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Hardware Hacking Space Toys Idle Build

High School Students Send Lego Man 24 Kilometers High 115

Posted by samzenpus
from the some-science-projects-are-better-than-others dept.
First time accepted submitter AbilityLiving writes "Two high schoolers have launched a Lego Man to 80,000 feet — three times the height of a jet — in a homebrew project that involved a few Ebay-purchased cameras, a giant helium balloon and a star-ship full of ingenuity."
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High School Students Send Lego Man 24 Kilometers High

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  • It's been done (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Squiddie (1942230) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:10PM (#38823467)
    to death. Then again, I am more interested in FPV flights and UAVs than balloons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'd be more impressed if someone found a way to NOT get into space with a helium filled weather balloon.

      Maintaining a constant altitude, and thus preventing the balloon bursting, would be very cool.

      • by fotbr (855184) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:41PM (#38823751) Journal

        Sending a balloon to 80,000 ft is not "into space". So far, no one has actually managed to get a weather balloon to exit the atmosphere. Actually doing so would be much, much more impressive than "kids stuck camera, gps logger, and random object in a styrofoam box and brought back pretty pictures".

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Wouldn't it pretty much be impossible to use a balloon alone to get any object into space? Space is where there's no more atmosphere and before that point, the helium or whatever material makes the balloon lighter than air would start to become heavier than what it displaces thereby eliminating any buoyant force.

          You could use a balloon to cover much of the altitude, but you'd need some other means of propulsion to get it to leave the atmosphere entirely.

          • by fotbr (855184)

            That would be my point.

          • by Hadlock (143607)

            In theory you could create an ultra-low density structure that would reach escape velocity before it exits the atmosphere. Sort of like releasing a tennis ball from the bottom of a pool and watching it pop out of the water when it reaches the surface. We're going to need some serious advances in material sciences to scale that sort of thing up though. Also issues of aerodynamic drag, etc.

            • Nope, wouldn't work.

              Buoyancy in air is caused by a slight difference in the total momentum from collisions with air molecules below and above the object. The air above has a slightly lower pressure, which means the (lots of) tiny molecules slam into the balloon slightly less frequently (density) and/or with slightly less speed (temperature) than those below. This difference matches the weight of a similar volume of air, which is logical in a stable atmosphere. That's why objects lighter than air go up.

              As so

          • by Digital Vomit (891734) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @01:50AM (#38825765) Homepage Journal

            You could use a balloon to cover much of the altitude, but you'd need some other means of propulsion to get it to leave the atmosphere entirely.

            Hmmm... What if you attached the whole thing to another helium balloon?

            • by Dogtanian (588974)

              You could use a balloon to cover much of the altitude, but you'd need some other means of propulsion to get it to leave the atmosphere entirely.

              Hmmm... What if you attached the whole thing to another helium balloon?

              One more balloon might not be enough. You might need to add more. To those who would argue that this isn't going to work and ask "what's supporting the final balloon?", I'd have to say "You're very clever, young man, very clever... but it's balloons all the way up!"

        • by gknoy (899301)

          Wouldn't you be able to do that by weighing it down enough that it would be insufficiently buoyant once it gets to less-dense altitudes of air?

        • Re:It's been done (Score:5, Informative)

          by flyingsquid (813711) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @12:42AM (#38825489)
          Do I really have to explain this to you guys? When you play Lego, everything's in Lego scale. So for instance, if you send the cat rampaging through your Town sets, he's like a godzilla-sized monster. And the drop off the sofa to the carpet isn't a foot or two off the ground, it's like a huge cliff, and will totally kill your dude (and he totally will NOT survive that, no matter what my so-called-friend Brian Schwarz says, and that is why I don't play Lego with Brian anymore, because he's just really stupid). So are we clear now on how Lego scale works then?

          OK, so let's do the math. Low earth orbit is 200-500 miles up, and a minifig is 1.5 inches tall, which is 1/44 the height of an average person. So in Lego scale, 88,000 feet is 3,872,000 feet, or like 733 miles, and so he's totally in space.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            When you play Lego, everything's in Lego scale.

            I can't be the only one who's used a 1x1x1 round on top of a 1x1x1 square as a smaller person... pretty iconic but it was good enough for Defender. Or for that matter, built epic scale lego miniature fleets.

          • I wish I had mod points. Awesome.

      • Re:It's been done (Score:5, Informative)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:48PM (#38824227) Journal

        Maintaining a constant altitude, and thus preventing the balloon bursting, would be very cool.

