SPOT – Globalstar tracking system ‘open to attack’

The Global star satellite constellation underpins the SPOT messenger Satellite messenger system so this article is of interest to all of you who use SPOT trackers for your high altitude balloon flights.


Globalstar satellite
Globalstar uses low earth orbit satellites to help track vehicles and assets

A widely used location-tracking system can be intercepted or fooled with fake data, claims a security researcher.

Many firms use Globalstar’s satellite-based system to keep an eye on trucks, cars, containers and ships as they move around.

However, said Colby Moore from security firm Synack, the way it passes data around is “fundamentally broken” making it vulnerable to attack.

Globalstar has not yet issued any comment on Mr Moore’s findings.

Car trouble

Mr Moore said the problems with Globalstar’s network arise because it does not encrypt the data passing between devices and satellites. Instead, he said, the system attempts to conceal what it does by changing frequencies and padding transmissions with useless data.

The system also does not check that data was coming from where it claimed, he said.

“I ended up figuring out how to decode the data in transit,” Mr Moore told Reuters, adding that it might prove hard to fix the flaws as existing hardware was not easy to update.

Globalstar has been told about the flaws, he added, but so far has not issued any updates or fixes.

Attackers can easily find out these flaws, he said, making it easy to spoof data or keep an eye on assets being tracked. Organised crime gangs, police and intelligence agencies might already be listening in, he said.

Mr Moore is planning to release more details about his work at the Black Hat hacker conference in Las Vegas next week. This month has seen the early release of other investigations into the security of cars and Android phones that will also feature at Black Hat.

GoPro reveals new Hero4 Session mini action cam

GoPro Hero4 Session


GoPro has announced a new camera that is smaller and lighter than its earlier models.

The US firm already dominates the action-cam market, having sold more than $363m (£233m) worth of goods over the first three months of the year.

The Hero4 Session benefits from being waterproof without needing a special case, but cannot go as deep as models fitted with separate housings.

One expert said the firm risked having a “confusing” choice of products.

GoPro is marketing the new camera as being 50% smaller and 40% lighter than other Hero4 models.

It is:

  • limited to a maximum resolution of 1080p high definition, rather than the 4K format supported by some other versions
  • certified to go 33ft (10m) underwater, a quarter of the depth GoPro says its other cameras can go to when placed in its waterhousing accessories
  • does not feature an LCD touchscreen, but is activated by a single button with the option for it to be controlled via a separate add-on remote or smartphone app

Although the new camcorder may appear to have lower specifications than the firm’s other options, GoPro suggests that its compact form coupled with a new dual-microphone system – designed to better handle wind noise – should appeal to customers intending to use it on a regular basis.

“We challenged ourselves to produce the smallest, lightest, most convenient GoPro possible,” said the firm’s founder Nicholas Woodman.

“Sound quality is as important as image quality and we’re very excited about the stunning audio advancements we’ve made.”

Costing £330, the Hero4 Session is only outpriced by the company’s top-end Hero4 Black.

British GPS data logger comes up trumps in test flight

Off the shelf GPS data loggers are now common place and a part of many HAB flights made by those who don’t have the skills or time to make their own. It is especially good news to report on one made in Britain; where many HAB enthusiasts lead the development of such devices.

The company ‘Sent into Space’ has now sold out of it’s first generation GPS data logger called the Black Box. We were given a Black Box and put it to the test.

First, here is a little information about the GPS and meteorological data logger.


The unit records GPS position and altitude, internal and external temperature, humidity, air pressure, acceleration (multi directional), and magnetometry. This is gives a little extra than competitive devices but so far I am not sure what to do with the acceleration and magnetometry data provided.

The unit comes in a convenient moulded plastic box. There is convenient labelling to identify the location of the antenna and a fairly simple battery compartment.   It is nice to get the unit in a protective case but it does add extra weight and create issues in placing it in payloads designed around the data loggers that just come as bare bones printed circuit boards.

