How do you send an object all the way through the stratosphere to the edge of space? Better yet, how do you send an object through the stratophere to the edge of space while recording VR video the entire time? This is the question the Seeker Virtual Reality team had in mind when they set out to record a VR video thousands of feet above planet Earth.
So, how did they do it? With a weather balloon of course. Weather balloons have been used since the late 19th century to help predict weather patterns on Earth. French meteorologist Leon Teisserenc de Bort was one of the first people to use weather balloons in 1896, leading to the discovery of the troposphere and the stratosphere, two distinct layers in Earth's atmosphere.
As it turns out, weather balloons are also pretty handy for carrying objects to the edge of space. But the Seeker VR team didn't want to go it alone with this unique experiment, so they headed over to Indiana to get some help from Stratostar, a weather balloon company that helps educate kids in STEM fields.
Stratostar was able to help the team monitor weather patterns, accurately track the balloon with the VR rig, and coordinate the launch with the government.
"Everybody thinks about airplanes...what happens if this thing hits a plane? The FAA put together guidelines on launching these types of balloons... you've got to meet all those different criteria and coordinate with them and let them know what's going on," Jason Krueger, president and founder of Stratostar, told Seeker.
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Before launching the balloon, everything had to be diligently prepared. The special 4K cameras for filming in VR had to be properly rigged, the balloon had to be filled just the right amount of helium to get it out of the troposphere, and the launch had to be done in a rural area to ensure the balloon wouldn't land on a building during its descent.
"One of the biggest challenges we had was dealing with the heating of the cameras. If we tried to film with the internal batteries they'd overheat in minutes," Jason explained.
So, the team had to figure out a way to keep the cameras cool throughout the flight. That high above sea level, there's just not enough moving air to cool them down. Ultimately, the problem was solved by using large external batteries that were first tested in a vacuum chamber and a refrigerator to replicate what the conditions would be like in the stratosphere.
A custom box that could stand up to the rigorous movement of the flight was also built to hold everything together. And then... the balloon was successfully launched! But the moment of truth would be if all the parts landed in one piece, with the camera footage in tact.
Luckily, the weather balloon dropped back to Earth with all of the equipment still there. How did the footage turn out? See for yourself by checking out our video: The Edge of Space.
-- Molly Fosco
Seeker VR: Journey To The Edge Of Space (360 Video)
Stratostar: Inspire The Next Generation
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