Space Balloons by European Astrotech

In 2013 European Astrotech started research and development for an educational outreach program involving High Altitude Balloons. The UK has a thriving space sector with a wide range of career opportunities that most school students are unaware of. Space Balloons by EAL is designed to inspire and educate students about the space industry and give them first hand experience at preparing and executing their own mission to nearspace. 

Past Launches

Flight Name Date   Landing Site Max Altitude/m    Balloon Size/g   Flight Time/min 
 BALYOLO 1  25/02/14  Chatteris  20574  600  95
 BALYOLO 2  12/03/14  Unknown  ~12000  600  lots
 BALYOLO 3  01/02/14  Flitwick  22201  600  88
 BALYOLO 4  30/04/14  Great Hampden  32195  800  90
 BALYOLO 5  26/06/14  Wooton  22765  600  116
 BALYOLO 6  05/07/14  Chatteris  28899  1200  84
 BALYOLO 7  03/09/14  Towcester  24564  200  245
 BALYOLO 8  11/09/14  Sonning Common  26088  200  318
 BoSS  04/12/14  Tree near Santa Pod  32544  800  197
 GRIFFEN  23/04/15 Shifford  29410  800  117
 BerkoHAB  07/05/15 Linton  27522  800  92
 BLUESKYE  22/07/15 Great Massingham  33156  800  159
 BALYOLO 9  09/09/15 Chipping Norton  15436  200  136

BALYOLO 1

BALYOLO 3

BALYOLO 4

BALYOLO 5

BALYOLO 6

 

BALYOLO 7

 

Current Projects

We are currently running 3 school projects. Royal Latin are ready and waiting for a decent day to launch SCORPION which will investigate the effects of altitude on mammalian and cephalopod blood. Berkhamsted started their second 'HABbyEAL' project last November. This time they are choosing payload experiments from the exciting proposals by the Junior STEM clubs. Raspberry Pi capabilities are being stretched, along with the team's Python coding skills! Most recently we kicked off the Waddesdon Space Balloon Project. This will be a double launch as there are two teams who will be launching separate balloons at the same time! The launch 'double date' will be sometime in April.

Future Launches

We are always looking for more schools to take part in our space missions. Get in touch if you want to start your own Space Balloon project. As well as school HABs, we have some crazy ideas of our own that will be tested in the near future.


 

 Space Balloon Blog (see #HABbyEAL for live updates)

20/04/2015 - GRIFFEN launch this Thursday!

On Thursday 23rd April EAL will assist the Habbers from Abingdon School in their launch. Since January a group of 10 students have been learning how to track, build, test and launch a space balloon. They have also got some very interesting experiments to fly onboard. The payload will contain: 2 GoPros, a light frequency sensor to try and detect Rayleigh scattering, a datalogger measuring humidity, temperature and pressure, the radio transmitting GPS board, a grape and a legoman. Follow the live tracking of the flight path (http://tracker.habhub.org) and look for 'GRIFFEN'. Launch will be at approximately 10.30am. Live twitter feed will also be availble: https://twitter.com/HABbyEAL 

Watch this space... balloon!

25/03/15 - What have we been up to in the last few months...

Stowe School Launch Day:

The lego astronaut holding a Stowe school cufflink reached 32.5km altitude. Despite landing in a tree, the launch day was superb! See report here.

BerkoHAB: Berkhamsted school started 'Space Ballooning by EAL' back in January. After 10 HAB classes they are nearly ready to launch. We will announce the launch day soon after they return from the Easter holidays.

HABingdon: Abingdon school are also in the final stages of preparation. The school's GRIFFEN will be launched into the stratosphere in April!

Both schools have been working hard on payload design, telemetry and their unique and exciting experiments which will fly onboard payload. Watch this space (balloon).

There will be a live feed of the launches on our twitter account so make sure you're following: https://twitter.com/HABbyEAL

21/10/2014 - Brand new HAB by EAL Facebook page! Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/highaltitudeballooning

This page will be used to share information and media from our school project and our own launches. 

03/09/14 - Beer in Space!

