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The Hand of Zeus

Who says lightning never strikes the same place twice?

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This project was created on 03/26/2014 and last updated 6 months ago.

Description
By launching a copper ground wire into the stormy sky via rocket, we hope to harness the power of the gods and induce a lightning strike. With Texas A&M students Neel (Mechanical Engineering) and John (Electrical Engineering), we'll ensure that a dramatic, exciting (and most of all, safe) experience is witnessed by all.
Details

As you might imagine, there are many complicating factors with this project. How does the weight of the wire (which increases with rocket height) affect the height obtained? How do we know when to launch? If we can reliably produce a strike, what do we do with it? How do we do all of this without getting hurt? The answers and more are coming.

Components
  • 1 × Estes Vagabond model rocket Weighing 166 grams and powered by E-class motors, this rocket can obtain heights of 1275 feet. This should give us plenty of power to tow our wire.
  • 1 × A slew of tools and components To be updated. We have a lot at our disposal.

Project logs
  • Launch Week!

    5 months ago • 0 comments

    It's official! This week is LAUNCH WEEK! We've got thunderstorms on thursday and sunday, plus we'll be launching on sunny days in between, in an attempt to capture something rare: a lightning strike in broad daylight. Stay tuned for videos if we get a strike. We have a makeshift faraday cage for our GoPro so we can film.

  • Timed Launch System

    6 months ago • 0 comments

    Meanwhile while Neel is working on the rocket, I am working on some safety precautions. In order to keep us from getting electrocuted, I figured it would be advisable to be far away and in a safe place when the rocket launches. In order to do this, I whipped up a little RC timer that should give us a 5 minute count down before igniting the rocket fuse, letting us retreat to a safe location. This whole circuit is easy to make and will cost only ~$2, so I have no problem with it getting destroyed, assuming we actually do catch a lightning bolt. 

    The circuit is very simple, but I figured I would post a schematic anyways, just in case anyone is curious:

    The idea is that we will hit the switch when we are ready to launch. We will have about 5 minutes (this time is adjustable with the potentiometer) and then the LM393 comparator will switch high, drive the mosfet and cause the rocket to ignite.

  • Lightning detector V1

    6 months ago • 1 comment

    Howdy, everyone! As of now, we've just completed a 3-stage BJT amplifier to act as a static discharge detector. The schematic we used is listed here: http://www.electroschematics.com/1021/lightning-detector/

    We are also looking into the construction of an Electric Field Mill. We found an arduino-based DIY version at Instructables: http://www.instructables.com/id/Adruino-Based-Electrostatic-Field-Mill/


    Also, we've just run out of images on Hackaday.io. Check out the imgur link on the left to see what we've been up to!

View all 8 project logs

Discussions

Eugene wrote 3 months ago null point

You may also want to place this circuit in a shielded, grounded box to avoid it being triggered by strong electric (like what is encountered during a thunderstorm) to avoid a premature launch.

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Eugene wrote 3 months ago null point

If I understand your timer circuit correctly, when the cap charges to the voltage that is set by the pot the output of the comparator should go "high" to turn on the n-channel fet. The LM393 is an open collector output and will not source current to turn on the fet. I would recommend adding a resistor from the gate to VCC.

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Jasmine wrote 3 months ago null point

Where is the video?

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nathan.farkas wrote 4 months ago null point

So how did it go?

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prof_braino wrote 5 months ago null point

That's pretty wicked! Remind me not to try this at home.

Check out the propforth datalogger if you need to fly a fast logger.

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zakqwy wrote 5 months ago null point

Can you ground the rocket through a bucket of sand to make a fulgurite?

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DFX wrote 5 months ago 1 point

did you die?

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charliex wrote 5 months ago null point

holey moley

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DFX wrote 5 months ago null point

The suspense of your project is killing me!! So exciting! :D

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DFX wrote 5 months ago null point

SpeedCat Did you get my email?

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DFX wrote 5 months ago null point

SpeedCat I would like to contribute to the project is there way to contact you directly?

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speedcat13 wrote 5 months ago null point

wronskianode@gmail.com

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gmwatbot wrote 6 months ago 1 point

Look into using a "field mill" to measure the charge under a thundercloud. It'll give a real time indication of when best to launch minus flight time. Second thing to say, obvious I know, ensure your launch systems are isolated from the rocket ;)

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speedcat13 wrote 6 months ago null point

Thanks! We'll look into that!

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Eric Evenchick wrote 6 months ago null point

Rockets and high voltage? Sounds awesome! Dangerous, but awesome!

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OneShot Willie wrote 6 months ago null point

Have you considered ejecting a stream of conductive fluid? The "wire" doesn't need to be permanant...

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speedcat13 wrote 6 months ago null point

At the moment, we don't have a rocket capable of carrying a liquid load. And trust us, that wire is very short for this earth ;)

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danielsroseman wrote 6 months ago null point

I doupt that would be feasable, as the longer a stream of fluid (at a given speed) is in free air, the more likely the fluid is to coalesce into droplets. Just like rain... This doesn't really give an advantage to controlling the path of a particular lightning strike.

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FiveseveN wrote 6 months ago null point

It seems such systems are not only used for research but also planned lightning triggering (i.e. to protect valuable sites). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning_rocket
As I remember from the documentary [lufs] mentioned, they measured static charge to predict the appropriate timing.
Maybe you can use different metals (and oxides) for the conductors to get various colors, provided the black body radiation of the plasma doesn't swamp the effect.

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phreaknik wrote 6 months ago null point

Very interesting! I dont know if we will be doing the different metals and oxides though, solely because we already have a huge coil of lightweight copper magnet wire :/

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speedcat13 wrote 6 months ago null point

We'll be doing the math very soon on what we'll be able to tow. A string soaked in a conductive solution of some sort is definitely within the realm of possibility.

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J Groff wrote 3 months ago null point

Typically lightning rods work by bleeding off charge to prevent an actual discharge. Very few things can withstand grounding a million amps or so. The Nazis actually tried this experiment during the war to harness power and built massive experimental 'power stations', result; they got blown off the Swiss alps a few times and gave up.

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Luís wrote 6 months ago null point

Once i saw a documentary doing just that, they used a Kevlar "coated" wire.
When the lightning stroked it, it vaporised the Kevlar.
Wish you luck.

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phreaknik wrote 6 months ago null point

Thanks! Hopefully everything goes down safely!

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