December 2015 – After the success of our Grand Canyon mission, members of the team set out to launch an even more ambitious mission under the Night Crew Labs banner.
In October of 2015, Night Crew Labs, consisting of Bryan Chan, Ashish Goel, Tyler Reid, Corey Snyder, and Paul Tarantino, started development work to eventually capture video of the northern lights from a high altitude balloon in the high latitude regions of Alaska. To do this, they quickly realized that large aperture cameras with good low-light performance would be needed to capture the beauty of the aurorae on a moving platform.
To achieve this ultimate goal, several smaller goals had to first be attained. This included building a rig that can handle low light conditions as well as multiple camera angles, improve our launch and recovery skills, and improve our overall mission planning. To test each of these, we set out to build this rig and test it in the San Francisco Bay Area where we live. The goal here was to do a full test and identify any problems in the design before attempting a night launch in the extreme cold of the remote Alaskan wilderness.
The payload was split into two boxes – the first stage (the bottom box) and a smaller second stage (the top box). The first stage contained 3 separate cameras. The first is arguably our primary payload, our selected low light capable camera, the Sony A7S mirrorless camera pointed towards the horizon. The Sony A7S was outfitted with a Sony 10-18 mm f/4 wide angle lens. That specific lens was chosen for its light weight, auto-focusing capability, and cost as it was much less expensive than its full-frame, E-mount, wide angle lens counterparts. Using Canon or Nikon lenses were not an option due to extra weight of the lens adapter. Next, we had a GoPro Hero 4 Black (donated the GoPro) also pointed towards the horizon. Finally, we had a Samsung Galaxy S5 provided by Broadcom taking pictures at 10 second intervals pointed straight down (nadir).
Thank You to:
Timothy Brodsky for helping with logistics, cinematography and his countless hours in producing our video.
Jill Merrigan for design and implementation of our website and for her marketing advice.
Danny Morris for his help with cinematography / photography.