        AFAIK, that should be pretty easy. Just add ballast. Remember those helium-filled toy balloons that you can fly up and down with fans? They work because at the current altitude, the ballast approximately counterbalances the amount of lift that the balloon provides.

        The amount of lift caused by lighter-than-air balloons is proportional to what's around it. Unweighted (and assuming a theoretical zero-mass balloon, zero-mass helium, and a spherical horse), it would rise until the point where the density of the air outside is equal to the density of the gas inside. Weighted, it rises up until the force applied by that density difference over its surface area becomes equal to the mass of the balloon and whatever is hanging under it.

        Thus, the only reason the balloons burst is that they don't weigh enough to stop rising at a lower altitude. If they did, they'd just stay there at that altitude until the helium leaks out.

        Alternatively, you can use a material that does not stretch as much. One of the reasons that balloons continue to rise beyond a certain point is that they expand at high altitude, thus lowering the density inside. If you limit the stretch, you limit the degree to which they can expand, making the density inside balance the density outside much sooner. Thus, they stop rising sooner (and they also don't explode because they don't ever get that thin).

        Either way, there's just one problem: if they don't burst, they could potentially drift for thousands of miles over the course of several days (or even weeks) before they came down, and they could come down anywhere, at any time, into the engine of any passing aircraft, which is probably not what you want, hence the reason this is not typically done.

        • I'm pretty sure that, in general, balloons aren't strong enough to exert significant pressure on their contents. So, close enough, the gas inside the balloon is always at the same pressure as the gas outside. And if the gas inside has a lower molecular weight, it's always going to be less dense than the gas outside.

          You could include a compressor to move some of the gas into a pressure vessel, but that would add SERIOUS weight, not to mention power requirements.

          Wonder if you could use hydrogen as the lift ga

        • by Catmeat (20653)
          I think you're talking about a suprepressure balloon.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superpressure_balloon [wikipedia.org]

      • by Dinghy (2233934)

        I'd be more impressed if someone found a way to NOT get into space with a helium filled weather balloon.

        Maintaining a constant altitude, and thus preventing the balloon bursting, would be very cool.

        That happened just about a month and a half ago [theregister.co.uk], with a balloon flight from California to the Mediterranean sea. The short version is that eventually the UV at that altitude will degrade the balloon's integrity and it will pop, but it did last several days.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          Not that complex really, a light weight pressure relief valve that opens and release pressure at a value lower that then tensile strength of the balloon. Then there would be a choice of balloon colour to absorb heat.

      • I imagine it could be done by putting a compressor and small storage tank on the bottom of the balloon. Going to high? Turn on compressor and transfer some of that helium from balloon to tank. Going too low? Open the valve and let some back in. The equipment would be heavy though, greatly reducing payload capacity, and flight time may be limited by the energy supply for the compressor.
      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        Pre-coffee stupid question of the morning: couldn't you have a few fans pointing in such a way that they pull the balloon downward? You know, like retro-rockets. Or you could just weigh the thing down enough to balance it out.

        I bet if you had a sort of sandbag or water tank and a nice, simple, and cheap circuit board in a helium balloon, you could continually rebalance the weight as the helium dissipates. (So for example, when some helium is lost and the balloon starts descending, a bit of water or sand is

    • Re:It's been done (Score:5, Informative)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:21PM (#38823563)

      And it is cool every single time. Seriously, if nothing else, it shows that reaching space is something that anyone can do. Instead of complaining that it's being done to death, why not improve on it? I fully plan on being part of the me-too crowd of space-photography. Once that's done, maybe I can do something to improve on it. Who knows? Someone will probably beat me to the "cooler" part. But that's what makes it fun.

      • by Mabhatter (126906) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:47AM (#38826211)

        Well, they're still in high school... They gotta start somewhere.

        Frankly, they were irresponsible not to give their Lego dude (or girl) a helmet and air tank. Not to mention the OSHA violations being forced to stand on a ledge at 80k feet with no seatbelt or railings! I think the minifigures need some kind of union against these dangerous experiments.

        Lastly, did they make sure their guy wasnt on a no-fly list. He looks European... But with those foreign sounding names national security should have been contacted... They even took pictures of how many people they put in danger!!! At least they didn't attach the balloon to any sharks... Teens and science are just irresponsible.

    • People have gone on vacation to Maui before as well but that doesn't stop everyone else from going. Why? Because it's gorgeous and a bloody good time. Same with building your own balloon to space projects.
  • by Bovius (1243040) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:11PM (#38823473)

    I glanced at the article and the first word was "Toronto". Apparently that's why this isn't a story about them getting arrested.

