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.


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.

White Star Balloon Valve Vacuum Test Video

We have been fairly quiet publicly, but many subsystems are coming to completion rapidly, including the  helium gas overflow vent valve.  Completion of anything flying on a ballon means it’s time to do some science!  Tests must be done, data must be noted, hypotheses checked.  Gary Flispart and I put together a detailed technical video explanation of the vacuum leak test system we’ve made.

Stay tuned for more updates at , we are on track to launch in the next month or two!

Dan Bowen
White Star Team Lead

Amateur Superpressure Research at UKHAS Balloon Conference

I recently gave a presentation on the frontier of amateur science ballooning, a type of balloon called the ‘superpressure’.  The event was the United Kingdom High Altitude Society first annual Amateur Balloon Conference on October 15, 2011, in London, England. I was unable to travel there, so I combined Skype live video with a pre-recorded presentation.

Slides from presentation and Source Paper Citations in text format

Now, background info to get you up to speed on the state of amateur superpressure:

This type of balloon has the potential to stay in the air for extremely long times, much longer than the 3 days flight estimated for the White Star’s trans-atlantic ‘zero-pressure’ balloons. Continue reading