelmed at our results, especially the photographs, to send our handmade craft to the edge of space is incredible."

Teens capture images of space with £56 camera and balloon




  1. Kudos to them, to those headed to stiff fines and perhaps jail times doing the same … kudos to you as well.

  2. This
    is my favourite on their flickr set! Talking about the height at which commercial airliners fly, check out the condensation stripes below!

  3. > “…Building the electronic sensor components from scratch…”


    > “…It was able to carry the sensor equipment and digital Nikon camera which weighed 1.5kg.”

    So…did they build a commercial Nikon camera “deom scratch”?

  4. This is the age of Technoliberation, folks.

    Expect more wonders and prodigies in the years to come. Crisis or not.

  5. So this is what ended up in the engines of the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River.

  6. This is encouraging! We really do still have enthusiastic curiosity for what we are capable of on this planet. Don’t let the negative media and government officials crush your spirit. Great job!

  7. @HPAVC: Huh? with an extra added Huh? on top.
    “Stiff fines”? Is someone running an illeagal space program somewhere? If so, how do I join?
    Getting a launch permit for this contraption would be considerably less difficult than, say, building the darn thing, so why would anyone assume that this should be done under the radar?

  8. can anyone just send shit into the air/space or did they need some sort of license? or airspace-registration to make sure that the balloon doesn’t hit a flock of geese?… or a plane?

  9. Building the electronic sensor components from scratch

    Yeah, unless they have an ASIC fabrication process, they’re not really building “from scratch”.

    But, damn, what they did is pretty impressive. It’s damn damn cold that far up.

  10. They are subject to no fines.

    There is not permit they need to get.

    They’re not doing anything against the law; not in the U.S. anyway. You can even have road flares and/or strobe lights attached and not be subject to any sort of penalties, according to the FAA.

  11. Their Flikr set is fantastic! It includes some videos.

    They tested all the electronics at dry ice temperature in a box/chamber they constructed.

    The balloon reached an altitude over 30,000 meters! They monitored barometric pressure, temperature and position during the flight, and show graphs of altitude vs time, ascent/descent rate, Temperature vs altitude, and horizontal altitude vs time graphs.

    What an achievement!!!

  12. But… but… what about the space birds that might eat the space balloon? Won’t somebody think about the space birds?

  13. I spent all summer in 6th grade with a friend trying to come up with a way to do this. That was like 1986 BTW…

    I love technology, I wish I was born in 94 instead of 74.

  14. #10/Madfist

    Thank you for my first laugh of the day (I’m collecting laughs…)

    lol….I love a sharp and witty mind…

  15. Spin

    …Building the [electronic sensor components] from scratch…

    …It was able to carry [the sensor equipment] and [digital Nikon camera] which weighed 1.5kg.

    So…did they build a commercial Nikon camera “deom scratch”?


  16. While it’s true that they didn’t build all their sensors ‘from scratch’ (eg. the camera) they did build a lot of electronics themselves from a low level. They etched their own circuit boards. They also tested their electronic systems for the environment, which is pretty darn advanced for a small group of 18 and 19 year olds.

    Very cool!

  17. I did this a couple of years ago and had a blast. I’ve got about a thousand pictures from the two cameras posted on my website:


    I think total cost was in the neighborhood of $300. One of these days I’m going to have to put together a mostly ready-to-fly kit for educators who want to give their students a chance to do experiments without having to figure out all of the electronics and stuff themselves.

    My next one’s going to have a live slow-scan TV downlink, with pictures and tracking data posted to the web in real time.

  18. #11 – If you’re under 4 lbs (in the US, anyway) you’re pretty much exempt from everything. It’s treated the same as a rogue party balloon.

    I launched a 3 lb payload in restricted airspace (I added a radar reflector for safety) and had no trouble getting the Air Force to approve use of the airspace. It was a weekend, they said, and they weren’t doing anything out there anyway. Further, they thought it sounded like a cool project and wanted me to keep them updated.

    The park service, on the other hand, were totally uncooperative. Had to launch from BLM land.

    Yeah, there are rules to be followed. And if you’re in Australia, I think you’re pretty much out of luck. But there are a lot of people doing this, and most places it can be done legally without much fuss.

  19. This is cool, and something I wish I’d a a chance to do as a child. However, the first time a commercial airliner accidentally hits an ascending 4-pound balloon sensor package launched by enthusiastic but clueless amateurs, causing a puncture in the aircraft’s skin or windshield and leading to a loss of cabin pressure, there will be hell to pay. Until then, I hope they have fun.

  20. This is especially amazing when put into a historical perspective: 50 years ago, this sort of thing would have cost thousands of dollars and was the exclusive purview of the US Air Force, not because it was illegal but because they were the only ones with the tech to do it. Today, some teenagers with off the shelf components did it. Amazing.

  21. #26 – The National Weather Service launches hundreds of radiosondes every day. I’ve never heard of one being hit by a plane.

    Put a radar reflector on it and it gives a solid radar return, too. The FAA rules are actually pretty well thought out. Look up FAR 101 (14 CFR Part 101) if you want the details. It’s very specific on things like how much force is required to separate the suspended payload from the balloon.

  22. 10 years ago I was involved in a project at my High School to do something very similar, we were doing a balloon-assisted rocket launch. We never made it, the costs were a bit prohibitive, but it’s fascinating to think about doing a similar project today. Innovation abounds!

  23. I’m curious about the radio system they used. Did they have any control of the system, or was it simply data-logging onto a card, and that’s part of the reason they needed to retrieve the payload?

    And 10km away from launch, considering how high it got, that’s pretty good. If that thing got into the Jet Stream, it could have been carried half way around the planet.

    Nifty stuff though.

  24. Those who lecture about the dangers these pose to airliners clearly have little concept of volume.

    The chance of an airliner hitting one of these projects is astronomically low.

    However, as these kids were using cameras and electronics, and using their brains, they are clearly potential terrorists, and should be arrested and locked up henceforth.

  25. Our teacher today gave us a project that we have to make a device that goes 20 miles in the air and we were going to make like a helium hot air balloon, but i was wondering if you need a license for anything to go that high

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