    • Apparently the safety regulations are pretty lax up there in the Great White North; the space man didn't even wear a helmet.

    • I glanced at the article and the first word was "Toronto". Apparently that's why this isn't a story about them getting arrested.

      Actually, their landing site was going to be in New Hampshire and they didn't like the idea of having to deal with Homeland Security. So they waited a few weeks for the conditions to change so that it would land on Canadian soil. So there's still an element of sadness to this very cool story.

  • Lego Man, Lego Man, does whatever a Lego can...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    We already know how these things go.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@lynx.b c . ca> on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:21PM (#38823567) Journal

    I'm pretty sure that jet aircraft are only something like 15 or 20 feet high, measuring from the base. 80,000 feet is considerably higher than three times that distance.

    If you mean to say 3 times the maximum altitude of most jet aircraft, say so.

    • If you mean to say 3 times the maximum altitude of most jet aircraft, say so.

      Or the typical cruising altitude of commercial jet airliners. Regardless, very clumsily put.

    • by Trogre (513942)

      Pedantic much?

    • by badboy_tw2002 (524611) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:17PM (#38823999)

      Irregardless, for all intensive purposes its the same thing. We knew what he mint.

      • by Cimexus (1355033)

        Also, it's "intents and purposes"...

        • Irregardless, for all intensive purposes its the same thing. We knew what he mint.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irregardless

          Also, it's "intents and purposes"...

          Wow! A double WHOOSH. Is no one going to complain about "its" instead of "it's", or "mint" for a trifecta? Or both, so we can see the mythical quadfecta WHOOSH?

          I suppose I may have messed that up. But I'm guessing that most pendants will probably be so excited about pointing these things out, that they will post their corrections before reading to my post. ;-)

      • You mispelled "porpoises".

        Also "new".

    • by tragedy (27079)

      More like 64 feet high (for a 747). Nowhere near 80,000 feet, I'll grant you.

    • The jet I'm currently flying (A320, a pretty ordinary passenger jet) has a maximum cruising altitude of 39,800 feet, I've flown business jets at 47,000 feet and according to Wikipedia, a russian jet once made it to 123,520 feet. Now I'm sure there are probably a few jets who can only make it up to 26,600 feet, but I would hardly call that "most jet aircraft". So even that comparison is totally wrong.
      • by karnal (22275)

        In-flight WIFI? sweet.

        • I knew someone was going to reply something like that :-)

          OK, I admit, I was lying, I wasn't in the act of flying at that precise time.

      • by hawk (1151)

        >The jet I'm currently flying (A320, a pretty ordinary passenger jet)

        For heaven's sake, put down the computer and pay attention to flying!

        And I thought texting & driving was bad . . . :)

        hawk

  • Good job (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CompMD (522020) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:23PM (#38823583)

    Good for these kids. I don't agree that this should be big news, as this is becoming a fairly common project for advanced high school students. I mentored a team of high school students in the Kansas City area that sent up balloons last fall. They designed and built the payload, fitting all the instrumentation and cameras. One made it to 97,000 ft. The other managed to fly all the way to Illinois. In both cases the payload was recovered undamaged. They got some *awesome* video and pictures.

  • by twotacocombo (1529393) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:25PM (#38823603)

    "80,000 feet — three times the height of a jet "

    Oh, where to begin...

    Per Wikipedia:

    Height of Airbus A380: 80.2 ft

    Highest known altitude attained by a conventional jet-powered airplane: 123,523 feet.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      I think the idea was the implied cruising altitude. Which is between 25,000 and 30,000ft in most cases.

      • Most cases? A320 (39800 ft), B737 (35000-41000 ft), B747 (45000 ft), hell, even a BAe 146 can make it up to 31000 ft! Oh, and the Concorde, a plane from 1969, could cruise at 60000 ft.
        • NASA's X-15 hit 354,200 feet in 1963, after being launched off a B-52 (also a jet) at 45,000 feet. This is the author's "Libraries of Congress" moment.

          • The X-15 was rocket-powered, so not technically a jet. A jet engine takes outside air and adds fuel to it, the X-15 carried both the fuel and the oxygen. I know, I know. you could call the exhaust from a rocket a "jet" as well, but that's not what's commonly understood as the definition of a jet.
            • Good point. However, the B-52 it was launched from was already above half the altitude this balloon burst at, and B-52s aren't exactly the height of today's aviation technology.

