All posts by Rick

EMS Nearspace Balloon Lost – Reward Offered

Filling station

Last Sunday, October 9th 2016, our team released a small weather balloon from Chemult, Oregon.  Unfortunately our tracking system failed at 30,000 feet and we were unable to recover our capsule.  The projected flight path predicts that the capsule would have landed somewhere near Christmas Valley, Oregon. We are hoping someone who lives in the area might find it and return it to us.


We are offering a reward of $200 for finding the weather balloon payload.  This offer is effective for one year from November 1st 2016. If you locate the payload(s), please contact Rick (at) Richardosgood (dot) com.

Flight Path

Below is the software generated path of the helium filled balloon and a best estimate of its payloads landing.  The red dot is the launch site.  The yellow dot is the point at which the balloon popped and the blue dot is the landing.  If the parachute and payload traveled further it would have done so along the same bearing.  It might even be in the lake.

Predicted Flight Path


Potential Landing Area


The most visibly identifiable part of the payload is the parachute.  It is a bright orange 4 foot fabric parachute.  There are two payloads attached to this parachute.  One is an 8 inch spherical styrofoam sphere with a band of aluminized tape around its center.  There is a black piece of nylon threaded rod that sticks out the top and bottom.  The second payload was our tracking module.  It is a cylindrical foam enclosure about the size of a birthday cake.  It has three pink lanyards on top of it and a black nylon strap around its midsection. There are antennae sticking out the side of it used to transmit its location to our ground team.




Any assistance in locating our payloads is greatly appreciated!

EMS Nearspace Balloon a Success!


Over the last several months, a group of EMS members have been working on a nearspace balloon. What is a nearspace balloon? You can think of it as a sort of poor man’s satellite. Of course it would be fun and geeky to design our own satellite, but that would be very expensive. The next best option is to build a nearspace capsule and send it up as high as possible with a balloon. This is a much more economical option, and it gets your payload to conditions close to what you would find in outer space. Why? For science! And for the awesome photos of course. I mean did you see the photo at the top of this page? We actually took that ourselves!Our project had three specific goals:

  • Reach at least 65,000 feet in altitude
  • Take high quality photos from altitude
  • Successfully track and recover the payload once it lands

We are happy to report that we achieved all three goals! In fact, we reached an altitude of over 86,000 feet! How did we do it? Let’s dig in.

The Technology


The heart of the project is the tracking system. For this we used an inexpensive Baofeng ham radio walkie talkie. This was hooked up to a TNC-Pi, which acts as a sort of radio modem. The TNC-Pi plugs right into a Raspberry Pi, which is our primary computer. A GPS module is also plugged into the Pi. The Pi reads the GPS data and transmits it over ham radio using the APRS protocol. We have another ham radio on the ground that can pick up the signal and plot the location on a map. This way, we can track the balloon as it moves. Why do we have to track it? Well first of all we want to save our investment. If we lose the payload then we lose the money and time that went into designing it. If we recover it, we can launch it again and again. Second, the ham radio does not have enough bandwidth to transmit all of the photos down to us in real time. Instead, they are stored on an SD card. If we want to recover our photos, we have to recover the payload.

Camera Payload

Another one of our goals was to take high quality photos. To accomplish this, we used a Raspberry Pi camera. It’s plugged into our primary computer. The Pi takes a photo every minute. We also designed a secondary camera payload. This second payload is a completely independent system containing six more Pi’s, each with its own camera. The Pis are hooked up to an external clock source. Each time the clock pulses, all six Pi’s take a photo. The idea was that we could obtain 360 degree panoramic images. Unfortunately we had some technical problems with the payload pre-launch and we lost 2/3 of our batteries. This resulted in the system running out of power before we left the ground. We intend to launch the balloon again after we fix this payload so we can get the photos we all wanted.

We also added some weather sensors to the system. We hooked up a pressure and temperature sensor to the primary computer. The sensor stayed inside the capsule so we could measure the internal temperature at different points of the ascent and descent. This way we would know if we need to improve our design for future launches in order to keep the electronics working smoothly. The Pi logged this data locally, but also transmitted it to us via APRS text message. That way if we lost the payload, we would still have this valuable data.


