Monday, September 14, 2009

MIT Students Explain How to Photograph Space for $150 [Photography]


On September 2, Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh successfully took these images of Earth's curvature and the blackness of space using only a weather balloon and off-the-shelf components—without complicated hacks. Total cost: $148. Here's how they did it.

First up, their rig used a Canon A470 camera with 8GB SD card that they bought used on Amazon. And instead of the expensive GPS radios commonly used by weather balloons, they used a prepaid Motorola i290 GPS cell phone to receive location text messages.

The Earth's stratosphere can get as cold as -67 degrees fahrenheit (-55 Celsius), but they couldn't afford expensive temperature-resistant housing. The solution: a styrofoam beer cooler, and an instant hand warmer. Awesome.

Their low-cost balloon-launch platform reached 17.5 miles high, into near-space. Using the GPS phone to track its location, they found the rig 20 miles away from the launch site about 5 hours later.

Total weight was 800g (about 28 ounces). Apparently FAA regulations only apply to balloons with payloads over four pounds. If you want all the details—including a full parts list—check our their site below.

While groups like EOSS (Edge of Space Sciences) have done things like this in the past, I've never seen it done so cheaply. High school science teachers, please take note! [L337arts via Slashdot]