              The claim of 3x the whatever of a jet is complete crap.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@lynx.b c . ca> on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:30PM (#38823641) Journal

    In 1976, I found a compressed CO2 canister in my schoolyard. When I got home, being the aspiring evil genius that I was, I secured it with tape and contact cement onto the back of one of my GI Joe figures (the 12" ones, not the dopey little 5" ones), and then I used some pliers to cut the end off.

    I heard a small "woosh", and then I never saw it again. I have no idea how high it went.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @07:35PM (#38823703)

    It's aboot time...!

    • "God Speed Lego Man?", nope, doesn't have the same feeling. But cool work. I guess the next step is a "Second Stage" attached to the balloon? Maybe to collect some space debris?
    • by Lev13than (581686)

      At least this group is smart enough to not claim that they reached space.

      Of course not, but the Toronto Star [thestar.com] certainly has trouble understanding the difference between "very high" and "space". Two front-page news stories on this in one day - a bit silly all things considered.

  • I guess I forgot this was slashdot and not erowid.

  • Pretty much anyone with a few hundred bucks to waste on helium and a balloon can send something to 80000~100000 feet. It's fun, but it's not particularly amazing. What would be cool is if they combined this weather balloon with a UAV that could autonomously return to the launch area.
    • True. My college freshman engineering class sent a balloon up 110,000 feet and recovered it, all for less than 250 USD. What would be newsworthy would be if the group built the equipment for a low cost, or achieved an extraordinary altitude. However, I am glad to see high school students taking an interest in engineering and science. Having worked on a similar project myself, I can say that pulling off this kind of project requires significant planning and teamwork, and I congratulate the students for t
  • by PPH (736903)

    So, there's this guy on his first solo parachute jump. When the plane reaches the drop zone, he jumps. When he reaches the proper altitude, he pulls the main ripcord.

    Nothing.

    After a few seconds, he remembers his training and pulls the cord on the emergency chute. Still nothing. Now he's starting to panic.

    Looking at the ground rapidly approaching, he notices a figure rapidly ascending towards him. "Odd", he things to himself. Nevertheless, when this other guy comes withing earshot, he yells over, "Hey bud

  • Now it is an intensely irritating site with all the crap that is posted and re-posted at the start of every comment page on every story. For fuck sake grow up or fuck off and let some intelligent - and sometimes funny - comment return to what once was a great site.
    • by Ash-Fox (726320)

      all the crap that is posted and re-posted at the start of every comment page on every story

      I don't know.. I haven't seen many "Does it run Linux?", "You must be new here", "Beowulf cluster" or "I for one welcome our" type posts in a while now. I remember those used to on every article.

      Perhaps your memory is failing you?

    • Now it is an intensely irritating site with all the crap that is posted and re-posted at the start of every comment page on every story. For fuck sake grow up or fuck off and let some intelligent - and sometimes funny - comment return to what once was a great site.

      Preach it brother! Every time something remotely cool is posted (like a pair of kids doing a cool science experiment just because they feel like it) along some the jackasses to piss on it or pick pedantic holes in the wording of the article or try to gain karma points by way of some sad attempt at humour. I used to come here to see informed opinion, nowadays I'm more inclined to just RTFA and ignore the inevitable inane comments.

  • Two high schoolers have launched a Lego Man to 80,000 feet â" three times the height of a jet

    The tail height of a 747 is less than 70 feet. But a jet with a height of over 26,000 feet that is amazing. I wonder what altitude such a huge airplane could reach?

  • LEGO (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's called a "minifig". Get your terminology right, please.

  • by fervus (1841214) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:52AM (#38827103)
    My calculations might be wrong here, but I've always wondered... If a high-school can launch a helium balloon to a height of 24km, and also launch a homemade rocket that can rise as hight as 30km, couldn't some high-school class launch a rocket from the top point of a helium balloon to reach geosynchronous orbit? Wouldn't that be a feat more worthy of commenting? What would be the problems with such a lauch?
    • Well, for one thing, orbit isn't about altitude. It's about matching horizontal velocity to the perpendicular force of gravity, so that by the time gravity would put you into the ground, the ground isn't there any more. Altitude helps, because gravity has a lot more work to do at that distance.

      Technically you could orbit at 50,000 feet of altitude if we didn't have an atmosphere and you had sufficient horizontal velocity.

  • Yay Kessler Syndrome! Thanks High School students for your contribution!

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