We have finally witnessed what happens to beer when it is sent to Earth’s stratosphere. Our payload reached a maximum height of 24.3km and the beer endured temperatures as low as -55°C and pressures as low as 0.028 bar. The question was whether we would see the beer boil (due to the low pressure) and freeze (due to the low temperatures). Although it was difficult to see in the pictures, the pressure and temperature indicated that the beer froze at about 3000m. When the beer was recovered it resembled an icy foam, suggesting it did boil during the flight. Check out some of the photos:


05/07/14 - London Pride Goes to Space (and comes back tasting worse)

The aim of this experiment was to investigate what happens to beer as it ascends through our atmosphere. The lowest temperatures and pressures reached were similiar to those you would find on the surface of Mars. The burst altitude was 29km.

Full launch report coming soon. Here is a picture of what the beer looked like when we recovered it:

A frozen froth which tasted 'muddy' according to our expert beer taster. 

26/06/14 - HAB5 - Going Pro with GoPro

In order to test our new camera and familiarise ourselves with the new launch location, we decided to do a test flight from the White Swan. We used a 600g balloon and had a 1.1kg payload containing our 2 trackers, 2 cameras and some legonaut passengers. Due to the heavy paylaod and the slightly overfilled balloon, HAB5 only reached an altitude of 22765m but we fulfilled our objectives and got some very nice photographs. Recovery was a bit of a nightmare as it landed in a field of very tall corn!

30/04/14 - HAB4 Record Altitude Reached!

This was my favourite launch day so far. Blue skies, easy recovery and a happy little work experience student to help us. The main objective of this flight was to get closer to the edge of the atmosphere. To do this we needed to either decrease our payload mass or increase the stretching capability of our balloon. We did both. 

We cut down the weight of our payload anyway we could without comprimising the success of the mission. String weight was reduced, lighter cameras were used, we even minimised the amount of duct tape needed to seal the paylaod. 

Another aspect we wanted to improve was steadying the payload. Although the wind anchor from the previous flight provided a bit more stability, some of our pictures showed the payload was still swinging and twisting quite fast. 

To reduce the swinging and twisting, we employed the physics of simple harmonic motion and decided to use a much longer piece of string between the payload and the parachute. The total distance between the payload and the balloon was 16m! This included the length of the stretched parachute. 

Our preparation and launch procedures were similar to HAB3 - lots of function checks, lift calculatioins and testing. The predictor program indicated the landing would be near Princes Risborough - only 15 miles from the launch location. After carefully working through our launch procedure, our helpful 6th form student released the balloon. He picked a good week to do work experience with us!

The SMS tracker stopped sending signals about 1km above the earth and we relied on the trusty Habduino radio tracker to send us live telemetry of the flight. The recovery team se off towards the predicted landing location and tracked the balloon's progress along the way. We were thrilled when th balloon was still going strong after 30km. The maximum altitude was 32195m - a new record for BALYOLO!

We were very lucky with the wind and weather. The payload nearly circumnavigated aylesbury and landed in a field next to Hampden House, which is very beautiful. The SMS tracker kicked in at about 500m and sent updated coordinate every 30s. It was then simply a matter of skipping across the field to retrieve it.

The only disappointment during this launch was the cameras. They switched themselves off after 20 minutes so we missed all the pictures at our record maximum altitude.

The next launch objectives are pretty obvious:

1) Get awesome pictures at 30km

2) Improve radio tracking system so we don't have to rely on the SMS tracker

 

08/04/14 - HAB3 Launch Report

After the loss of HAB2 on 12th March, the launch team were keen to rectify their mistakes and immediately started preparation for the 3rd test flight, BALYOLO.  A new CAA permit was applied for and design and development of the new mission began. Space flight, even at this level, is unpredictable and has huge potential for problems so the procedures were revised to include more rigorous testing. Aims for the third test flight included:

  • Higher altitude
  • Optimising filling procedure
  • Obtaining clearer pictures
  • Better GPS tracker testing
  • Stress free tracking and recovery
  • Test new equipment: wind anchor and new camera

Despite the inauspicious date, 1st April was our designated launch day. The winds were very low and the CUSF landing predictor indicated a landing location near Cheddington, a mere 18 miles from our launch site. The GPS radio tracker was compatibility tested with the other electronic components in the payload. We did not want to make the same mistake as last time, which was placing a phone next to the tracker that caused the radio transmitter to freeze so we could not track HAB2.

