julian weßel - astrophotography

A Flight to the Edge of Space

#1 Introduction

Since I was a small child I wanted to be an astronaut, observing our beautiful planet from above and reaching for the stars in outer space.
To make this dream come true, in a small way of course, I plan a flight as high as I can get with amateur tools.

At first I wanted to build an rocket wich would carry a camera into high altitude but it turns out that this would be very expensive and dangerous.
A cheaper and safer solution is a weather balloon filled with helium. With an ascending rate of 5-7 m/s it reaches an maximum altitude of 35000 m.

At 35000m altitude we reach a layer of our atmosphere which is called the stratosphere.


The stratosphere is the second major layer of Earth's atmosphere, just above the troposphere, and below the mesosphere.
At moderate latitudes the stratosphere is situated between about 10 and 50 km altitude above the surface.

The stratosphere is very dry. Air there contains little water vapor. Because of this, few clouds are found in this layer.
Almost all clouds occur in the lower, more humid troposphere.
At 35km altitude the sky is pitch black and it looks like you're already in space.


This picture shows the space shuttle endeavor in front of the layers of our atmosphere.
The orange layer is the troposphere, where all of the weather and clouds which we typically watch and experience are generated and contained.
This orange layer gives way to the whitish Stratosphere and then into the Mesosphere.

My goal for the next weeks is to prepare the best I can for a weather balloon flight to the stratosphere and get it down on earth safe.
In following videos I will explain which equipment I use and what preperations have to be done.

If you're interested in this project subscribe to my youtube channel for updates.

I'm very excited about this project and I hope you will follow my journey to the edge of space.

#2 Equipment & Tips

To make a flight to the Stratosphere I need special devices:

At first I need a weather balloon which can reach altitudes over 30 km. The ideal material for a balloon like this is Latex which has the ability to be very stretchy. This is needed because of the huge change in diameter on the ground and up in the stratosphere. At sea level the balloon has a diameter of about 1-2 meters but in the stratosphere, where the air pressure is much lower than on the sea level the gas inside the balloon can expand much more and changes the diameter up to 10 meters.

A parachute is essential for a safe return to earth and will break the fall from space to about 7 m/s. It is attached right under the balloon.

On the bottom of my balloon is a box made of styrofoam. It carries the GPS and the cameras with it's power supply. The box has to be isolating and need to resist temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius below zero. As a camera I use a GoPro which is the most reliable action cam on the market.

Because of it's low battery lifetime I use a battery pack with Lithium batterys as a support.

The most important thing is the GPS tracker. Without it there's nearly no chance of finding the balloon after the flight. The GPS tracker has a battery and a prepaid card in it. When the flight is over I'll call the number of the Prepaid Card and the GPS Tracker will send me a SMS with it's coordinates in it.

To reach the stratosphere you need to fill Helium into your balloon. The ascent rate and the amount of Helium you'll need depends on your payload.

At stratoflights.com is a calculator which will help you to get to know the right amount of Helium.

To predict your flight path you can use the flight planner on habhub.com. It will calculate the path of your weather balloon depending on local and high altitude winds. 

The longer your balloon is in the air the further it will be carried away from your launch site.

Here's short video: 

#3 Flight

Launch of the weather balloon was on 22nd September at 9am. Before the start we filled the Balloon with ca 4000l of Helium and prepared the capsule. Our launch site was at an airport near Borken, Germany. Fortunately the wind was calm and we had no malfunctions when launching the balloon.

After the Start we drove east to the predicted landing site. We had to wait over 3 hours after the start to recieve our first signal of the GPS tracker. The ballon and the capsule landed on a field next to Lienen 130km away from our launch location. We were lucky that everything had survived the hard impact and the camera was still rolling.

Here are some screenshot out of the camera:

You can see the video here: