Balloon Fiesta 2014


Following the success of last year, BN is organising a second Balloon Fiesta. We would like to encourage experienced and first time HABists to launch a weather balloon, swap HAB stories and have fun some fun at a great family pub.


The second balloon Fiesta will take place on a day between 24th May and 1st June at the  Red Bull Inn, Bristol Rd, Malmesbury.

As with last year, interested parties are invited to make their own application to the CAA. There will be plenty of assistance and support for the flight planning, launching, and recovery. BN will also provide discounted rates for our limited number of trackers.

For more information email Chris  at

GSBC has begun

The GSBC has now begun and here is the introductory message sent out GSBC team:-

As teams in Australia prepare their balloons, the Global Space Balloon Challenge has OFFICIALLY BEGUN! It’s finally time to let all of your hard work fly! Good luck!

Just a final few notes as you do some last minute preparation:
Track Your Payload
Don’t forget to use predictor software to see where your balloon will be before you launch it! The University of Michigan have developed their own awesome program that everyone can access and use – please see Nathan Hamet’s post about it on the forum!!/software (you have to click on the header of the section to see his post). Thanks Nathan!
Submit Your Photos
On the front page of the website, you will find a portal to submit photos from your launch  - please send us all your best imagery so we can post it on the gallery for everyone to admire! We are continually improving it based on people’s feedback, so if you check and do not see it, please check back in a few hours.
Submit Your Challenge Entries
Check out the new submit page of the website where you can upload your entries for the challenges for highest altitude, best photograph, best design, and best experiment! Also check out the challenge page to see updated information on the judging process. Professors and engineers from various schools and companies will be looking at everything carefully!
Assembling Your Payloads
Check out the tutorials on the website for info on assembling your payloads if you haven’t already.
Have Fun and Good Luck!!
If you need anything, please let us know. We will be out launching balloons this weekend as well but will do our best to answer any questions people might have.
Fly High!


Hungarian Cubesat reaches for the sky, and makes a safe return.

Written by Bence Góczán
On the 15th of April there was the Simonyi Conference organized by students, and one of the attractions was our balloon launching. After the flight I presented the details of our project for about 400 people.
The ballon flight:
We used a telemetry computer fully developed by our team. It has an integrated camera, radio communication, GPS and data logger.
The planned launch time was 11:00 UTC, but we had some technical issues. First the supply of the GPS wasn’t good, then the GPS antenna broke, but thanks to the MASAT team (they built the first Hungarian CubeSat we could fix it in their laboratory.
The launch was at 13:00 UTC. The wind was kind of heavy, but tolarable for the flight. It was streamed through the internet, thanks to the Video Studio of our University. They filmed the whole process with two cameras, one of them had a huge tele lens.
One of the national TV channels was there too, and our launch was aired in the evening news too. (HAB launches are rare events here in Hungary)
Here are some pictures of the launch and the pre-launch procedure:
The flight path was very close to the predicted path during ascent, but the descent was slower thanks to the bigger parachute we used, so the unit landed ~30kms to the South from the predicted landing place.
Unfortunatelly we lost the signals of the balloon after aprox. 20mins after launch. This time it was at about 5-6000m above sea level. We got the telemetry data through amateur radio frequency. We think the batteries frozen or some humidity get into the capsule and the computer shut down.
During this 20mins of flight the balloon sent back two great picture through radio.
Our recovery team went to the predicted landing sight, but they found nothing (we didn’t know at that point that the unit was 30kms away). The capsule had our contact information on its side, so we had the hope that someone would find it.
Next day (16th of April) I’ve got a phone call in the morning, that our balloon was found at a farm.
Today we recovered the capsule, and right now we are checking what was the problem, why we lost the contact during flight.
We found some more pictures on the SD card of the capsule, soon they will be published too.
Next week we will start to plan our next flight with an updated telemetry computer and insulation capsule. During the next flight we are going to measure sun radiation and its effect for solar panels in different heights and temperature.

The first commercially available balloon cut down hits the shelves

Hexpert, the maker of the Zlog 7 flight computer has added a balloon cutdown / high voltage switch board to it’s offering to the HAB community.


This nylon cord cutter module takes a logic level voltage input and uses it to switch a high current circuit.  It was designed to switch a small 4-cell AA or NiCd battery pack to heat up a nichrome wire that would cut through a nylon or polyester cord to separate a payload from a weather balloon.


