Solar Eclipse April 8th 2024: Lac Megantic, QC

For the Total Solar Eclipse on April 8th, 2024, Space Club did a road trip to Québec! Originally we planned to go to somewhere near Columbus, Ohio, and see the Air Force Museum near Dayton, but 4 days out, the forecast was showing clouds there, so we rapidly rebooked and ended up in a hotel in Sherbrooke, Québec. From there it was just over an hour scenic drive to a beach near Lac-Mégantic. Here’s an awesome video in three parts:

The first section is a time-lapse showing the exciting run-up to the darkness of totality, with us screaming :-). The second bit shows the shadow bands, which is some waviness in the light which occurs immediately before totality, and looks really neat. The final section gives you a view of the 360deg bizarre twilight, and a look through the telescope at the sun during totality.

Here’s a gallery of photos of the eclipse:

The Space Club Meetup group also had an Eclipse Event, which allowed many other groups of people to find each other and plan their own trips; we were happy to be able to facilitate this for people, and over 100 new members joined the group!

The next Total Solar Eclipse which is reasonable to go see will be on August 2nd, 2027, best locations across the top of Africa. Or, there is another on July 22, 2028, best locations in Australia.

Successful Launch and Recovery!

This post is super late, but we had a successful launch and payload recovery in Sept 2019! We launched from the grounds of a public school NW of Waterloo, and landed in wine country, SE of Hamilton, a journey of ~120km, it was in the air for almost exactly 2 hours. We reached a maximum altitude of 88,405 ft (26,946m).

Our knock-off GoPro camera worked great, we have 2h of 4k video of the entire journey up and down. Launch Video (2min). Landing video (2min). And, the most spectacular video: burst video, from the maximum height:

Here’s some awesome photos of our setup and launch:

Checking the radios
Building up the payload chain
Releasing the balloon!
Up up and away!
In the chase car, with radio antenna out the sunroof
Flight Path (Google Earth, from our logged GPS data)

Download our Full GPS data. You’ll need Google Earth to visualize that (it’s XML data).

Also, thanks to Jen for the last-minute rescue of “oh shit Eric forgot the balloon, we have to turn back and cancel, sorry everyone”. Officially this was the Jen Balloon Launch, she’s the title sponsor :-).

Integration and Battery Life Test

For the first time ever we put ALL of the electronics (radios, cameras, battery, etc) into the payload container and turned it on. Idea was to test installation and startup procedures, and then see how long it lasts on our 5 Ah USB battery. Ideally we get 3+ hours, more is better obviously. In previous tests (with MORE hardware) we got that, but good to check now that we have final hardware inside. Here’s some shots of the payload in foam container:

Payload Container in fridge freezer
Payload Container on scale (657 grams). Proper antenna on top (wouldn’t fit in fridge with it installed).
Payload Container open (lid: satellite phone GPS, top left: USB battery, left: GO pro (knockoff, nearly hidden), bottom middle: RaPi computer with radio hat, bottom outside: RaPi camera on 3d printed mount, bottom right: APRS radio with GPS). To the left: foam used to pack it tight so nothing can move)

Test results: our battery life is awesome! We got 6 hours and 2 minutes of uptime. We also learned a lot of things, like needing to adjust the voltage setting below which the GPS cuts out, how to properly shut off the RaPi wifi, and that we probably do have enough insulation (even in the -5C fridge freezer, the temperature of the electronics only dropped to 19C – so at -60C, we’ll probably be a bit below freezing, but that should still be fine). Even the knock-off gopro functioned really well – storage did not fill up as fast as expected since most of the video was dark and/or static, which actually probably means battery life will be even better – we know the camera shuts off once the storage is full, and that should theoretically be around the 3h point (well after landing) based on previous tests.

Practice Launch

We packed up our supplies and headed out to Phyllis Rawlinson Park on July 27th to test some of our ideas for how to inflate a balloon, how to measure the lift, how to attach the payload, etc. We learned a LOT and also had a critical failure with our GPS antenna that we’re glad to have done on a test rather than potentially at the real launch, where it would have caused a scrub! We did let several balloons head up (with dummy payloads only), our calculations said that they would pop at ~5000 ft, but that will still higher than we could actually see with the naked eye. Next time let’s bring binoculars! This was so much fun and really has us excited for the actual launch and payload chase.

It’s alive!