Once the electronics systems were functional, we had to design a chassis to hold them all. The chassis has to be big enough to hold all of the components, strong enough to withstand impact with the ground upon landing, and insulated enough to keep everything warm during the flight. It also needs external mounting points to mount the parachute, and also to mount the panoramic camera payload to the primary payload. The internal frame of our chassis was designed on a computer and laser cut out of acrylic. All components except for the camera mount to this frame. We then designed a cylindrical foam housing for the frame. This encloses the entire structure and is held together with nylon straps. The camera payload frame was custom designed and printed on a 3D printer. All of the Pi’s and cameras mount to that frame. The housing for this payload was made from a pre-made foam sphere.

The parachute and balloon were both purchased online. We used a 600 gram balloon and a 48″ parachute. The lines connecting everything together were 50lb test. This ensures that the line will break if the payload were to collide with an aircraft.

Launch Pad and Filling Station

Filling station

In order to actually launch our payload, we needed to have some kind of launch pad and filling station. We set down a tarp with a blanket on top. This would help protect the balloon from any sharp objects on the ground should it fall while filling. We had three helium tanks, each with 80 cubic feet of helium. We only ended up needing around 115 cubic feet. The tanks went through a regulator, which then hooked up to a PVC frame. On top of the frame was a length of latex tubing. The other end of the tubing is hooked up to a larger PVC “nozzle”. The neck of the balloon stretches around this nozzle to keep it in place.

The nozzle also is tied off to the helium tank as a safety precaution to keep the balloon from taking off if we accidentally let go of it. The nozzle is also tied to a gallon jug of water. This jug was filled up just enough to match our total payload weight plus additional lift minus the weight of our filling nozzle. When the balloon becomes neutrally buoyant with the jug attached, we know we’ve filled it up enough.

Once the balloon was fully filled, we rolled the balloon neck up around a loop of rope and closed it off with a few zip ties. The rest of the payload was then tied onto the rope loop.

Launch Predictions

Once everything was completed, we had to decide where to launch from. We needed to ensure that the payload would not land in a heavily populated area, body of water, mountain, forest, or airport. We used an online balloon prediction software to try a few places, and eventually settled on a spot just south of La Pine, Oregon. The predictions showed that the balloon would head northeast and had a good chance of landing in flat desert, so it would be easy to recover. The predictions also showed that the balloon would likely reach an altitude of around 82,000 feet before bursting, way above our goal of 65,000 feet.

Actual Flight Path

The actual flight path closely followed the prediction. Our payload went further to the northeast than we had expected, which meant a long drive on some dusty dirt roads and a half mile hike through the desert to recover it. It is interesting to note that the general pattern does match closely to the prediction.



Data Collection

The below graph plots the payload’s altitude roughly over time. You can see that the descent is must faster than the ascent.


The below graphs plot the internal temperature of the payload over time, as well as the atmospheric pressure over time. The pressure at the apex of the flight was lower than any of us expected. It is also interesting to note that the temperature inside the payload was much colder during descent. This is likely because our capsule was not air tight and therefore cold air was flowing through it as it fell at a high velocity.


Next Steps

We have a lot of great ideas for improvements and additions. We are planning to launch a new and improved payload some time in September. This project is open to anyone who wants to help, regardless of prior experience. We just want to get more people involved in making things and doing awesome stuff! If you would like to join the fun, contact Rick (at) and let me know!

More Information

To view more photos from this mission, check out the EMS Facebook album.
More information related to the code and inner workings of the primary payload can be found here.

Shop Cleanup Day


Shop Cleanup

It’s been a long time since we had a shop cleanup day, and we needed it pretty badly. We had around eight people show up today to help clean, organize, and otherwise improve EMS. While there is still more that can be done, we made a lot of great progress and made some pretty big changes to the shop layout. Ultimately we are hoping that these changes will lead to better use of our limited space, and also make it easier to access and use the tools we have. Here are some of the highlights from today.

