How high can the Blue Devil go? We're a small group of MBA students who are going to find out. We're sending a Blue Devil bobble-head to the upper reaches of our atmosphere, using a weather balloon, multiple cameras, and a parachute. Our goal is to capture interactive and never-before-seen 360 degree footage of our fearless blue devil. In addition to simply being a fun project, we are interested in testing out new 360 degree video camera capabilities in extreme environments.

Team members

Alex Vanotti,

Fuqua, 2016

Rob Pixton,

Fuqua, 2016

Adam Schwebach,

Fuqua, 2016

Cullen Breithaupt,

Fuqua, 2016

Dan Heynen,

Fuqua, 2016

Project Updates

Last spring the team launched a bobble head to 76,000 feet.  Over the summer, they lightened the load and went for pure height, getting their round two launch to over 115,000 feet.


Round Two Launch Recap

After our first launch with the Blue Devil bobblehead, our team quickly turned our focus to a Round 2 launch, with the goal of maximum achievable altitude.  Aiming for a 110,00+ ft peak altitude, we completely redesigned our setup, including cutting the weight in half and doubling our balloon size.  In order to reach our target weight, we had to remove the theta camera and our backup GPS tracking system, in addition to removing most of the rig’s battery insulation.  We lightened the frame by using a single 1/8” plywood frame cut using the Epilog Zing laser cutting tool.  The lighter weight also required a smaller (4ft diameter) parachute to prevent the rig from traveling too far during descent.  And while we learned a lot from our first launch, the margin for error was definitely smaller this time around.  Sadly, the bobble-head had to be scrapped due to weight and balance issues with the new setup.

We launched on a windy morning from the Duke gardens, with our models showing a projected landing just across the border in southeast Virginia.  After a tenuous launch in the wind, our rig traveled to a max height of 116,000ft and captured some incredible video along the way.  The recovery was significantly more involved this time around, requiring two full days and an interesting conversation with a local Virginia hunting club (although the final landing location was surprisingly close to the model’s projection).  All in all, we were extremely pleased with the altitude reached and footage captured from our Round 2 flight.

This project was one of the most fun and rewarding experiences from my time at Duke.  Although it had nothing to do with our academics, it was a chance to collaborate with a team of talented friends on something both unique and challenging.  The Innovation CoLab was instrumental in providing us the support we needed in making this amazing chapter of our Duke experience a reality.  I’ll always remember it.

Project Notebook: Blue Devil in Space

April 2:

We decided to scrub tomorrow’s launch and postpone it until this Tuesday or Wednesday.  We have everything built and ready to go, but after checking multiple weather forecasts and balloon trajectory models, our projected flight path has us landing dangerously close to pamlico sound if we launch tomorrow morning (which would make it effectively unrecoverable).  This looks like it’s due to a stronger than usual jet stream at around 30,000ft (despite relatively calm surface winds), which pushes our balloon farther than we are comfortable with.  The forecasts and models for tuesday and wednesday this week look much better.

Project Notebook: Blue Devil in Space update

3/31/16 Update: The major capsule build was completed yesterday, after a complete redesign to save weight and provide added stability. We have a tentative launch date of this Sunday (4/3), and are on track for a launch-go decision. Unfortunately our brave blue devil suffered a minor training accident, but is expected to make a full recovery with the help of super glue, and will be ready for launch. Over the next few days we will be making final rigging and camera adjustments. All systems go.