We innovated upon and continued the trend of low-cost flight platforms, building our craft entirely from off the shelf components for close to 60 dollars. (75 if we count the cost of the cell phone GPS we didn’t use, which would complete all the systems needed for a full launch)
While we initially purchased a Mororola i425 phone with InstaMapper GPS, it soon became apparent that this would not work because cell phone reception east of Las Vegas is practically non-existent. If you are planning a launch and cannot ensure reliable reception in a 10 mile radius around your estimated landing zone, I highly recommend looking into a more reliable satellite based unit. I know of multiple crafts that have been lost in the past due to this.
Project Viking was sponsored with a SPOT GPS tracker by the Las Vegas office of GPSCity, an online retailer of all things GPS who you should definitely check out!
Helium was supplied by Mister Balloon, a full service rental company which supplies 99% balloon grade helium for all sorts of purposes.
Long lasting hand warmers were purchased at Outdoor World. We placed one in the roof of the cooler against the GPS, and another near the camera. All of the equipment survived without a scratch and showed no signs of temperature related issues (the GPS was still on a week later)!
The 24″ rocket parachute that we used tore from the rope during the descent. Since we wanted the craft to come down instead of gliding into the nearby mountainous terrain, this ended up working in our favor. The payload itself was so light weight and protected by the soft cooler, that all of the equipment survived the free fall without signs of damage (the soft cooler looked good as new). While it’s possible that we got lucky, this goes to show that it is not necessary to purchase an expensive, heavy parachute for similar projects. As the weight increases though, it becomes more important to soften the fall.
We chose an 8GB SD card just in case, but all of the images (taken at 5 second intervals with the Ultra Intervalometer script) were able to fit on 3.5 GB of space with high settings.
Ultimate lithium batteries are absolutely essential, since they allowed the camera to function for the entire flight (and the electronics to operate in general in the harsh conditions, since the chemical reaction in alkaline batteries does not work in near space).
I’d also like to thank the student at our high school whose soft cooler was left in the lost and found for months (and was about to be donated to charity before we asked to use it) – you’re welcome to have it back but it’s been in near space now :p. We found that using a durable, temperature insulated soft cooler with the ability to be zipped up and cushion the equipment from the fall was much better for the mission than styrofoam containers used in similar projects.