One of the biggest changes you will notice at EMS is that the big workbench with the peg board has been moved to the west wall next to the other work bench. This freed up space to move the vacuum forming machine next to the 220V outlet. This is much more efficient since it was always necessary to awkwardly wheel the vacuum former over to the corner every time someone wanted to use it. Now it’s right where it needs to be and will therefore be so much easier to use as needed. This also freed up a bit of extra space on the south wall for us to put the large format printer and vinyl cutter. This gave us more room to move around and work over near the bay door.

Laser Cutter

Also, we finally did something with that giant AV cart. We’ve had that thing forever but really it took up too much space and was an awkward shape to be useful in our space. We removed the wheels and removed the top portion of the cart and turned it into a small table. This table was the perfect size for our laser cutter. We were able to kill two birds with one stone by saving space from the old AV cart and building a laser cutter table all at once!

Pick-a-part Area

We also spent a lot of time combing through the pick-a-part area and organizing it. I don’t know how many cardboard boxes were recycled, but it sure was a lot. I’ve been told there’s even some level of organization going on up there now, so be sure that you don’t just haphazardly toss things up there in the future. Try to find the spot that makes the most sense.

We plan to hold these clean up days every other month to help keep the shop tidy and efficient. If you didn’t make it down this time, you should come down next time! It’s not all sweeping and running to the dump. If you come down to the clean up days you also get to have a say in how the shop is organized in order to be more efficient for our members. We make these decisions together so as to make the space more usable for everyone. We also inevitably start working on “shop improvement projects” such as the laser cutter table, or building a custom mount for the IP camera. We easily come up with a big list of things to do, so you need not worry about having no idea what you can do to help.


New Tools Update #1

EMS received a generous donation at the end of 2014. The board decided we should spend that money on some new tools for our members. After a discussion in the EMS Discuss mailing list, we opted to spend some money on two things.

  1. CNC milling machine
  2. Laser cutter

Those things seemed pretty high up on the list for many members, and as it happens some members were already working on these things. This decision will allow us to fund the projects and hopefully expedite them.

CNC Milling Machine

Several members have been working hard to repair a recently-donated CNC milling machine. You may have seen it on the large desk inside EMS. The most recent problem has been with the motor driver circuit boards. The driver chips keep burning out. They’ve already been replaced once, but the problem has repeated itself. The team has decided to purchase new controller boards instead of trying to continue debugging the old ones. We are going to use EMS funds to help the team purchase the parts they need to get the machine up and running. We’ll also spend a few hundred dollars on proper tooling for the machine when it’s ready to go. This way we’ll have everything we need to make use of the machine.

Laser Cutter

Bob has been building his 40 Watt laser cutter for over two years now. The current status is that it’s almost ready for use by other members. He’s still working on some of the software but he’s got a plan formulated for that. Also, you may have noticed a hole cut in the rear wall of the EMS shop over the last week or so. This hole was approved by the landlord and installed to provide adequate ventilation for the laser cutter once it’s up and running. An exhaust fan was already installed as well. Bob also needs to build a custom table to hold the laser cutter up at an appropriate height, while also leaving storage space for cutting materials. He’s going to be a bit busy working on his Eugene Maker Faire project in the coming months though, so if anyone would like to lend a hand with this project please reach out on the Discuss list.

MakesGiving: Fall Project Expo

Vacuum FormerEugene Maker Space Invites You to Visit
MakesGiving: Fall Project Expo

Our Semi-Annual Show & Tell/Open House

When: Saturday November 15, 2014 at 11:00 to 4:00
Where: 687 McKinley Street, Suite #2

Come see what we’re building now:
Laser Cutters! Vacuum Tables! 3D Printers! Segways and More!

Second Annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ Competition!


Team Kerbals

We are pleased to announce the second annual Eugene Punkin’ Chunkin’ competition! The competition is put together by Eugene Maker Space and hosted by The Science Factory. If you didn’t make it to last year’s contest, you missed some amazing contraptions and some pretty incredible pumpkin launches. Just watch the video below to get an idea of what you might see at the event.

Where and When?

Where: The Science Factory front yard
Date: Sunday – November 2, 2014
Time: 12:00PM to whenever it ends!

