Don’t forget animals when designing your high altitude balloon payload

During two high altitude balloon projects this autumn, I’ve been reminded of a little considered hazard to HAB: cows. During work for Phillip Morris and Nationwide I have had payloads land in fields with dairy cows. On both occasions the cows came over to examine the payload. On both occasions the cows were sufficiently interested in the payloads to roll them over, taste them, and urinate on them. The cows lost interest after some time, but not before then payloads were bitten into and licked. In future I will be mindful to factor this into payload design; ensuring that there is nothing to harm and animal that may come into contact with the payloads.

Dear Santa …. From a high altitude balloon enthusiast

After Guy Forkes night or Thanks Giving, it is traditional to turn ones attention to Christmas and what gifts you would like to receive or give. Here are some gifts we suggest for the high altitude balloonist in your life.

For a small budget


£45 Tractive is a subscription based, sim free, GSM locator produced by an Austrian company. The small, lightweight unit (35g) uses the mobile phone network to transmit it’s location to a web based mapping system that can be accessed through your mobile phone.  We have been testing tractive this year and have found that it’s performance is as good as premium sim based GSM locators such as Cattrack live, and much better than economy GSM locators such as the TK102. Tractive’s battery life out performs the Cattrack and offers a simple to activate registration/cancellation service (£3.50 per month) so you can run the Tractive in the summer, when you are operating your balloons, and cancel it in the winter when you are not flying. This is far more cost effective than a range of other subscription based gsm locators with annual subscription terms of service.


For a large budget


£340 360Fly. This year has seen many high altitude balloonists try their hand at capturing 360 video footage of their balloon flights. The most popular camera to do this is the 360 FLY camera. The 360 Fly camera comes in two variants, the 4K model and the HD model. Unlike some of it’s predecessors, 360Fly has a continuous video recording function, essential with balloon flights, capacity to take large capacity memory cards, and a battery with sufficient capacity to  allow 100 minutes of video recording. This is sufficient to record up to apogee on many balloon flights. The camera is also robust enough to not require additional insulation. There are some down sides to the camera. Many users have reported the centre of the lens cover fogging up, with is to be expected if the lens cover is sealed on to the camera case. Also the camera lens sits on top of the moulded plastic case, obscuring this area within the lens field of view. You will also need a high spec computer to edit the video produced by the camera.




Doongara is a reusable self-contained thermal line cutter that severs the synthetic line connecting balloon and payload. It is typically flown in a tandem balloon configuration and separates one or both balloons at specific points during flight. Doongara is powered from a single AA battery and cuts line based off of user-programmable settings: elapsed time, barometric pressure, and/or rate of pressure change. Features include:


Integrated sensors with on-board data storage:

Barometric Pressure, Temperature

Redundant burn-wires

Battery heater

Duration >3 hrs

Light-weight at less than 40g, including battery


Whatever you buy for the HAB enthusiast in your life, happy Christmas!

The British CAA implement rule changes on high altitude balloon payload sizes

A new Air Navigation Order (ANO – CAP393) came into force on 25th August. This consolidation sets out the provisions of Implementing Regulation (EU) 923/2012 (the Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA)), the European Aviation Safety Agency’s supporting Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material, specific articles of the Air Navigation Order,  The Rules of the Air Regulations and supporting guidance prepared by the Civil Aviation Authority.  It also contains General Exemptions and General Permissions made against SERA and the Rules of the Air Regulations. The details can be found at:

The full document is here:caa

In brief, users are finding that payloads over 2000gm are subject to greater restrictions from the CAA.

