Actually, since we don’t currently have a public blog or wiki, I thought it’d be nice to collect a bunch of Project Bacchus stuff in one place.
We started Project Bacchus in late October, 2009. My friend Shannon approached me with a question: “What do you think about sending a camera to the edge of space?” My answer was quick: “That’s why I got my ham radio license!” We pulled in a few more people, and a plan emerged through weekly meetings, at which we always have beer. Always.
Our project was kept quiet for a while, in part to give ourselves room to fail (which we did), and in part to keep it coherent. The more people you have, the more ideas/goals you have, the less you can focus. By keeping it to just five guys, we stayed on track, though we did probably bite off too much for our first few launches.
The biggest challenge has actually been scheduling flights, with weather a close second. Everyone wanted to have the whole team present at our first big launch, which we did. Getting there was a challenge, especially in December: between the holidays and the rain, we didn’t have a single launch window. We’ve since moved to a much nimbler group, able and willing to fly with only three guys in the field. That’s worked out really well for us, as you’ll see.
Without further ado, a quick recap of most of Project Bacchus up to the present:
Bacchus I: 2009, November 21; abject failure.
My apartment, the night before Bacchus I
Adam has a flickr set of our attempt here, 20091121 Project Bacchus I. Note that all these pictures were taken on November 21. The ones in my apartment were just after midnight, the rest were at about 7am, an hour and a half drive from San Francisco. This is on top of an all-nighter on Thursday by Michael and myself, which resulted in a nice, solid payload, but slightly frazzled nerves.
Bacchus I’s Flight Computer: Spaghetti (Ted Scharff)
That’s a great shot of the flight computer’s (totally spaghetti) guts by Ted; he’s got more electronics porn in his Bacchus I Gallery. There’s other documentary evidence of this trip, but it’s mostly depressing, so I’ll pretend it doesn’t exist. On the positive side, I got an inadvertently free margarita at brunch after our failure.
Bacchus I, which never left the ground (Ted Scharff)
In summary, we learned a lot from our first failure.
Bacchus II: 2010, January 10; payload lost at launch. RECOVERED! 2010, May 29
The balloon, tethered between our cars (Adam Fritzler)
Adam’s the most photo-happy member of the group (but Michael and Ted are both pretty photo-happy themselves), so I’ll link to his set first again: 20100111 Bacchus II Launch. This launch was in a valley that’s socked in with fog, underneath otherwise crystal-clear skies. Launching through the fog was technically against FAA regulations, but there was no behavioral difference between us launching in clear skys and through the fog: pilots couldn’t have seen our balloon until the same altitude either way.
(L to R) Ted, myself, Michael, and Shannon (hidden) rig Bacchus II (Adam)
But maybe the FAA regs aren’t there for the pilots, because we immediately lost visual contact with the payload, and the ham radio rig only got three check-ins (up to 9,000′!) before it went silent. We had a backup cell phone in the payload as well, but it never checked in. The assumption is a catastrophic failure shortly after launch, but we’ll never know. For now, the official story is pterodactyls.
Update, 2010, May 31 Bacchus II was found! A rancher moving cattle down to summer grazing land came across Bacchus II dangling from a tree. It was in a remote valley with no cell phone coverage, but the phone seemed to be in okay shape. The current theory is that the radio failed shortly after launch. We’ll know more in the next week or two–the call came in two days before Bacchus VI, which was retrieved from the top of a peak in the foothills (technically a mountain), which was yesterday. Needless to say, we’re a little overwhelmed between the post-processing of mission data from VI, post-processing of the data from II, and making time to post-mortem the failure of II’s hardware. Regardless, welcome home, prodigal probe!
Bacchus II: It’s About Quality™ (Ted Scharff)
Again, we learned a lot from our failure here. For instance, our new fill method is nice and elegant; the fill method used in Bacchus II… less than elegant. There’s a lot of good photos in Ted’s Bacchus II Picasa Gallery.
Bacchus III: 2010, February 14; payload retrieved.
A camera, dangling from a balloon, took this.
After throwing away several hundreds of dollars of electronics on Bacchus II, we went back to basics for Bacchus III. One tortilla warmer, one cell phone, and one camera. We didn’t put on a chute, since we had a very light payload and a giant streamer, which worked out really well. A couple hours after launch, we came upon Bacchus III lying, undignified, in a fallow field, nary a scratch on it. The telemetry from the phone’s GPS shows it coming down at about 40mph, which is a little zippy, but not dangerous with as much foam as we had.
Bacchus III Away Team: Shannon, Adam, myself, Michael (Michael Toren)
As part of our “lean and nimble” goal for this launch, we went with just four of the five team members. Ted had other plans that weekend, so we ran off without him. We did have his hiking GPS, though, which, once we figured out the UI, was invaluable.
Bacchus III, on the ground (Michael Toren)
We retrieved the payload and got a bunch of photos off of it. Adam went through and edited them down to the best ones:20100214 Bacchus III (payload camera). We thank him greatly for that, as it’s kind of a huge pain, and he’s really good at it.
Based on the data we collected here, we’ve been able to understand the dynamics of the system, predict future behavior, and better plan future flights. We’re working towards a payload for Bacchus IV in a couple weeks, which is part of why I was reviewing battery holders in the last post.
Bacchus Kite Tests: 2010, February 20; way fun.
Myself, Ted, and Michael rig a “test” payload (Adam Fritzler)
To test some of our descent gear, we decided to use a kite as a flying platform. We had a few things to test this way, but only really got to one of them this time. Mostly, this was a good excuse to go out into the park and drop stuff from kites. It’s really, really fun, try it sometime. Also, it gave me an excuse to buy a 200′ measuring tape, which is probably one of the more specialized pieces of equipment I own.
Mission accomplished! (Ted Scharff)
After we finished our actual goals (breaking the hell out of some styrofoam), we went ahead and did something silly: dropped the camera, recording video, from 100′ with a Wal-Mart bag as a parachute. It’s really, incredibly disorienting, but damned fun. Video as soon as wordpress stops being stupid about it.
And that’s it. You’re now caught up on Project Bacchus!