Contact details available on our Contacts Page
Who we are:
This is a project of the new LVL1 Makerspace in Louisville, KY. We’re a team of makers, hackers, and amateur scientists, loving the incredible number of challenges this has presented. Also on the team are remote members, contributing significantly, despite the distance: Bill Brown, Huntsville, Al, considered the father of modern amateur weather ballooning, Carl Lyster, WA4ADG, electronics designer from the Spirit of Knoxville.
See our team at the White Star Team Profiles Page
What we’re doing:
The goal is to be the first amateurs to send a small robotic weather balloon all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the other side. That’ll mean landing it in Europe, Africa, or points east. No amateur balloon has ever done this. The farthest amateur flight so far sank just 200 miles short of Ireland in 2008.
What’s the timeline like?
LVL1 decided to embark upon the project in August 2010, and we aim to be across the ocean by April 2011. A small balloon flight will be flown in October to raise funds for the trans-atlantic missions. November/December will be the first launch of a full size trans-atlantic capable balloon. 5 or so will be readied to fly through the winter, whenever a long steady Jet Stream comes by.
We must ride the roaring jet stream windcurrent, which circles the northern globe like a snake in the winter. A shallow river, only 2 miles thick, and 100 miles wide, and over 100MPH, it rarely comes down as far as Kentucky, so we wait for it patiently. When it arrives, we release our balloon to climb up to 35,000 ft above ground, into the core of this wind river overhead. It’s a very hard challenge to stop it’s climb just right – for if we go too far past, too much of our balloon’s helium will flow overboard and our explorer will fall right back to Earth.
We talk with it through satellites, remotely listening to it’s struggles to stay in the bucking, roaring, jet stream. It doesn’t have much it can do to fight it though, it can only throw weight overboard when it feels like it’s falling. We will occasionally help it make decisions, sending instructions to it, as we can see the weather forecasts it can’t, and know much more than we could pack into its tiny brain. Our website will show you the latest condition and position of the robot balloon, on the FlightTracking page, so you too can watch it float across the world.
Can we do this?
Balloonists might say it’s highly unlikey for an upstart makerspace to go from 0 flights to the best in the world in 8 months. Nothing but PR nonsense they might say. And if it were any other 1 year old makerspace, they might be right. But we are not alone in this effort. Makers are some of the smartest, most capable and creative people you can find, and they know how to get things done. We are politely standing on the shoulders of those experienced giants before us- the way science was meant to be. The UKHAS, Bill Brown, Spirit of Knoxville, Cornell University Project Blue Horizon, Global Western’s Mark Caviezel, and other existing groups have been willing to share the knowledge and scientific data they gained to further the cause of amateur science ballooning. Through this public sharing of knowledge, we are able to bootstrap ourselves onward and upward, with a minimum of reinventing the wheel. We can do this, and we can do it now, thanks to other’s dedication to sharing their knowledge.
Ok, so we can do it, but is it really legal and safe?
It is legal in the USA, defined by our federal regulations pertaining to aviation and radios. It is legal over international waters. Over other countries, the law is difficult to determine, we can land the flight remotely, and will do so if requested by a particular other country.
Is it safe? Yes. In fact, it is far safer than previous amateur trans-atlantic balloon fights. We have designed our system and procedures from A to Z to ensure maximum safety for people, airplanes and property on the ground. Though few of our robot balloons are likely to drown at sea, so I suppose the safety depends on your point of view 😉 . We actually are doing many more safety procedures and systems than we’re required to by law because we think that’s the right thing to do.
The safety of the people and property on the ground comes from the fact that it won’t be falling out of the sky like a rock, it will in fact use its own balloon as a drag-chute to keep the landings soft.
The safety of the airplanes is assured through our procedures and communications. The way airplanes typically maintain safety from collision is by having their position watched and controlled by Air Traffic Controllers on the ground. This is either through radar, or voice communications between pilots and controllers. We’ll be doing the same voice communication that airline pilots do over the Atlantic. Airlines often use unreliable, hard to understand, VHF or shortwave radios for this. We’ll be doing this by clean satellite data links and clear telephone calls to ATC from our Mission Control. More details are on our TechDetails pages.