In January 2016, Night Crew Labs was approached by Ogilvy & Mather to assist in their Valentine’s Day marketing campaign: From Space With Love. The campaign served to promote Huawei and their smartwatch product line. The premise of the mission was to fly hand-written postcards along with a pair of Huawei smartwatches to the edge of space and back.
This mission consisted of many teams working together. At the helm was the Ogilvy & Mather creative team consisting of Mikyung Kim, Jim Fong, and Richard Sorensen. The Night Crew Labs team of Bryan Chan, Ashish Goel, Tyler Reid, Corey Snyder, and Paul Tarantino served as the engineering and mission planning team. Special thanks to Jonathan Kosh who helped with equipment set up and logistics on launch day. We also partnered with director Tim Brodsky of Kinematic as well as our cinematographer partner American Black Market, a team consisting of Brent Madison, Brian Michael Henderson, Oliver Bukowsky, Matt Stemmley, and Maury Covington Jr.
The primary payload on this mission was a pair of Huawei smartwatches along with numerous postcard sized love messages. Along with this was two GoPro Hero 4 Black’s used to film these items throughout the flight as well as the necessary navigation and communication equipment used to track the balloon. The two smartwatches were placed side by side on a boom which extended from the main equipment box shown in white in the diagram below. Video of these watches was taken throughout the flight using a GoPro pointed towards the horizon. The love notes were placed in a red gift box which was hung below the main equipment box and filmed from above via the second GoPro pointed downwards.
As we would be flying the two smartwatches in a configuration where they would be exposed to the environment, we performed low temperature tests of these devices to make sure they would indeed survive the flight. As temperatures can approach -60 degrees celsius, a conventional freezer would not suffice for the test. To achieve the necessary temperatures we used an insulated polystyrene box along with dry ice. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide and at atmospheric pressure it sublimates (transforms directly from a solid to a gas) and does so at a constant temperature of 78.5 degrees celsius. This provided an environment much colder than would be encountered in flight and the provided Huawei test watch held up well, proving it could survive the trip.
After less than two weeks of engineering design, mission planning, and ground logistics, we were ready for launch. We selected three launch sites near the San Francisco Bay Area, but the closer we got to launch day, the worse the weather became. The day before launch, we changed plans and drove eight hours to the Mojave desert to avoid the rain. The Ogilvy Hong Kong creative team arrived from Hong Kong, and our cinematographer partners from American Black Market drove in from Los Angeles. Thanks to Tim Brodsky, who scouted out the area the day before, we had a good sense of where to launch in the desert.
After a couple hours of sleep, we got up bright and early and held a pre-launch meeting at 5:30 AM in the lobby of our hotel in Barstow, CA. The weather looked a bit threatening, but we nevertheless we decided to drive out to the launch site near the ghost town of Calico, CA. We turned off a county road and onto a rugged path leading into the very heart of the Mojave. Our all-wheel drive Chevy Tahoe took a beating but it held up remarkably well to the rough bumps and loose dirt at 30 mph. Once a suitable site was found, the American Black Market camera crew started setting up their equipment while we set up ours. Every now and then, Maury, the UAV pilot would buzz his flying machine around us, pulling some pretty amazing stunts in the morning air.
The additional cameras and extra sets of eyes added another level of scrutiny on our balloon fill setup and payload integration procedure. It didn’t help that it was extremely windy that morning – Paul, Ashish, and Jon were doing their best to control a massive weather balloon whipping around near prickly bushes. To make matters more interesting, we heard bombs going off in the distance at the nearby army base, and desert people were shooting their guns at tin can targets a couple hundred yards away from us. Once the 450 cubic feet of helium had filled our giant balloon, we started the countdown and then released the balloon and payload into the desert sky.
Once the balloon disappeared from sight, we raced back to the cars and headed to its predicted landing site. We were able to track the balloon’s trajectory in real-time using a smartphone GPS up to about 20,000 ft before we lost it above the clouds. The predicted trajectory had us traveling northeast through Baker, home of the largest thermometer in the world. After a few hours of driving, we reached the closest point by road, two miles from the landing site. We hiked through a dry lake bed valley, surrounded by craggy mountains looming large in the distance. After about twenty minutes of hiking toward the reported GPS waypoint, we had eyes on target! A small, bright orange speck off in the horizon – unmistakably the flight parachute. We found the payload clinging for dear life to a leafless bush, as the parachute was catching wind and attempting to fly away.
After filming some recovery shots, it was time to head back to our home base in Barstow. The whole team had dinner and celebrated a successful mission!
From Space With Love: By the Numbers
Max altitude: 100,000 ft (30.5 km)
Max speed: 136.3 mph (219 km/h)
Range from launch site: 62 miles (99 km)
Launch time: 11:05 (Pacific Time)
Flight duration: 1h 50 min
Recovery time: 14:26 (Pacific Time) – 3h 21 min from launch