Launching Video into Space

Videomaker Forums Advice

I am a physician from Sedona, Arizona, and a Captain in the Civil Air Patrol (US Air Force Auxiliary). We are a volunteer organization that, among other things, has as one of its missions the promoting of aero-space education among the youth. We are a Composite Squadron of senior members and cadets. We are presently planning an ambitious and exciting project for our cadets Aero-space Education Program which involves designing, launching and (hopefully) retrieving a video camera and GPS device encased in a light-weight, shockproof case, (probably made of styrofoam), which will be tethered to a helium-filled weather balloon which we are hoping will make it into space. Our project is modeled after a successful mission called the Brooklyn Space Program.

I found The Videomaker Tech Talk Forum, and I was impressed with Mr. Earl C’s knowledge and expert advice. I have been given the job of researching what type of digital video camera would be suitable for this project, and would like to ask your opinion. Being a volunteer organization, we have limited funds and would like to use the least expensive, most reliable and sturdiest camera available. The trip to the upper stratosphere will take about two hours, and we are hoping that the balloon will travel 100,000 feet before exploding. The capsule should then fall back to earth at about 150mph with a parachute. If our equipment makes it after being frozen then hurtling back to earth, we should be able to track the capsule and recover it. Hopefully it lands in an accessible area. Please kindly share your knowledge and expertise, if you would, to help make our squadron’s most ambitious space project a success.
Thelma S. Camus, Capt, CAP
Medical Officer, Sqdn 205 (SWR AZ-107)

Forums Reply

Giving this some thought I’ve concluded that weight, dimensions and simplicity of design bear consideration even perhaps more than overall construction.

Weight – obviously a lighter weight payload would be beneficial.
Size – related to weight, but there are some lightweight units that still would be larger than desired.

Simplicity – not so much due to operation, but today’s SDHC memory card (flash memory, solid state) units have many fewer moving parts and would not be as prone to malfunction as, say tape-based units. Not to mention that in addition to the additional moving parts and circuitry involved, the tape itself is subject to many potential hazards in the extremes you stated.

I have two solutions between $300 or less and $1,200 or less that might be suitable for your project: simple and inexpensive but of reasonable quality and durability is the Flip Mino, which actually costs about $230 if you opt for the 2-hour, 8GB model. Having image stabilization it is conceivable that you could start recording, launch and have two hours of recording, your estimated length of time to reach the upper stratosphere. You probably should research this further, but it seems to be a good fit. And the media stands a good chance of surviving the experience and re-entry/landing even if the unit perhaps does not.

The other possibility is Canon Vixia HF S21 HD, a unit that has been spoken of highly regarding its overall capabilities and quality. It is, perhaps, more camera and more expense than is really needed for your project but still worth further consideration. It is obviously heavier, but still compact compared to other units. And while this model Canon isn’t specifically designed for space travel 🙂 it is well-constructed, and again, the SDHC recording capabilities eliminate the moving parts and tape situation I mentioned earlier.

There are a number of units lauded by video producers as being great second units or even what we refer to as “throw away” units due to their low costs. My day-to-day operations require that I maintain some understanding of what is available today; and dependability, quality, affordability, operability and such are important to me as I will soon be moving forward to new cameras for more “earthly” operations.
Earl Chessher, Videomaker Forums Moderator

We appreciate forums moderator Earl Chessher’s detailed reply to Captain Camus. As we’ve often mentioned, the Videomaker forums are open 24/7 and are a font of information moderated and powered by many professionals in the video producing field. When you have questions of a video related nature, whether it’s advice for gear purchase or technical quandaries, our moderators and members are a great source for honest no-holds-barred conversations. The best way to get the right response is to check out the forums well, read the guidelines, and post your question in the section that best suits your category of need or gear.
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