If a picture is worth a thousand words, this video of the Grand Canyon taken from 98,664 feet in the Earth’s stratosphere tells an entire story.
A group of students from Stanford University launched a weather balloon device to capture images of the Earth’s surface at high altitudes. The project was initiated by Ved Chirayath, a PhD student conducting research on fluid lensing. Chirayath, along with students Bryan Chan, Ashish Goel, Tyler Reid and Paul Tarantino, would lead the world on an incredible journey high into the Earth’s atmosphere using the latest 3D printing technology.
The group’s design included a GoPro camera, Sony camcorder and a smartphone with GPS capabilities. To house all of these components and protect them from the inevitable crash landing, they required a customized, extremely durable solution. Naturally, they turned to Stratasys 3D printing.
“3D printing offered quick turnaround capabilities, giving us the ability to develop multiple iterations and test form, fit and function the next day,” said Goel. As a result, Goel and the team were able to cut production time, costs and dependency on third party machine shops.
Mass also influenced the team’s decision to work with 3D printing. Heavier structures require more resources, like larger balloons and more helium. Reid, the team’s 3D CAD designer, developed a honeycomb-like design for the case to reduce the weight while maintaining strength and rigidity. The team worked with Professor Kalman, who kindly offered his Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D Printer to produce the chassis in tough ABSplus material.
“With 3D printing, the overall design could be as complicated as needed without adding much weight to the production piece,” added Goel.
The group wrapped the 3D printed chassis in two additional layers—a soft foam to absorb impact, and a layer of low rigid styrofoam to insulate and warm the internal equipment.
The weather balloon reached the Earth’s stratosphere within 1 hour and 38 minutes, which you can watch in this thrilling time elapsed video.
The students lost contact with the GPS once the device crash landed. They would have to wait over two years until a hiker stumbled upon the crash site during an excursion in the Arizona desert. The Stratasys 3D printed housing withstood the flight and the crash landing, which you can see in the image in this blog.
With over two years from the initial launch and 6 million+ views on YouTube, the team is enthusiastic about future projects using 3D printing.
“We’re still working on what our next project will be, but we know 3D printing will play an integral role in the design process,” said Reid.