Viking I Launch

Our first ‘space craft’, the Viking I, reached an altitude of 95,000 feet and took over 2000 pictures (highlights) of the Earth, Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and the Grand Canyon! The launch of Viking I took place on March 28, 2011, the craft was recovered by Hualapai Tribal Police on March 30, and returned back to the team on April 2!

Description Information
Launch Date 2011-03-28
Launch Time 9:05 AM PDT (16:05 UTC / GMT)
Landing Time 12:07:26 PM PDT (T+03h2m)
Launch Point 36.013421, -115.080883 in Henderson, Nevada
Landing Point 35.68523, -113.54565 north of Peach Springs, Arizona
Balloon KCI 350 Sounding Balloon 50 cubic ft helium
Payload Mass ~800g, 1.75 lbs ~500 fpm lift
Trajectory Interactive Map, kmz
Max Altitude ~95,000 feet / 29 KM
Camera Canon a470 7.1MP 16:9 3072×1728
GPS Spot GPS Personal Tracker sponsored by GPSCity
Misc. Hand warmers, Xtreme tape, aluminum foil

Trajectory estimations were made the previous night (March 27) using the Near Space Ventures flight prediction utility as well as the University of Wyoming balloon trajectory forecasts page. Our estimations were off by around 20 miles, which goes to show that these are only as accurate as the information given to them.

The next morning at 8 am, the team gathered in our neighborhood in Henderson, Nevada to launch the balloon. We wanted to launch so weather patterns still correlated with our estimations, but since we had never done this before, we ended up rushing to get the Viking in the air.

Each of the components was carefully turned on, loaded into the soft cooler and fastened in place while the balloon slowly filled in the doorway. I put a 10 minute delay on the cameras intervalometer, and set the spot gps to tracking mode (which lasts for 24 hours).

Meanwhile Jake and Drew worked to tie the balloon to the payload, having studied a video the night before. When everything was secure we walked the balloon to the street and away it went!

Immediately afterward we drove to a local coffee shop to eat breakfast before continuing on to our base of operations at my grandfather’s house in Boulder City. We later found the balloon took a picture of our car in the parking lot of the Green Valley Ranch casino!

For the next two hours we sat impatiently waiting for GPS coordinates to update on our live tracker page. At 60,000 feet we lost contact with the balloon and started freaking out – but then we realized this was normal and continued to wait for a painfully long hour for new coordinates to come in.

After landing there was a 40 minute window between the first coordinate report and those following, and so we thought the payload was obstructed, lost, broken, or all of these things at once. We knew the general area of landing to be just north of Peach Springs, Arizona along Buck and Doe Road- a 120 mile drive away along route 66. We rushed to a local gas station to resupply for the trip and then sped off along highway 93 towards Kingman, Arizona.

We were so excited in fact, that we forgot my handheld GPS with which we would have used to pinpoint the landing coordinates, and also failed to realize that in that part of Arizona that there is no cell phone or internet service. Lost, with only a few pre-cached Google map pages on the dwindling battery life of a laptop, we pressed on up this Buck and Doe Road. Disoriented, we quickly found ourselves an a dirt road leading for many miles into land that looked the same as the land before it. Based on curves in the road represented on the Google map we eventually ended up within three miles of where the balloon landed.

Jake agreed to keep an eye on the car while Drew and I hiked around nearby to try and find any sight of the balloon, but unfortunately we nerds were painfully inept at walking in the hilly terrain and probably went about a mile before turning back. We tried again on the other side of the road before having to call it a day as it was getting dark and we had to start the 2 hour drive home.

Last picture before impact.

Later that night, things suddenly started looking up. The GPS resumed updating in the same location every ten minutes, and while we were gone my father had a wonderful idea to share the tracking page with Hualapai Tribal Police to see if they would be receptive to our project.

An officer was so excited about the project that he went home and got his own dirt bike and went out to retrieve the balloon. On April 02, after a week of many sleepless nights, we retrieved the payload! An officer returned it to us in a box with red evidence tape around it, and we opened the SD card to find nearly 3000 images! We thanked the officer and sat down with him for nearly an hour to look through the pictures.

We plan to share prints of the images with the Hualapai tribe and many other buildings which we were able to photograph in the coming weeks.

4 Responses to Viking I Launch

  1. Mark Conner says:

    Congratulations on the successful flight! Best of luck on your future endeavors.

    You might be interested in attending the 11th annual Great Plains Super Launch, to be held at the end of July in the Colorado Springs/Denver area. See http://www.eoss.org/gpsl for more information.

    Mark Conner
    Nebraska Stratospheric Amateur Radio
    http://www.nstar.org

  2. Ferhat says:

    hello there, excellent blog, and an excellent understand! 1 for my bookmarks.

  3. Deuvall says:

    Hey Great job guys! I’d like to come witness the next launch if possible.

  4. JD says:

    Great job! I am sending up a Canon A490 shortly, and have added the CHDK to override the cameras settings. Can I ask, what did you set your aperature at? I will focus to infinity, but not sure about the other parts. Thanks

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