Exert from page 88


APPENDIX 2 UNMANNED FREE BALLOONS 1. CLASSIFICATION OF UNMANNED FREE BALLOONS 1.1. Unmanned free balloons shall be classified as (see Figure AP3-1): (a) light: an unmanned free balloon which carries a payload of one or more packages with a combined mass of less than 4 kg, unless qualifying as a heavy balloon in accordance with c) 2), 3) or 4); or (b) medium: an unmanned free balloon which carries a payload of two or more packages with a combined mass of 4 kg or more, but less than 6 kg, unless qualifying as a heavy balloon in accordance with c) 2), 3) or 4) below; or (c) heavy: an unmanned free balloon which carries a payload which: (1) has a combined mass of 6 kg or more; or (2) includes a package of 3 kg or more; or (3) includes a package of 2 kg or more with an area density of more than 13 g per square centimetre, determined by dividing the total mass in grams of the payload package by the area in square centimetres of its smallest surface; or (4) uses a rope or other device for suspension of the payload that requires an impact force of 230 N or more to separate the suspended payload from the balloon. 2. GENERAL OPERATING RULES 2.1. An unmanned free balloon shall not be operated without authorisation from the State from which the launch is made. 2.2. An unmanned free balloon, other than a light balloon used exclusively for meteorological purposes and operated in the manner prescribed by the competent authority, shall not be operated across the territory of another State without authorisation from the other State concerned. 2.3. The authorisation referred to in 2.2 shall be obtained prior to the launching of the balloon if there is reasonable expectation, when planning the operation, that the balloon may drift into airspace over the territory of another State. Such authorisation may be obtained for a series of balloon flights or for a particular type of recurring flight, e.g. atmospheric research balloon flights. 2.4. An unmanned free balloon shall be operated in accordance with conditions specified by the State of Registry and the State(s) expected to be overflown. 2.5. An unmanned free balloon shall not be operated in such a manner that impact of the balloon, or any part thereof, including its payload, with the surface of the earth, creates a hazard to persons or property. 2.6. A heavy unmanned free balloon shall not be operated over the high seas without prior coordination with the ANSP(s).
Implementation of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 of 26 September 2012 (Standardised European Rules of the Air) in the United Kingdom

Implementation of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 of 26 September 2012 (Standardised European Rules of the Air) in the United Kingdom  Page 89 of 99

Balloon News sponsors Royal Meteorological Society competition


Near Space Photography is sponsoring a competition to promote the investigation of the atmosphere. The Royal Meteorological Society has invited 11-16 students to design and build a science experiment to be carried through the atmosphere by a weather balloon.  Themes for the competition could include Earth observation, the atmosphere, Natural forces, cold temperatures, pressure or UV. Students could use a Raspberry Pi, or similar, to design and build their own tracker and/ or sensor package.
All entries must be submitted to the Head of Education at the Royal Meteorological Society by 17th February 2017.
The entry judged best by a panel of judges will be invited to build and launch their experiment.

We are providing some resources for the competition at



More ways that a high altitude balloon flight can go wrong


Two years ago I wrote an article on how a high altitude weather balloon flight can go wrong. I like to periodically update this article when I come across more ways that balloon flights can go wrong. Here I would like to include the ‘slow puncture’. During balloon inflation or manufacture, weather balloons can develop small holes that cannot be spotted during balloon inflation. If a weather balloon has a small hole then the lighter than air gas will obviously escape after launch. This may not become apparent until you have let go and notice that your balloon ascent rates are unusually slow. The general consequence is that as the balloon expands, gas will escape. This will lower ascent rates to the extent that it will probably not reach a point where is fails by bursting. Thus is will slowly and steadily ascend, then slowly and steadily descend.

I have had personal experience of this. I did a flight for a cosmetic company, launching a balloon close to Milton Keynes. The balloon ascended for 25 minutes then slowly descended for 25 minutes. We recovered it from a recently harvested field, bobbling about with the balloon partly inflated. This can be a real hazard, greatly increasing the chance of entanglement in power or telegraph lines.

I also have the experience of watching a flight from Warrington. Here the leak was much slower. The balloon ascended for well over an hour. It then slowly descended. By the time it reached ground level, it had drifted out into the North Sea; much further east than the forecast showed. This payload was lost.



KingsHAB flight from Warrington. Summer 2016. Note the altitude profile is symmetrical.


There are few ways to overcome this problem. You can listen out for gas leaks after balloon inflation but may not be able to hear micro leaks. You can routinely use a balloon cut off such as Doongara; set to remove the balloon after a set period of time. This would have certainly helped avoid the total disaster that the flight from Warrington experienced.




Go Pro Hero 5 – is it useful for high altitude ballooning?



Go Pro has released the latest version of it’s popular action camera series which has been used extensively in high altitude ballooning. The last iteration, the Hero 4, no new features for high altitude balloonists. Let’s see if the Hero 5 offers more by comparing it to the Hero 4.

