GoPro Near Space Camera Stabilizer
This was (and is) one of the more interesting, complex and exciting projects that we have had the priveledge of working on. We were approached by one of our closeset partners, Metropolitan Community College, to help create a solution for a problem they were having. Stabilizing GoPro cameras for capturing visual data as they ride along with the high-altitude balloons and travel into near space.
A very difficult problem and a very cool project. One of their faculty members (along with her husband) organizes and operates Near Space Science, Nebraska High-Altitude Ballooning Adventures. This organization is Nebraska’s high-altitude ballooning authority and conducts experiments for both MCC and indepentant school groups. Feel free to watch the video before continuing on with the article.
There were many challenges with this project including:
- Overall design and function.
- Weight restriction. The entire design could not exceed 6 lbs.
- Stabilization. How to stabilize the cameras without the weight associated with mechanical gimbals.
- Strength and redundancy. As we all know, what comes up must come down. In this case, not very gracefully.
We will begin with the first challenge, the overall design and function. This was (and is) the most difficult part of this project. To design something in the absence of mechanical assistance that would stabilize a camera or cameras. There was an immediate and focused discussion on how to accomplish this. Without getting into all the details, we landed on a three camera design for even weight distribution and to let the weight of the cameras act as part of our mechanical stabilization.
Next, was weight restriction. The entire design had to be less than 6 lbs according to FAA standards and realistically we needed to be well under. To help mitigate the overall weight of the design we were immediately draw to carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is almost as strong as steel at a fraction of the weight. After all was said and done we were less than 3 lbs.
The stabilization of the design is acheived by using a specialized bearing that is somewhat impervious to the adverse conditions of near space. The angle of the carbon fiber rods is intentional and intended to be a good trade off between the differing forces that are applied to the design.
Finally, we had to make sure that this thing won’t break! Falling from 100,000 feet (parachute or not) usually ends with a hard impact. We also had to make sure that we wouldn’t lose any of the cameras. To accomplish both of these things we first connected the three cameras with a bottom bracing structure, and then also connect the cameras independantly with 100 lb wiring.
All in all this was an amazing project to be a part of and we aren’t finished yet! We will continue to revise and improve the design for the 2017 eclipse and hopefully will have the best footage on (or above) Earth!