The key features of the module are:-

  • Switch up to 25 volts, and 10 amps.
  • Control voltage input ranges from 3.3 to 20 volts.
  • Screw terminals for high current source (battery pack) and nichrome wire (or other load).
  • Control input designed to mate with ZLog-7 port J11 (requires firmware 1.4 running on ZLog-7 for altitude triggered control).
  • 1.35″ x 0.8″ x 0.5″ (34 mm x 20 mm x 12 mm).
  • 4 grams.
  • Includes 1 meter nichrome wire. Recommended nichrome loop length of 2.3″ (6 cm) works well with 4-cell NiCd pack.

For more information go to

10 ways that a high altitude balloon flight can go wrong

With the Global Space Balloon Challenge, a lot of emphasis in the media has been placed on how easy it is to conduct a high altitude balloon flight. This article seeks to redress the balance by pointing out how easily a HAB flight can go wrong, using the experience of actual HAB flights.


1. Bad weather. As with other pass times that use the skies, weather is the main reason why planned HAB flights never leave the ground. Rain, snow, poor visibility, freezing temperatures, and windy conditions will all lead to the cancellation of HAB flights. For those who try and brave high winds, they risk underinflating the balloon as turbulent winds give a false impression of balloon buoyancy.

SOLUTIONS: In high winds take any opportunity to fill the balloon in an enclosed space such as a hanger or barn.

2. No / poor flight plan. Planning a flight, so that operators have a clear idea where their payload may go, is key to a successful mission. Conversely, when flights are not planned then failure can happen. Last year, in BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO), two independent filmmakers had to  ask for the public’s help to find their missing weather balloon.


Jacob Adams and Galen Olmsted launched the balloon from Preston Miller Park. Their GPS tracking system failed. “Yeah. It was about $120 per camera. There were three cameras and yeah I would say the whole thing cost me about $800. So the next launch would cost me around 400 or 500. I wouldn’t have as many cameras,” says Jacob Adams. Adams said, who did not forecast the balloons flight path said “ The balloon could have traveled anywhere from 40 to 250 miles away.” If Jacob had a flight plan with forecast, then me may have had some idea about where to look for his payload.

SOLUTIONS: Plan your flight. Online forecast software is available from CUSF and Wyoming University. CUSF also offer an online burst calculator which provides a great guide; but only a guide.

3. Under inflating your balloon. If you don’t have a clear grasp about how much gas your balloon needs to achieve the desired ascent rate then you will most likely under inflate or over inflate the balloon. In my first flight, I inadvertently achieved a very low ascent rate. As a result, the flight from Welshpool that should have only gone east of Shrewsbury, went to the Netherlands. Even when you have a good grasp of the gas fill you need and how much you think you have put in, things can still go wrong. If your gas cylinder has not been pressurised with the correct amount of gas ad you fail to check the amount of lift the fill gives then you will release an underinflated balloon. Both Adam Cudworth of the UK ( and John Flaig of Wisconsin, USA ( have had HAB flights that have gone on much longer than expected due to the insufficient pressurisation of their helium cylinders.

SOLUTION: UKHAS provide many useful wikis to balloon inflation. CUSF burst calculator will also give you a guide to the lift provided by your balloon. Make sure you double check the lift provided by your balloon.

4. Early balloon failure. When you plan your high altitude balloon flight, optimism focuses you on your forecast balloon burst height. But balloons can burst much earlier than expected. This may be due to a manufacturers defect or icing on the balloon. This can radically change the landing site and your plans for recovering the payload. In September 2013 I launched a 1600gm balloon for an Irish advertising company from Aberystwyth, Wales. The balloon burst about half way into it’s forecast ascent. This meant that I had to recover the balloon in an area of upland forestry, not lowland pasture as planned. As I had my young children with me, recovery had to be left to the next day and my helpful father.

A flight in which the payload landed in upland forestry and not lowland pasture, as forecast.

A flight in which the payload landed in upland forestry and not lowland pasture, as forecast. The landing site is marked by the last red breadcrumb.

SOLUTION: It is hard to detect imperfections in a balloon that were made during manufacture. There are some things that can shorten the life of a balloon after inflation. Leaving an inflated balloon to stand for some time can lead to premature failure.

