Announcing HASSP

“I’m bored.”

Did you ever have one of those “what am I doing with my life” moments? Those “is this really what I want to do for a living?” type of self-introspection conversation moments? About 4 months ago, I was having one of those moments. Let me be clear though: I love what I do for a living. I love where I work. I love who I work with. Seriously, I hit the career lottery and I’m thankful every day for it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get bored, or want a new challenge every once in a while. Which is why I get hair-brained ideas like building a button to control SQL Server. So I do things that keep me engaged, learning, and interested. I look for unique problems with unique solutions. I’ll go learn something. I’ll travel. I get way too into a hobby.

The point is, I’ll find something to occupy my time. But I’m fickle; I can’t sit still for too long (and fidget spinners don’t really do it for me). So when I get into a mood where I’m not totally enthralled with or excited about the work I’m doing, I’ll tell my boss that I’m bored. He hates it when I say that; he thinks it’s his problem (it’s not). One good thing about working where I do is that if you have an idea, you’re encouraged to run with it. And I had doozie on an idea. I know I’ve been teasing it for a while now, and a few select people have been in the know, but today, I’m excited to finally announce it to the world: we’re putting SQL Server in space*.

Introducing HASSP

Over the last few months, I’ve had a new itch: I wanted to get into the world of high altitude ballooning. The concept is pretty simple: get a balloon and some helium, tie it to a payload, and let it go. The balloon travels a certain height and distance, then bursts, and your payload falls back to earth. That in itself is pretty interesting to me, and it’s not prohibitively expensive: students have done it for a couple hundred dollars. For a few dollars more, you can put a camera on it and take pictures as it travels.

The thing is, I wanted to do more than that. The maker in me wanted to do something special, something no one (to my knowledge) has done before. I not only wanted to launch a balloon and a camera, I wanted to put SQL Server up there, too. So that’s why we’re announcing the High Altitude SQL Server Project (HASSP).

Essentially, this:

More seriously, here’s the idea:

  1. Create a custom IoT device,
  2. Attach some sensors to it,
  3. Write some code to poll the sensors,
  4. Tie it to a balloon,
  5. Send it up, collect data, and store the results in SQL Server.

All in the upper atmosphere. Pretty cool? I think so, too.

Just the beginning

We live in exciting times, folks. Thanks to recent changes to SQL Server, Microsoft embracing open-source, more diverse sensor and IoT technology, and cheap, easy to get materials, this type of project is possible. We might be successful but there’s also a chance we might not be successful, either. Gravity is not the easiest thing in the world to conquer, after all. That doesn’t really matter though; this has been an incredible journey and I’m fortunate and proud to share every step with whomever wants to read it. Most of all though, I’m proud of the people I get to work with not just on this project, but every day as well. As we move forward you’ll get to meet a lot of them, and they all have an important part to play in the project. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want) to do this alone. I work with the best people, truly, and they have just as much to do with this as I did.

Following along

There’s a lot more to doing a project like this than the steps above. Over the past few months myself and my teammates that are interested in helping out have been kicking around ideas and testing hardware and writing software. We’re finally at a place where we’re ready to share our project with the world, and now you can follow along too as we move closer to our (projected) launch date: 06/20/2017 07/11/2017 (our initial launch date slipped due to reasons). I plan on having a project diary that runs from now till after our launch, detailing various steps of the project and how we solved problems (or inadvertently created new ones).

Over the new few weeks, I’ll be posting regular updates to twitter and writing some blog posts as well discussing of the tricky technical challenges we’ve had to solve (spoiler alert: near space is not a place where many things, especially databases, enjoy being). I encourage you to keep abreast of what we’re doing. Our ultimate goal is to live stream our launch, too, but I don’t have those details finalized yet. If you have the means to help us with that, let me know!

When we get done, I’m going make all my information available to everyone: the schematics of our device, our source code, balloon construction, and even our checklists. Everything so you can do it yourself, too, and improve on it (and hopefully burn yourself with soldering irons less than I did).

I hope you stay and follow me (us) as we move ahead with this ambitious project. Watch my twitter feed (or this site) for updates. It’s been a long time in the making and we’re excited to do it. And you can help by spreading the word. I’ll be using the hashtag #hassp and #sqlserver to post updates.

Let’s go to space*!

*Yes, I know, the upper atmosphere isn’t technically space. But the cost of going just a bit farther up is crazy expensive. But maybe phase two…

5 thoughts on “Announcing HASSP

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  2. john yates

    Interesting idea… but has any thought been put into what you might target for destruction as the device falls to earth?

    1. Drew Furgiuele

      John, yeah, things plummeting from 18 miles up would probably ruin someone’s day if it fell on them. As we’ll cover in some upcoming posts, figuring out just where this thing goes is probably the scariest part of the entire project. I’m fairly confident that as we get closer to our launch date our possible flight paths get easier and easier to predict (it has a lot more to do with weather than anything). And most predictors are pretty useless beyond two days in the future. We have some pretty neat tricks up our sleeves for real-time tracking, too. More to come!

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