UKHAS Amateur Balloon Conference 2012


Balloon from BALSAMINE with Mini Moke - 1979, LMD France

The United Kingdom High Altitude Society’s 2nd Annual Conference, Sept 22, 2012, in London, UK, will feature high altitude balloon talks from several balloonists, including myself, this year in person!  I gave a talk last year on a few challenges facing small superpressure balloon development.  Since then I have discovered much an incredible amount of historical information on the subject.  This year I will be speaking about the fascinating engineering history of hundreds of small superpressure balloon test flights that have taken place around the world since 1950.

Watch live at the UKHAS conference page.  After the conference, expect video, slides and references on that site, as well as my ballooning advice website, High Altitude Balloon Consulting.


SpeedBall-1 Has Great Flight

SpeedBall-1 “Lally” was the culmination of 2 years of very hard volunteer work. The flight flew as a test flight to see if our engineering worked, even though we had run out of time to do the really good science that could have been done.

More details will be posted soon, in the mean time check out for the flight data.

Live Streaming – Speedball-1 Pre-Flight Check

Estimated Launch Time 2:00 AM 5/13/12

5/12/2012 1:22 am: Sensor controller malfunctioning.  Removing camera and humidity sensor.  Going to fly without them.  If all we have is a bag of gas were still flying!

Follow the live twitter stream:!/Lallynaut

Track Speedball-1’s flight:

5/12/2012 10:36PMStarting final pre-flight checklist.  (Here we GO!!!)

5/12/2012 9:45PM: We’re just getting rolling here at mission control.  Launch crews are on their way to the launch site now and will be joining the live stream momentarily.  Click play on the video below to watch the live stream of Speedballs first flight!

Launch Announcement – SpeedBall-1:The Real Deal!

I’m Proud to announce the first, and possibly only major flight of White Star, our pride and joy, on the cutting edge of amateur science and engineering, SpeedBall-1, “Lally“:

Link for live video stream and chat will appear here.

Tracking page:  (note this may show (and be marked as)simulated testing data up until about 5PM ET Saturday.

Launch time: 7:45PM ET Saturday (2345 UTC 12 May) 10:00PM ET (02:00 UTC) May 12th.

Launch Location: Spaceport Indiana (KBAK Airport)

Cruise Altitude: 70,000 ft  (We’re movin’ on up!)

Flight Duration Expected: 24-72 hours

Estimated Ground Track:  Very slow wandering around the middle USA for several days.

Balloon System: A hybrid floater, with a latex balloon doing the heavy lifting to 21km altitude, far above the ZP’s original design altitude of 10km.  The ZP will still provide the function of venting helium to arrest the climb and establish a float.

  •  Zero Pressure Polyethylene envelope, 660 ft^3, custom made Global Western design, with White-star designed one-way plate valve, featuring a silicone seat, and PVC pipe port at the top for He temp sensor.
  • Latex envelope, 1600g, Hwoyee latex tow balloon balloon courtesy of WB8ELK, Bill Brown.

Payloads of note: 

  • Remotely triggerable Go Pro Camera (Simultaneous wide angle view of both balloon above and horizon/ground in front)
  • Supervising AVR Flight Computer communicating with 3 Arduino modules via I2C, including SatcomController (Mega 2560), SensorController(FIO), and BallastController(Boarduino)
  • Iridium-Arduino Satellite Communication Shield by White Star with command uplinking and adjustable telemetry intervals
  • Nichrome deadman cutdown by Carl Lyster, WA4ADG
  • ZP balloon lift gas anti-dilution valve by Gary Flispart
  • 54 Energizer Lithium AA Batteries
  • 5.5lbs of C2H6O ballast in a SNOX-style electric solenoid drain ballast bottle
  • Humidity Sensor
  • Cloud particle sensor
  • Temperature sensors
  • Helium internal temperature sensor
  • Raw battery pack voltage sensor


Lift Helium proudly provided by SpacePort Indiana and Praxair Gases.

How to fly across an ocean

Flying across the ocean is no small feat.  It takes the concerted efforts of dozens of people, working hard at lots of difficult problems, from modeling balloon volume and flight dynamics, to planning interactions with air traffic control.  The diagram above gives a little bit of an idea of the effort involved in getting across the ocean.  Any single block represents tens to many hundreds of man-hours worth of effort.

Components in Purple represent things which will actually be flying across the ocean.  This hardware and software must perform flawlessly at all times.  Components with a red heptagon represent significant software efforts.  The red square shows the components which lie on amazon EC2, spread across three instances, with a total cost of $100 a month (during flight season) to maintain.  Pink commands are sent using PubNub, a service without whose generosity our public page would not be possible.

All of these systems are in the critical path, and a failure of any single flight system will compromise science data.  Fortunately, we always have positive control of our craft, thanks to a dead-man cutdown, which operates entirely autonomously, and a 9602 modem which will respond with rough location coordinates even if all other flight systems have failed.  Our ground systems all have hot-backups, and can all be operated from anywhere on the Internet, so these systems are as redundant as they can be.