On the day of the launch, the landing location was checked on CUSF landing predictor and a after a final systems check of all equipment (including uploading the GPS telemetry to spacenear.us), we were ready to fill the balloon. 

 

To protect the delicate balloon from moisture and scratches, it was laid onto a clean sheet and prevented from blowing around using the sheet as a net to contain it during filling. A total of 3300L of helium was blown into the 600g Hwoyee Balloon. This gave a free lift of 2.2kg and an ascent rate of 6.6m/s. The amount of lift was double checked with the lift test weights, which were attached to the safety line. Once the balloon was sealed, the payload packed and sealed and the GPS tracker’s functionality confirmed, the safety line was cut and we were ready to launch. 

 

At precisely 11.23 BALYOLO was released and floated up into the atmosphere, along with our Lego astronauts, enthusiastic flying their flags. 

 

 

With a very rapid ascent rate, BALYOLO soon disappeared into a cloud; all the while transmitting GPS coordinates to the launch team’s smart phone. The SMS tracker stopped sending texts at 11.25 around 1000m. Fortunately this was not long before the first radio telemetry string was uploaded to spacenear.us at an altitude of 1565m at 11.28. During the flight we had 6 different radio trackers uploading telemetry from our balloon.  Throughout the mission we were watching the flight path of BALYOLO in real time.

The maximum altitude reached was 22201m, beating our previous record by 1627m. When the balloon burst, the launch team jumped into the chase car to retrieve the payload. The predicted path indicated the landing location would be in a field near Flitwick.

The last telemetry string was uploaded at an altitude of about 500m and since it wasn’t a windy day, the payload had not moved far in the final 500m of descent. The chase car arrived at the landing location 30 minutes after the balloon had landed. After a short walk around a cabbage field we spotted the payload and dodged through the cabbages to retrieve it. The payload and equipment was all intact, however the Lego astronauts were nowhere to be seen. After looking through the video footage, we found out that the Legomen had taken a leaf out of Felix Baumgartner’s book and jumped off the payload half way through the ascent (at around 13km). Fortunately we managed to get a few good photographs before they abandoned ship.

The altitude vs time was plotted on spacenear.us, showing an average ascent rate of 6.7m/s and the decaying descent rate as the parachute deploys. The total flight time was 1 h 28 mins.

After opening the payload box, we found it was humid inside and one of the camera lenses had steamed up. All other electronics were functioning fine. The video camera had a clear lens and obtained some great photographs…

HAB 3 was a successful flight which met the objectives of the mission.

 

03/03/14 - HAB-1 Launch Report

Having designated Tuesday the 25th as launch day, the first check of the day was to confirm the predicted flight path was safe and had a landing location at least 20km from any coastlines. Using the CUSF online landing predictor, we entered our balloon, payload and launch time details and were shown an ‘S’ shaped flight path with a landing location around March, Cambridgeshire.

With a safe flight path confirmed, we began preparation. Firstly a launch location was prepared, including a tarpaulin sheet, the hydrogen cylinder with the hose attached, and the balloon and lift test weights ready for fast assembly.

With a launch location ready, the next procedure was to make up the payload – with all equipment activated, recording and ready to launch. This involved switching on and setting the cameras and data logger to record, as well as activating the Habduino radio tracker and checking that it is recieving GPS (which is indicated by a green flashing LED). Finally the SMS tracker was activated and programmed to send a GPS position every 20 seconds to the smartphone we were using to track. Once we were recieving valid GPS positions on our smartphone, we could then strap our payload equpment into place, including a handwarmer on each electrical item, pack the box with polystyrene pellets and seal it ready for launch.