Launch Zone
You can see the launch zone in the below picture. Contestants will launch from the blue firing line aiming down range to the east. The first red box is the primary launch zone. “The Great Beyond” is further down range and will remain clear in case any contestants are capable of building launchers that can actually chunk that far. Last year we had several launches that successfully reached The Great Beyond!


Launch Zone

How to Enter

You do not need to be a member of Eugene Maker Space in order to compete. Everyone is free to enter the competition. If you would like to sign up to compete, please email with your team name and the names of your team members. Also include which class you intend to compete in. It is also highly encouraged (but not required) that you email the EMS Discussion list and announce your intention to enter the competition!

The Rules

This year we will have two classes of chunker. The first class is the “Pumpkin class”. The rules will be the same as last year and are posted below. The second class is the “Apple class”. This class is specifically for smaller machines that will throw apples instead of pumpkins. The intent with the Apple class is to lower the barrier to entry and allow people to particpate while building smaller, less expensive, and less dangerous machines.


  1. No compressed air/compressed gas devices
  2. No explosives.
  3. Teams must release all energy from their launchers until it is their turn.

Contest Rules

  1. You may sign up as an individual or as a team.
  2. Machines must not cross the firing line.
  3. Machines must be ready to fire within 5 minutes.
  4. Each team will get three launches.
  5. If a team loses a projectile after launch they may get an one extra try if the team has a backup projectile ready to go.
  6. Teams provide their own pumpkins.
  7. rojectiles must remain intact until they hit the ground.
  8. Projectiles cannot be modified (except for painting).
  9. Teams may paint their projectiles for decoration.
  10. Teams may enter the exact same chunker from a previous competition if they so desire.
  11. Team members may be a part of multiple teams if all teams are OK with it.

Pumpkin Class Specific Rules

  1. Pumpkins must weigh between 1lbs and 5lbs.

Apple Class Specific Rules

  1. You can use any apples you like.

How to win
To win the competition you just need to chunk your punkin’ farther than the other teams. That’s it! There will be three heats. Whichever team gets the furthest launched pumpkin out of all three heats will be declared the champions.

Eugene Mini Maker Faire 2014


The Science Factory hosted the third annual Eugene Mini Maker Faire on June 7, 2014. Eugene Maker Space was there again making bracelets and soft circuits, as well as teaching people to solder. We also brought a bunch of member projects to show off. Team Low Earth Orbit setup their winning punkin’ chunker and launched a few cabbages throughout the day, to much applause. There were also a bunch of other great exhibits.

An Upcycled Soda Can turned into a Pinwheel

Last weekend I stopped down at EMS to work on a quick project.  I’ve seen soda/beer can art before but I’ve never made anything myself.  My original idea was to build an airplane but I ultimately decided to go with a pinwheel for simplicity’s sake.  I did some basic research by looking up pinwheels online to see how they usually look.  Then I stopped at the local Wal-Mart for supplies and got to work!  While I could have built this project at home, it was fun to stop down at EMS and get some work done while hanging out with other members working on their projects.

If you don’t come to EMS very often, you should start!  People are always working on interesting things down there.



EMS Kickstarter Panel Video

On March 2, 2014 Eugene Maker Space held a Kickstarter Q&A panel. Four panelists had successfully funded Kickstarter projects and one panelist ultimately decided Kickstarter was not the right solution. Watch the video to learn more about their experiences with Kickstarter! I edited this video together for EMS using their footage.


Craig Godwin.

Garrett Loveall.

Noelle Dass.

Piotr Esden-Tempski

Tim O’Donnell.

Building an Olympic Lifting Platform

On February 1, 2014, I (Rick) got together with another EMS member (Ellery) to build a modular Olympic Lifting Platform.  The goal was to build a platform that could fit in our garage.  The standard 8′ x 8′ size would be much too large, so we cut ours in half.  The other problem is that moving a full sized 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood is very difficult without access to a truck.  It also would be very difficult to move, reposition, or stow away at that size.  We therefore designed our platform to be modular.  The center platform is 4′ x 4′ and each side piece is only 2′ x 4′.  This allows us to transport the whole thing in one SUV with one person if needed.  We can also easily move it off of the floor if we ever need to reclaim that space.  The resources and space available to us at EMS were very helpful in completing this project.