It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s Superman! While we may have seen record-breaking freefalls from daredevils Felix Baumgartner and most recently, Alan Eustace, none may compare to the latest project from a group of RS DesignSpark engineers which was brought to our attention during Electronica 2014.
Earlier this summer, Mattel launched an Extreme Toys Travel Campaign that took their action figures to exotic and extreme locations all around the globe. Inspired by the latest attempts of falling from the edge of space, the toy company asked RS if they would be able to replicate these jumps with one of its new Superman action figures.
RS teamed up with Rlab, a peer run community hackspace, card modeller Jude Pullen, and high altitude balloonist Dave Akerman, to send Superman to space and back in a custom-built capsule. After a couple of planning sessions, the team comprised of Makers, hackers and engineers went right to work. In early September, the group then got together for a long weekend at RLab to bring it all together and prepare for launch.
The team attached the specially-designed capsule to a weather balloon filled with hydrogen gas, which transported the toy Superman approximately 24 miles into the sky to the edge of space. Once the optimal altitude was achieved, Superman “jumped” from the capsule, safely falling back down to Earth’s surface. During the flight, mission data, HD video and pictures were captured, while both Superman and the capsule itself were tracked throughout the flight using a low power radio link and GPS.
Prior to launch, the group designed a chassis in RS Components’ DesignSpark mechanical tool to house the electronics, which was then 3D-printed using a SAM3X8E Cortex-M3 powered RepRap Pro Ormerod.
The capsule featured a Raspberry Pi to capture mission data, as well as a customized Atmel ATxmega128A4U based tracking unit to locate and retrieve Superman. In total, the team had utilized five trackers located on the heroic Superman and his accompanying capsule. Not only did the trackers send GPS positions in real-time, but took and transmitted snapshots back down to the land-dwellers as well.
Additionally, the RS DesignSpark innovators selected radio modules (were on the 433 mhz band) and receivers tuned to the frequencies of the trackers on Superman and his capsule. Once the Mattel toy jumped out using a “low-tech ejection mechanism,” the team hopped into their cars and continued to follow along with its signal.
So did he make it? Yes, indeed! It took the embedded Superman just under an hour (50 minutes) to reach the ground — where it coincidentally landed at the end of Hope Lane. (For those who may not know, Superman’s “S” isn’t a letter, but rather the Kryptonian symbol for hope.)
Perhaps you have an extra action figure (or even a Barbie) lying around and interested in creating your own high-altitude tracker. If so, fly on over to RS DesignSpark’s step-by-step breakdown here.