With an activated payload, it was important to minimize the time before launch, so not to waste the battery and recording time of the onboard equipment. The payload was then taken over to the launch location, and tied to the balloon neck via the parachute. The balloon neck was also tied to the hydrogen cylinder via the 3kg lift test weights, as a safety line (that would be cut before release).

With everything ready to go at the launch site, we began inflating the balloon.

The target lift of the balloon was around 3kg, therefore we filled the balloon until it began to have neutral buoyancy with the 3kg test weights. The correctly inflated balloon ended up with a diameter of around 2m.

During the entire filling and pre-launch procedures, we were receiving GPS data from the payload which ensured that the payload would be traceable and was ready to be launched. We then cut the safety line and slowly let the balloon rise by releasing the string gradually until we just had hold of the payload box.

Once the balloon was stable and there was a lull in the wind/gusts, we released the balloon and payload to begin its flight.

 

 

With a final salute, we watched the balloon disappear into the sky, meanwhile receiving 20 second SMS position updates.

Immediately after launch we logged on to the #highaltitude internet relay chat (IRC) to inform people of the launch and give our radio transmission frequency (434.65MHz) for other people to track and upload to the spacenear.us online tracker.

 

Our SMS tracker worked up to about 1000m altitude, and then cut out due to lack of phone signal, giving its last position somewhere near Quainton.

Fortunately, at around the same altitude, the first telemetry string from the radio tracker was uploaded to spacenear.us and the position of the payload was tracked via radio transmission beyond 1000m altitude.

The spacenear.us tracker was available in a mobile app version which we watched while chasing in a car. The position of the payload was constantly updated while the program auto calculated a predicted path and landing point. We entered the predicted landing point into our GPS navigation system as it appeared on spacenear.us and headed in that direction. The predicted landing point did change at several times throughout the flight, at one point predicting a Great Yarmouth landing, and with the greatest change once the balloon burst – giving a landing point near Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.

The final tracked flight path can be seen below on spacenear.us.

The balloon burst (reached maximum altitude) just after St. Neots, reaching a maximum altitude of 20,574m.

 

 

The graph of altitude with time is shown below via spacenear.us, displaying a steady climb of around 6m/s followed by a fast descent that slows to around 9m/s before landing, and an overall flight time of 1hr35mins.

The last radio telemetry string received and uploaded to spacenear.us was at an altitude of 165m, and showed a descent path leading into a brown field.

Fortunately, at around 1000m altitude, the SMS tracker started receiving signal again and the 20 second position updates kicked in again giving the path in to landing and the final resting place as is shown below.

With the final position, we simply pulled over on the road to the south of the indicated field, walked in and found the payload in the exact position in the field indicated by the SMS tracker.

Having successfully recovered the relatively undamaged payload, a few areas for improvement were apparent; most notably that the inside of the camera lenses had accumulated some condensation. Despite this the cameras managed to capture some great pictures, and the data logger recorded the conditions very well; an all round successful test launch!

28/02/14 - Some Stats from the first flight

 

 Maximum Altitude

 20574 m

 Maximum Horizontal Speed

 20.2 m/s

 Average Ascent Rate

 6.02 m/s

 Maximum Descent Rate

 14.6 m/s

 Minimum Temperature

 -28.2˚C

 Minimum Pressure

 0.197 bar

 Flight time

 95 mins

 Distance Travelled From Launch Site

 80.6 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28/02/14 - Ground Track Data  and some more pictures!

 

 26/02/14 - First Images are available from the edge of space - more to follow;

    

25/02/14 - STOP PRESS!!!   HAB-1 was launced today - all indications are the flight was nominal!  Peak altitude was around 20,000m.

21/02/14 - The Flags are prepared for launch - Monday is still GO!

19/02/14 - New launch date is 24/02/14. Payload is complete with two cameras, a data loagger and two GPS tracking devices. "Re-entry" and landing is expected in Norfolk.

Securely attached to the extension arm, Lego captain Alan and co-captain Steve are on standby, waiting for the jetstream to settle down.

12/02/14 - Weather is looking bad for our promised launch date next week. We may have to postpone until the wind dies down or our payload will fly halfway to Denmark and land in the North Sea.