With the help of a couple of digital cameras and a weather balloon, 13-year-olds Tristan Dixon and Tim Rokos were able to launch a small balloon 60,000 feet into the air.
“We kind of thought it would be a fun idea, so we looked up designs other people did,” said Dixon, who lives in Rotterdam.
Rokos, of Duanesburg, said he heard about people sending an iPhone up in a balloon to capture video, so he wanted to replicate that experiment.
With about $500 in startup capital from Dixon’s father, the two purchased two digital cameras and an Android cellphone that had a global positioning system inside. They purchased a 6-foot-tall weather balloon and then designed a compartment attached to it to house all of the gear.
They put a heat pack in the compartment so the lithium batteries wouldn’t freeze in the cold air at the higher altitude. The contraption weighed close to 31⁄2 pounds.
The whole process took about three hours.
“Probably the hardest part was turning everything on because the space in [the compartment] was small,” Dixon said.
Dixon’s father also wrote a software program to track the progress of the balloon.
“If the balloon was moving, it would text him every minute the position and altitude,” Tristan Dixon said.
If the balloon wasn’t moving, he would get a text every five minutes, according to Dixon.
At last, the boys were ready for liftoff — Oct. 22 at the Jefferson Elementary School’s soccer field in Rotterdam.
“Some of our friends came to watch the launch,” Rokos said.
Data from the phone confirmed that the balloon had traveled 60 miles away to Manchester, Vt., and landed near the base of Mount Equinox. The flight took one hour and the descent another half hour.
The boys retrieved the capsule three days later. They took the images together and put together a slideshow. Dixon said the best part of the experience was seeing that it actually worked. “Looking at the pictures was really cool,” he said.
The boys shared the pictures with other students.
Dixon and Rokos decided to conduct a second launch on Nov. 5 at the Duanesburg Central School campus with the goal of reaching an altitude of 90,000 feet.
They streamlined the capsule somewhat to reduce its weight, which was just more than 2 pounds.
That one was not recovered. Dixon said there wasn’t enough helium in the balloon, so it rose more slowly but went to a higher altitude.
It ended up about 5 miles off the coast of Long Island and drifting toward New Jersey.
“The wind blew it a lot,” Rokos said.
This wasn’t for a school project but just for fun. They did give a presentation to classmates.
“I tried to snag some extra credit points, but nah,” Rokos said.