5. Parachute failure. When your parachute fails, your payload will plummet to the ground. This will not only endanger your equipment but also people on the ground. John Flaig launched a HAB flight in July 2013 in which the parachute became from it’s parachute.

the aftermath

John explained the cause of the parachute loss, “I had used a thinner walled styrofoam box for this launch. As it turned out the violent spinning and flipping that occurs when the balloon explodes proved too much. The chute yanked from its mooring, the payload plummeted unencumbered from 105,000 feet, falling at hundreds of miles an hour before slowing in the lower atmosphere and smacking the ground. The bottom of the box was crushed, the external GoPro battery sticking out of a hole, another camera lens cracked. Inside, everything had more or less held, including, thankfully, the gimbal keeping the Spot GPS facing up.”

SOLUTION: Ensure that the parachute is safely secured to the payload. Use a parachute from a reputable manufacturer. Choose a parachute with the least number of shroud lines.

6. Damage to the payload / damage by the payload. An article by the Daily Telegraph in 2010 revealed that the Met Office had paid out more than £25,000 in compensation since 2007 for damage caused by it’s radiosonde programme. The article,

sighted damage caused to conservatories, car windscreens, and power lines. In the world of amateur HAB information on damage to things on the ground is harder to come by. I have come across stories of payload boxes landing on roads and being hit by cars. Also  information on damage caused by people trying to recover their payloads is scarce.   I have come across stories of people lawfully paying to fell trees to recover their payload. In September 2013 I hired a set of trackers to Ian who launched a balloon from the south coast in the UK. The balloon landed in a conifer wood on the edge of RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk. A local land owner helped Ian by felling the tree to recover the balloon. This wasn’t great for the tree involved but the cumulative damage to the number of trees in the world caused by HAB flights cannot be that great.


7. Camera failure. Common among many HABists is the desire to see the view from ‘up high’ and HAB flights commonly carry cameras. Action cameras were one of the main driving forces in the rise in popularity of HAB. With every new iteration of the Go Pro Hero (other action cameras are available though invariably not as good) the performance of the cameras in HAB flights has improved. But cameras still fail to perform throughout the flight. They are also more or less certainly going to be subject to fogging if the lens is covered by a sealed case of some kind with air containing moisture. Icing on the camera lens has a similar effect. If the balloon operator fails to recognise this then they will fail to get the photos they want.

HAB image spoilt by fogging

HAB image spoilt by fogging

SOLUTION: Keep the camera out of sealed cases, however, you then run the risk of damage to the camera on landing.

8. Tracker / locator failure. Whether you have bought, hired, or made your own tracker, it is prone to failure. Accepting that fact, you will hopefully have a back up system. If you don’t, and your tracker fails, then often your payload is as good as lost. Tracker failure can be  electronic. A frozen battery and electronic interference caused Nicholas Janzen’s home built radio tracker to fail.

Tracker failure doesn’t have to be electronic though. It can just fail due to operator error. Last year Emily Dawson, a grade school science teacher from Illinois launched a HAb as part of a science festival for her school.



The payload of the flight included an action camera, flight computer to record climate data, and a SPOT Messenger for tracking the payload. Emily said, “The plan for recovery  and tracking was to use SPOT….but something happened between turning it on and lift off. The SPOT was tracking for almost thirty minutes. We believe we launched around


10:56…the last time the SPOT communicated. It either got bumped during the launch or it was accidentally turned off prior to being taped into the payload box. As luck would have it an extensive search along the balloon’s forecast flight path lead to the balloon being discovered. It was found in a farmers field close to the road side.

When your tracker or locator does not suit the environment that you are using it in, then expect it to fail. If you use a GMS locator in an area without mobile phone coverage then it will not tell you where your payload has landed. Similarly, if your radio tracker lands in hilly terrain then the signal will not get out for listeners to receive. Or if you operate it at a time of day when no one is listening then nobody will record the tracker location.

Finally your tracker failure may just be down to bad luck. If your SPOT tracker lands face down then more often than not it will not return your payload landing site.

SOLUTION: On radio trackers, extensive testing can weed out many of the hardware problems. Combining a the radio tracker with a PLB also ensures the operator against failure.

9. Payload landing in inaccessible places. Up a tree, in a lake, on a mountain, on top of building, in power  lines, and on MOD property. The list of possibilities is endless. While we can plan to avoid large hazards like a whole forest or town, you cannot plan to avoid smaller hazards like smaller woods or individual pylon towers. If we don’t plan our balloon flight well then the worst often happens. Most sea landings fall into this category. Sometimes sheer bad luck means that the payload lands in an inaccessible place.

This HAB flight from Lisburn in Northern Ireland landed in the sea due to ineffective flight planning.

This HAB flight from Lisburn in Northern Ireland landed in the sea due to ineffective flight planning.

