[From July Issue 2014]
Floating a camera from a balloon and photographing the Earth from far up in the stratosphere. It sounds like a fairy tale, but by using a unique method IWAYA Keisuke, from Sapporo City, Hokkaido, made this a reality. Since the first launch in 2011, he has launched 30 balloons so far. As a result of continuous additional improvements, the camera attached to the balloon can now reach heights of more than 40,000 meters.
“In fact, not many images taken from these heights had, up until now, been shot. It’s not an altitude at which it’s normally possible to take photographs; rockets are further away from earth.” His so called balloon photographic method is unusual and on top of this, his photographs are unique. Because of this, Iwaya’s space photography is attracting interest from different directions.
When he was child, Iwaya admired Dr. BROWN who invented the time machine in the movie “Back to the Future.” “I wanted to become an inventor. But as I progressed through junior school and high school I became more aware of reality and gave up on becoming an inventor,” he laughs. After that, he moved on to study at the mechanical engineering department of a university, which was where he heard the news about an American student who had successfully taken photographs from a balloon.
“I want to try it myself!” he immediately thought, but the details of the method used were not disclosed. So he assembled his materials for around 5,000 yen and tackled the problem using his own original design and method. So he could be sure to gather data, a string was connected to the first unit launched. Although the altitude was low at a mere 100 meters, he discovered many things about the effects of wind on the photographic image and about battery consumption.
After that, he analyzed the data for each launch adding numerous improvements. Currently, he launches his camera packed in Styrofoam with a large helium-filled balloon of one to two meters in diameter. It weighs approximately 250 grams. Because atmospheric pressure falls as the balloon rises, the balloon explodes and falls when it reaches approximately 30,000 meters in altitude.
As the camera falls to the ground, Iwaya is extremely careful about not injuring anyone. He attaches a speed reduction device and calculates that the camera returns to the earth at a speed of 15 kilometers per hour or slower. Because it is floating, depending on the way the wind blows, the camera is equipped with GPS so that the location of the fallen camera can be discovered. A buzzer goes off when it hits the ground, so that it can be found even if it happens to land in tall grass.
There have been occasions when he was unable to collect his camera. On other occasions, 10,000 photographs have been taken but only one decent photo produced. However, Iwaya says, “These are no ‘failures.’” He explains that even if he cannot collect the camera or take photographs, he discovers something new at each launch and these findings can be useful for the next launch.
There were some people who regarded Iwaya’s dream to photograph space from a balloon as being impossible to realize. Iwaya says, “Taking photographs from space with a balloon has taught me that dreams can come true if I continue without giving up.” Iwaya’s next dream is to photograph the deep sea.
*Data presented in this article is as of April 18, 2014.
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo