Launching, tracking and flying high altitude weather balloons in the Rochester, NY area
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High Altitude Balloon Experiments 2017-08-20T16:42:00+00:00
  • Next Launch:  OLHZN-9 August 21st

High Altitude Weather Balloons (HABs)

Space and science is fun and fascinating!  In the spring of 2016 we starting launching our first high altitude balloons (HABs) which will participate annually in the Global Space Balloon Challenge.  High altitude balloons (weather balloons) generally have a pretty simple setup that involves a latex balloon filled with helium (or hydrogen!), a payload filled with sensors and a parachute which allows it to safely return for retrieval.  Although seemingly simple, they provide incredible opportunities for continuing education and can provide amazing data, photos and videos upon successful retrieval.  Plus, the excitement and anticipation of sending up a near space balloon is an experience like no other!

So far we’ve launched weather balloons ranging from 600g to 1500g with a roughly 3 lb. payload up to a height of over 100,000 ft!  At around 100,000 ft., the weather balloon expands beyond its breaking point due to the reduced external pressure in the stratosphere.  At this point, the balloon breaks and the payload safely parachutes back to Earth while continuously broadcasting its location throughout the trip.  Our payload contains a GPS module to register its position and altitude, a Radiometrix APRS radio transmitter to transmit its location back to us via both APRS and RTTY (Callsign KD2KPZ), 2 cameras to take photos and videos along the way, a parachute to land safely, an audible landing alarm to alert its presence, as well as some other instrumentation to record conditions during the flight:  temperature (external & internal), pressure, relative launch altitude, speed, heading, etc.  We use some well known weather prediction models to predict the landing site ahead of time so we can ensure the balloon lands in a safe and underpopulated spot.  Hopefully, one that’s easy to get to!  With any luck, we’ll recover the payload on the same day and have some awesome photos and videos to share!  We live broadcast the launch and recovery operations on launch day and you can also follow the progress via APRS and RTTY.  If you’d like to participate or attend the launch and/or recovery operations, send us a message.  Also, consider subscribing to our email updates and subscribing to our YouTube Channel for more detailed information and notifications of upcoming launches.  Check out our next launch!

How do you recover the payload?

Most of the data, photos and videos are store in the onboard Arduino Mega computer so it’s essential that we recover the payload in order to gather all that information.  The balloon contains a radio transmitter and a backup GPS transmitter that both report their exact position back to us on the ground.  When the balloon climbs to around 100,000 ft., it will burst and then safely parachute back to Earth where we can pick it up while following its GPS transmissions.

Future Flight Plans

Our initial launches are just the first of (hopefully) many.  As we become more comfortable with the process and become confident that we can recover the payloads, we have some interesting plans for future missions including testing accelerometers, adding additional cameras, taking 4K and 360 video, transmitting images and/or video live from the payload via radio signals in SSDV format, pressure and pressurization experiments, temperature experiments, high altitude gamma ray experiments, glider experiments, return-to-launch experiments, glider tests, parachute tests, microbiology experiments, air quality experiements, etc.  The list can go on forever!

Safety and Regulations

Over 500,000 high altitude weather balloons are launched across the globe each year. Most are for government meteorological or research purposes, but nearly 3,000 amateur flights are also conducted every year. Although high altitude weather balloon launches can provide valuable results, care must be taken to abide by the governing laws and regulations to ensure weather balloon safety for aircraft and those that may be impacted by the launch and landing. You can read all about our safety procedures and applicable regulations we follow here.

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What is a high altitude balloon?

HAB Technology Used

Arduino Mega 2560 90
Radometrix HX1 95
u-blox Neo 6M GPS 85
Adafruit BMP280 I2C 75
DS18B20 Temperatures 69
Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK) 93
Google Earth KML 61
Automatic Packet Reporting System 95
Radioteletype 83
Nichrome Safety Cutdown 91
Adafruit Power Boosters 80

Overlook Horizon Team Members

Tory Carissimo
Tory CarissimoFlight Director
Manages flight day operations and procedures.
Jeff Kovalovsky
Jeff KovalovskyFlight Dynamics Officer
Manages balloon filling, health, anchoring, lift weights and monitoring during launch and recovery.
Liz Carissimo
Liz CarissimoPublic Affairs Officer
Manages our live broadcast operations, live audience operations and flight day questions/answers.
Kerry Cannan
Kerry CannanInstrumentation/Communications Officer
Monitors payload radio transmissions, weather forecasts and wind conditions and speeds.
Logan Cannan
Logan CannanGround Controller
Manages the main countdown timer and launch procedures/checklist.
Jeff Cannan
Jeff CannanLaunch Day Assistant
Brad Kovalovsky
Brad KovalovskyLaunch Day Assistant
Trevor Tripp
Trevor TrippEducational Initiatives

Project Contributors and Sources

Past & Future Launches