10. Stolen payload. Balloon News has reported on many heart-warming stories about HAB payloads that get lost by the flight team, only to be found and returned to them by members of the public. It is true, however, that some people think that just because they find a HAB payload then it belongs to them. With the rise in value of cameras deployed in payloads, the temptation to steel the payloads has increased. Even when expensive cameras are not used, payloads have been known to be taken.  

I first reported on HAB theft last summer, on a case in Leicestershire. The report was made by the Group Scout Leader of the 63rd Leicester Scout Group in Leicester.  The group  finished and end of term celebration by launching a weather balloon which the scouts had been working on.  

The weather balloon was carrying a white polystyrene box (approx 30 cm wide x 20 cm deep x 25 cm high) containing a brand new Philips ESee CAM150RD video camera, a GPS tracker, a battery and a 63rd Leicester Group scarf (maroon with yellow and purple edging strips) which had been
signed by all of the children at our Group.  The box was secured with heavy duty black plastic ties. When the balloon burst, an orange & green parachute controlled the box’s descent.  The group tracked the descent and landing to a farmer’s field bordering on the canal close to where you are (North side of canal on Home Farm about 500m North of Hillmorton Locks).  As it was getting dark the scout group didn’t come to collect the box until the morning after it’s launch.  The box was found the following day, but the lid was
missing as were the plastic ties.  The base of the box was undamaged but only the tracking device and battery remained. Most importantly, the video camera, Scouting scarf and parachute were also missing.  The surrounding area was searched thoroughly but nothing else was found.  

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But it does highlight that HAB flights can go wrong for a range of reasons. Some of these are within the control of the operator and some outside their control.

5th Annual Academic High Altitude Conference

The 5th Annual Academic High Altitude Conference will be held at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND, from June 23-27, 2014. This conference is open to students, K-12 educators, professors, researchers, and vendors who are interested or involved in projects related to High Altitude Ballooning. This year’s conference tracks include: research, educational opportunities, and technical developments in ballooning.
More information on this conference can be found here:

This year’s conference will present talks that focus on:

  • Executing high altitude research projects
  • Developing operational capabilities for high altitude balloon flights
  • Creating educational opportunities incorporating high altitude balloon flights

In addition to faculty and students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, education faculty are strongly encouraged to attend this year’s conference as well.

History of the AHAC

Since 2008, Taylor University and StratoStar Systems have hosted High-Altitude Balloon Workshops for professors through funding provided by a National Science Foundation grant. During these workshops, professors learned how to start their own balloon program using the High-Altitude Research Platform (HARP) and incorporate the balloon into the classroom.

In 2010, Taylor University created the Academic High-Altitude Conference (AHAC) in response to the desire of many of those participants to collaborate with other institutions and advance their programs. The Academic High-Altitude Conference is dedicated to the use of high-altitude platforms to advance STEM education and research. It is committed to fostering the exchange of ideas, discussing best practices and advancing the use of near-space to inspire students.

Call for Papers, 2014

The committee for the 5th Annual Academic High Altitude Conference is proud to announce a call for papers for this year’s conference, June 25-27th. Paper submissions are requested from professionals, faculty, staff and students that are involved in high-altitude ballooning in their respective programs. This year the conference will focus on the topics provided below. Authors are encouraged to submit papers for projects at all stages of development. All abstracts must be submitted on or before March 15, 2014. Full papers must be submitted by May 30th in order to be presented at the conference. Students who submit abstracts can also apply for travel funding. You may download the call for papers here.

2014 Conference Topics

Research in High-Altitude Ballooning
  • Meteorology and atmospheric science
  • Physics and space science
  • Environmental science and remote sensing
  • Chemistry and biology
  • Collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects
Educational Opportunities in High-Altitude Ballooning
  • Balloon flights in K-12 STEM education
  • Balloon flights in core undergraduate courses
  • Balloon flights in advanced lab courses
  • Collaborations between the university and the public through balloon flights
Technical Development in High Altitude Ballooning
  • Launch systems and prediction tools
  • Data logging and communications systems
  • Real-time and programmable control systems
  • Flight stability and return systems
  • Tracking and recovery
  • Engineering special mission requirements
For questions or more information, contact AHAC Coordinator Anne Longlet at anne.l… . Early registration and abstract submission ends on March 15th, so please respond as promptly as possible.
Best regards
Ronald Fevig, Ph.D.
Graduate Program Director/Professor
University of North Dakota
Space Studies Department