First off here are a few broad reviews of the camera for terrestrial photographers:


Now let’s go through some of the new Hero 5 features and see if they improve your HAB photography.


The standard weight of the Hero 5 black is 118g including it’s integral housing. This is heavier than the previous models. The housing also makes the Hero 5 larger than previous models but I have been consistently flying mine in their extended housing to protect battery bacpacs, so there is no great change here.

Touch screen

There is no great advantage in the touch screen and now that I am used to interfacing with my Hero 4 through the app, the touch screen adds unnecessary weight and power consumption.

Voice control

As with the touch screen, this has no value.



There’s a lot of overlap between the video modes of the HERO5 Black and its predecessor. They share top-end video modes of 4K30, 1080p120, and 720p240.

Video Stabilisation

This is one of the headline features of both the HERO5 Black and the HERO5 Session. It’s designed to smooth out the jerkiness you can get with unstabilised footage.

I’ve found it to work pretty well in many cases and very well in others. So long as you’re realistic about it, of course. It’s a software solution that does in-camera something similar to the Stabilization feature in Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier’s Warp Stabilizer.

This may help if the balloon passes through particularly turbulent air… but don’t expect your footage during balloon burst to be any smoother.

Video resolution

There is no great improvement in video resolution from the Hero 4.



Video Resolution

Fields of view

Where there are some differences is in the fields of view, or FOV, offered. The most significant difference is that the HERO5s offer a new Linear FOV that removes fisheye distortion in-camera. This is also available on the still photography. So if you are tired of the lens distortion effect on your images then this would be a camera to try.


Still images

Both models have a maximum image size of 12MP (4000 x 3000 pixels). The new Hero 5 camera offers little improvement in the sharpness of images. If you do have the time and patience to post process the images then you may be interested in the RAW image function of the new Hero 5.

Battery performance

This is one of the most contentious features of every camera as it impacts on how long you can use the camera. This is really critical in high altitude ballooning where you cannot just pop another battery in.  The HERO5 Black uses a new, slightly higher-capacity battery (1220mAh vs. 1160mAh). Combined with more power efficient operation, you can get significantly better performance. BUT, some reviews have stated that the battery performance is just less than that of the Hero 4. More critical is the ability to extend battery life. It seems that the Hero 5 does not have a standard battery bacpac. To extend battery life you need to feed in a non standard external battery through the micro usb port.



The Hero 5 offers just a few additional features that are of interest to high altitude balloonists. One of the key improvements is the ability to offer a linear field of view… though this does mean that you won’t be tricking people into thinking that your video shows genuine Earth curvature. But maybe our audience needs a reality check. One big barrier to me buying this camera is battery performance. Most of my flights last in excess of 150 minutes. This camera will not be capturing the payload landing unless I attach a third party battery pac.


Buy or No Buy?


No buy …unless I need to use the linear field of view.








Uputronics release new, improved, and lighter PITS tracker


Uputronics have released a companion to their successful radio tracker, the Pi in the Sky; based on the popular Raspberry Pi computer. At the centre of the new tracker is the cut down Raspberry Pi Zero. The complete PITS  Zero radio tracker includes many of the features of its bigger brother but at less than half the weight (110g including batteries). This includes:

  • Efficient built-in power regulator providing run time of over 20 hours from 4 AA cells
  • Highly sensitive UBlox GPS receiver approved for altitudes up to 50km
  • Temperature compensated, frequency agile, Radiometrix 434MHz radio transmitter
  • Temperature sensor
  • Battery voltage monitoring
  • Sockets for external i2c devices, analog input, external temperature sensor
  • Allows use of Raspbery Pi camera
  • Mounting holes and spacers for a solid connection to the Pi

For those that don’t want to play with electronics, the kit comes with all the essential components, including the Pi Zero and operating system on a memory card. It also differs from the standard PITS tracker in having LoRa protocol transmission included as well as RTTY.

The PITS Zero comes at an increased price tag of £240, compared to £132 for the standard PITS tracker. This price differential can be understood in part due to the inclusion of the Pi Zero and memory card. However, if you cost out a standard PITS at £132, LoRa expansion at £27, and Raspberry Pi at £35 then you have an equivalent complete PITS cost of £194.