My friend, David Stillman, occasionally launches High Altitude Balloons, and is a general all-around badass. He’s also a fan of the Aeon, and when I asked him a while back if he’d be interested in sending an Aeon up to the upper atmosphere to test, he was enthusiastic about the idea.
So, why send an Aeon to Space? Because we can. When the opportunity to do Space-things presents itself, you do not turn your back on Space. (cue the Space Core)
In all seriousness, though, the trip to the upper atmosphere allowed me to test a few worthwhile things:
What happens when the torch is exposed to very low pressure?
Pressure dropped down to about 1/10th of pressure at sea level - In particular, catastrophic decompression was a concern here, with either the lens exploding, the rubber boot ballooning, or a seal rupturing. Neither happened, and the light retained its integrity throughout the flight.
What happens when the torch is exposed to absurdly cold temperatures?
Temperatures dropped as low as -54F (-48C). This is cold. The lowest temperature I ever tested an Aeon to continuously was probably about 0F (-18C) when I froze it in a block of ice in the past.
The question here was tied to the above – rubber becomes brittle when it’s cold, and this could contribute to a seal failure, or potentially a rupturing of the rubber boot at the pushbutton.
None of these things happened.
What happens when the torch is rapidly warmed on descent?
In conjunction with what happens when it gets cold, what happens when things warm up quickly? A concern in both cases is different coefficients of thermal expansion for different materials, meaning, different materials will expand or contract at different rates as they’re heated and cooled.
In particular, I had some concerns at the lens possibly shattering, primarily, and also the rubber boot coming loose (The boot misbehaving during warming after being frozen happened in prototyping and the design was modified and a new mold made - this test proved the design to be stable in even wider temperature variances and more rapid warming).
Also, electronics are generally not rated for use or exposure to low pressures or temperatures, so it was good to see that everything worked fine on recovery.
What happens when the torch gets thrashed around in the jet stream and on descent?
The ascent and descent are fairly violent, and the light gets thrashed around a good bit, which it was expected to survive just fine, but was good to verify.
What happens to a battery after exposure to these temperatures?
The reason the light is not on during the entire flight is because a battery will die very, very fast in cold temperatures. In previous tests with freezing, even running on low mode, the battery will be depleted in a short amount of time from the cold.
To that end, we actually experienced a problem with the GoPros recording the flight: Rated for 2:20 of footage, we cut out somewhere past an hour because the batteries were cold and lost charge much faster than at room temperature, preventing us from getting full footage of the descent. Thankfully the cameras with the larger battery packs were pointed at the balloon and the light, giving us some spectacular footage of the balloon pop and the light in general – the other cameras only lasted about 30 minutes.
Upon recovery, we clicked the light on – the battery retained its charge since it wasn’t used, and everything worked flawlessly.
It is one thing to say the things you make are tough, durable, and capable, and it’s another to actually go through the trouble of a test like this. Does sending something to Space give it a bit more spectacle? Sure. But it also was a much more straight forward way of seeing how things behaved in low temperature and pressure environments, and see how the Aeon reacted to rapid changes in both.
I am very happy with the Aeon’s performance in this environment, and am looking forward to testing it in new ways in the future, as well as seeing the adventures you put all of your torches through!