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 http://track.whitestarballoon.com 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: https://twitter.com/#!/Lallynaut

Track Speedball-1’s flight: http://track.whitestarballoon.com

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!

LVL1 White Star rocked the Maker Faire!

It was amazing to share the excitement of transatlantic balloon flight with so many people!  We’d like to thank the staff of the Makerfaire and The Henry Ford museum for putting on such a great event.  We’d also like to thank Matt Richardson and Mark Frauenfelder for giving White Star Make Editors Choice Awards!

For everyone we met – remember to put your email address in the field on the right, we’ll send you an email the day before we’re about to launch. –>  We have to wait for winter, and then wait for the Jet Stream winds to be just right before we can choose a launch date.

After months of prep work, we had a flawless demo at MakerFaire Detroit. The electronics from SpeedBall-2 flew Gary’s exhibition balloon up and down and up and down for 9 hours straight, two days in a row, with no intervention needed from the crew.  Before we unveiled SpeedBall-2’s indoor flight, we spent days flying it at our LVL1 Hackerspace in Louisville, KY. The ballast algorithm needed much adjustment, which gave us some invaluable experience in understanding how the balloon reacts to the real world.

We were interviewed by Make Magazine, The Henry Ford museum, and talked to hundreds of visitors over the course of two days.  Thanks to everyone that stopped by!  If you have any ongoing questions, feel free to ask us by email, comment, tweet, or carrier pigeon.

How to Build the World’s Lightest Quadrifilar Helix Antenna

After the scrub on the launch pad for flight attempt A, we went back to the books, to try and figure out what we could do to improve our odds the next time around. One of our biggest setbacks was the inability make an antenna suitable for our use: We needed an antenna tuned for 149 MHz, not needing a ground plane, weighing as little as possible.

After 4 tries, and some expensive test equipment, the end result was a Quadrifilar Helix antenna weighing only 80 grams!

Our ground test antenna was a 5/8ths wave whip antenna, which works well, but unfortunately needs a ground plane. Tests with both a quarter-wave dipole and a J-pole antenna were lackluster. Documentation from our satellite service provider implied that a quadrifilar helix antenna would provide the best coverage at all. While these antennas are pretty, their design and construction was voodoo magic at first.

Thanks to some design documentation here: http://jcoppens.com/ant/qfh/index.en.php and some help from the balloon community, we had some baselines for creating such an antenna. We still went through *quite* a few revisions.  We went through 3 revisions that didn’t work, and one which works pretty darn well!

Here are the antennas which didn’t work:

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