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 http://whitestarballoon.org , we are on track to launch in the next month or two!

Dan Bowen
@SteamFire
White Star Team Lead

Winter is coming…

Hi folks! Winter is coming and that means balloon season is on the horizon! With that in mind, weekly meetings to discuss the juicy details of all things balloony have started.

We kicked off the first meeting this past Thursday (Sept. 8th) with a presentation by Dan Bowen. Topics discussed were the design & mathematics behind super pressure balloons, and the valve design used in Japan’s old incendiary, zero-pressure balloons.

This week’s meeting (Sept. 15th) will focus on defining tasks to accomplish this season in order to launch Speedball-1 and develop future super pressure balloons.

Altogether, expect to see lots of super pressure balloon experiments, a revision to Speedball-1′s envelope, and the launch of Speedball-1 this season!

Want to get in on the action? You still can! Meetings are open to everyone. Join us weekly on Thursdays, 8PM EST at LVL1 Hackerspace!

What happened to scrub Launch “A”

Thursday March 25, we took SpeedBall-1 to the brink of flight, and it kicked and screamed all the way to the launch pad. This was the first launch attempt by the White Star team, and they performed fantastically. We are correcting the issues and will be attempting a launch again shortly!

We encountered a slew of problems, but through our months of training and planning, we already knew our options and flight impact associated with each hiccup we ran into. The massive communications infrastructure we laid out was revealed to those of you who watched on ustream, and facilitated our preparation and troubleshooting phenomenally well. I’ll detail our cool worldwide voice and video comm systems in another post though.

A ton of things went well, but the exciting bits are always the gory failures, so here they are!

Continue reading

What happened to scrub Launch "A"

Thursday March 25, we took SpeedBall-1 to the brink of flight, and it kicked and screamed all the way to the launch pad. This was the first launch attempt by the White Star team, and they performed fantastically. We are correcting the issues and will be attempting a launch again shortly!

We encountered a slew of problems, but through our months of training and planning, we already knew our options and flight impact associated with each hiccup we ran into. The massive communications infrastructure we laid out was revealed to those of you who watched on ustream, and facilitated our preparation and troubleshooting phenomenally well. I’ll detail our cool worldwide voice and video comm systems in another post though.

A ton of things went well, but the exciting bits are always the gory failures, so here they are!

Continue reading