The Black Box records data to a micro sd card. Again standard fair but the slot is not easily used and you need a suitable set of tweezers to remove the memory card. On the other hand the Black Box has a detachable sensor which clips in and unplugs very easily. There is also a set of LED lights to indicate function. As with other GPS data loggers, there is no simple on, record, and off light sequence. Just a series of flashing light which you are told indicates good device function. Finally the Black Box runs on 6 AA batteries. This adds extra cost and weight to the logger compared with other GPS loggers which use 9v batteries.

I tested the Black Box this spring and we on the whole pleased by the performance.


Black Box in payload box


The Black box successfully recorded data in a series of files and these were relatively easy to integrate with the supplied programme after I managed to get the memory card out of it’s slot (not always very easily done).


2D track from the Black Box

This is a big advantage on other flight computers which risk data file corruption if batteries fail mid flight and before balloon recovery.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that it is easy to produce 3d and 2d map representations of the flight using popular online mapping software such as that on . Other data loggers such as the Hexpert Zlog 7 provide software so it was good to see the Black Box made compatible with 3rd party mapping software.

All in all I was impressed with the Black Box. On the plus side it is robust and relatively simple to use, though I have spoken to complete beginners and they have had some difficulty in following the instructions and knowing what to do. It is a little more expensive than others available and come may find the moulded plastic box cumbersome. There is also issues of weight and the SD card slot which are hopefully being addressed in the next generation of Black Box. On balance though I can recommend this product.

St Andrews Academy HAB flight saved by Manx miracle

st andrews

This weeks HAB flight by St Andrews Academy in Paisley. proved that sometimes you need a little luck to safely recover your payload. Supported by Near Space Photography, St Andrews Academy in Scotland launched their STEM HAB project on Monday 8th June. Mr Henry, the school head teacher described the successful launch. Mr Henry said, “The launch went well, lovely weather and quite still at ground level. We pretty much emptied the helium tank, gauge was reading zero. The lift looked good and it quickly gained altitude. The school students loved it and we had some kids from the local Additional Support Needs school over as well. ” The weather balloon was launched at 12:30 but unfortunately the balloon did not rise to the planned ascent rate. The balloon was expected to land in the north side of Galloway Forest but the balloon kept on rising over the forest and headed out to sea just after 3pm. We all thought the payload was lost. forecats vs spot reports Then at 6pm a miracle. the SPOT tracker checked in on it’s way down over the Isle of Man. This was truly good fortune. After 20 tense minutes where the payload descended perilously close to the west coast of man, the payload finally came to rest close to the village of St John and the famous monument of Tynwald. It was truly a miracle!

landing site

More on the story is covered here

Nasa launches helium balloon to test Mars landings


Nasa has launched a helium balloon to test possible landing systems for future flights to Mars.

The balloon took off from Hawaii carrying an experimental saucer-shaped weight.

Nasa wants to see whether this parachute can slow down the saucer when it is dropped – and whether this technology could be used for Mars landings.

Recent Air proximity alert involving a weather balloon

A recent air proximity alert, AIRPROX REPORT No 2015005, has served as a reminder to pilots to check for sites launching meteorological balloons along their route. It also reminds balloon operators of the need to get appropriate permission for their high altitude balloon launch.

The report was made by a pilot of a  SAAB 2000 who reported being on a descent into Scatsta. When passing FL70, the crew observed a white Met balloon. The pilot reported that they first had visual contact approximately 5nm away. The pilot elected to take a turn of 20° to avoid the balloon. The weather balloon passed down their right-hand side at a distance of 400m.

For the full report go to

South Korean authorities clamp down on propaganda high altitue balloons


south korea

BBC journalist David Lee reports on the ongoing efforts of South Korean groups to send news, money, and aid to North Koreans using high altitude balloons. It seems that South Korean authorities are making an effort to curb the balloon launches. It seems that the balloons still lack basic safety devices such as parachutes to slow the payloads down on landing. It also seems like the payloads are released by simple electronic timer mechanisms. You can only imagine that these flights are not done with any approval from local civil aviation authorities.