Public Lab Wiki documentation

Balloon & Kite Mapping

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Balloon mapping is a low-cost way to take aerial photos using a camera, attached to a balloon, on a spool of string. People have done this from a few hundred feet up all the way to over 4,000 feet in the air.

Our whole toolkit is linked out below, but really fast:

  1. Assemble your own, buy our balloon kit, or buy/make a kite.
  2. find a good camera.
  3. determine how you will trigger the camera, (we suggest a rubber band) or pick out a timelapse app for your smartphone.
  4. build a simple housing from a plastic bottle.
  5. find a site to map that is five miles from an airport and not Washington D.C. (or learn about the regulations yourself)
  6. follow the pre-flight checklist(pdf) and quickstart guide(pdf) to safely fill up your balloon and fly!
  7. maneuver your balloon at your site
  8. sort your images on your desktop (Mac,Windows) or with Mapmill.
  9. make them into a map with Mapknitter.
  10. Print a poster of your map from Mapknitter, see your map join the public record in our archive, and if you'd like, even in Google Earth.

Willie Schubert over at the GeoJournalism Handbook has made a printable walk-through including many of these steps


Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Replications
Make or buy a balloon mapping kit build complete @liz - - 0 replications: Try it »
Choose a way to make your camera take pictures continuously - - @liz - - 0 replications: Try it »
Host a balloon mapping workshop - - @liz - - 37 replications: Try it »
Stitching Images into Maps with MapKnitter - - @warren - - 0 replications: Try it »
How to decide on a tool for mapping - - @stevie - - 0 replications: Try it »
Mapping 10km2 - - @gonzoearth - - 0 replications: Try it »
Use a rubber band and knotted string to trigger a camera build complete @mathew 15m easy 0 replications: Try it »
Add GPS logging to a Saturn V Rig build - @cfastie - medium 0 replications: Try it »
Youth Balloon Mapping Workshop Complete! - - @mjain26 - - 0 replications: Try it »
Make a $25 minimal-helium balloon mapping rig - - @natevw - - 0 replications: Try it »
Selecting Kite Flight Launch Sites in Centerville - - @Olivia - - 0 replications: Try it »
PET Bottle & Rubber Band Rig build - @mathew 3h easy 1 replications: Try it »
super simple KAP mount with small tripod and velcro strap - - @gonzoearth - - 0 replications: Try it »
Analyzing Thacher Insulation: an Aerial Thermal Mapping Project - - @NIKIBOPOLOUS - - 0 replications: Try it »
Efficiently sort images with Finder & Preview (Mac) - - @mathew - - 0 replications: Try it »
Calculate how much helium you'll need to lift your camera - - @liz - - 0 replications: Try it »
Choose a camera for aerial photography - - @liz - - 0 replications: Try it »

Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.

Questions about balloon mapping:

Title Author Updated Likes Comments
What's the best way to attach a camera to a balloon? @warren about 7 years ago 2
Which is the wind speed range (maximum) when mapping with balloon? @edugil over 6 years ago 3
How long does an inflated neoprene balloon last? Mylar balloons better for summer camp? @pfhs about 6 years ago 3
How much helium do you need to fill a balloon in the regular balloon mapping kits? @stevie about 5 years ago 3
Where do you source your balloon reels? @a1ahna about 3 years ago 2
Favorite camera for balloon/kite mapping? @adam-griffith almost 5 years ago 2
Is helium lift-ability is temperature dependent? @ryangaia about 5 years ago 2
How many regular ~1 foot balloons does it take to lift a camera? @warren about 5 years ago 4
Hello everyone, what is the weight, the baloon in the baloon mapping kit may lift? @Nubu about 5 years ago 2
What's the best way of estimating the altitude of your balloon when mapping? @molangmuir10 about 5 years ago 7
Is there a way to use ground-proximity data to do terrain mapping via kite/balloon mapping? @mimiss about 5 years ago 1
balloon and kite mapping @pataxte over 5 years ago 2
Video describing basics of launching regular/mini balloon kits? @pfhs about 6 years ago 2
Kite altitude question @Ag8n over 6 years ago 4
Helium alternative @mrw0116 over 6 years ago 4
Helium Cylinder (15 Litre) Mobius Action Camera Balloon mapping Kit How long will my cylinder last? @suman almost 7 years ago 3
Cheap, lightweight GoPro alternatives for aerial mapping? @warren about 7 years ago 14
Size of aerial imagery from balloons and kites @Morgan over 7 years ago 5
lightweight air quality sensors for a weather balloon @glenc almost 8 years ago 2
Has anyone tried a dashboard camera for timelapse or aerial mapping? @warren almost 8 years ago 3
Question: Possible to get 3D map from balloon mapping? @bnjmnph almost 9 years ago 5
Question: Do you guys retract the kite / balloon line manually? @madapeti over 9 years ago 7

Browse maps and data generated with this technique in the Public Laboratory Archive

Browse Research Notes on Balloon Mapping

A short video by Mathew Lippincott on setting up and launching your balloon.

Grassroots Mapping Toolkit

Our aerial mapping toolkit is a simplified kite and balloon aerial photography system for easy and accessible high-resolution map-making. The tookit consists of:

Flight platforms: Assembling a balloon kit will cost from $100-200, including helium.

Camera housings: Single Line systems: The PET Bottle & Rubber Band Rig wraps around the small and medium sized cameras (up to micro 4/3) for crash protection while firmly mounting it in a position for vertical images.

For heavy cameras, a Trash Can Rig offers more protection.

Multiple Line Systems: these are more complex to build but can provide added stability, especially useful for video. Several people have created Picavet rigs.

Cameras: A small camera that supports continuous shooting mode and a large storage card, or an excellent camera phone are our preferred options.

Mapmaking software: Public Laboratory's MapKnitter is easy to use browser software for map making. Continue on to MapKnitter Guide and MapKnitter Help for more information.

Useful guides: Our latest guides can always be found on the Guides page, including:

Curricula and workshops: Our Curriculum-Guide covers the entire process and some theory behind mapping. It is still in beta.

Advanced Techniques