The importance of keeping your SPOT tracker upright.

SPOT messenger

SPOT messenger

The SPOT and SPOT Messenger devices are popular trackers for high altitude balloons because it is easy to use. One of the requirements for using SPOT is to keep it face up. This help the GPS receiver and Globalstar transmitter connect to their corresponding satellites.

The importance of maintaining the orientation of SPOT was brought home last weekend in a balloon launch that took place across central Sweden by Andreas. Andreas launched a 1200g balloon containing 3 Go Pro cameras. For tracking he used SPOT and a Garmin GTU 10 tracker.

SPOT track of balloon flight over Sweden

SPOT track of balloon flight over Sweden

For all but the last stage of flight the SPOT tracker responded normally, reporting it’s position until it went above 6000ft. It then carried on reporting it’s position on descent once it had got below 6000ft but only reported two positions before going ‘quiet’.

the last position reported by SPOT and the actual landing site marked by the red circle

the last position reported by SPOT and the actual landing site marked by the red circle

Thankfully, close to ground level the Garmin GTU 10 reported the payload’s landing location and the payload was recovered. On finding the payload it became clear to Andreas that the payload was face down in dense scrub/tall grass. This explained why the SPOT tracker was not reporting it’s location message.

The payload landing site

The payload landing site

So how can you keep your SPOT tracker from going face down? Here are two possible solutions. First, use the SPOT gimball. Here is a nice (but sometimes out of focus) explanation of making one.

The second way is to fix triangular baffles on your flat payload box lid. This forces it to roll if it lands lid down. This may only be good for short grass soil, or rock surfaces. In deep undergrowth it still may not roll your payload.




The lengths I go to, to recover my payload: Finding a white balloon and white payload in snow

Source :

A new sport has taken hold at Casey, evoking the same, if not more, excitement than the Australia Day swim or the annual ping pong championships – balloon hunting.

Every day, the Bureau of Meteorology releases radiosondes attached to weather balloons to collect vital upper air data. Unfortunately what goes up must come down so the current met team have been exploring the options for tracking and recovering the balloon.

How hard can it be, after all? We’re only looking for a white balloon attached with white string to a small box 9 x 6 x 7cm big, against a backdrop of white snow and ice. Did someone say needle in a haystack? Ever thought of a different colour scheme? Perhaps some fluoro spraypaint?

Never to be daunted, met observer Janet and the most fearless trip leader on station, Emma, assembled a crack team of balloon hunters who suited up, loaded up on the carbs and set off on mission impossible.

The Hagg was skillfully negotiated along melted roads as far as possible, and then the balloon hunters set off on foot. Interestingly, all the balloons found were within a 20m radius of their GPS coordinates. We found this out the hard way on our first mission getting within 30m of the coordinate, deciding we couldn’t see the balloon, walking another 10km searching, before heading back for ‘one last look’. Luckily for us, that walk involved spectacular views over Casey station, iceberg horizons and some impressive crevasses.

After our first successful mission and balloon recovery, the team was pumped to rescue more balloons. So when the good news came in that there were three more within extended station limits, the baloon hunters geared up again. Sometimes in sport, things just go right and it started in the ‘sweet spot’ that day with two fast balloons. Unfortunately, despite exhaustive searching, the third balloon could not be found, with a vast melt stream suspected of stealing it from our turf. But as Meatloaf once said, “Two out of three ain’t bad,” and we did find a long-lost bivvy bag. Once again, the amazing views and the chance to get off station for a walk was all worth it.

Big thanks must go to the operational gurus Allan and Sharon for their indulgent support, and James and Ian – our field training officers (FTOs) – for cracking the GPS coordinates with their ‘Get Smart’ ice axe computers. Most importantly, to the inaugural Casey balloon hunting squad: Abrar, Ange, Donkey (Glenn) and Kev. Big thanks for your help guys, we couldn’t have done it without you. (Except maybe you Kev, seeing as you never found that last balloon.)

For the rest of you out there: training has already started for next summer’s balloon hunt and sign up will be at the beginning of the season. So get excited balloon hunters!

Ange, Janet & Emma examine GPS and maps

Ange, Janet & Emma examine GPS and maps(Photo: Janet Shelley)
Landscape photo of snow and small rocky hills

Where are you balloon?(Photo: Janet Shelley)
Barely visible weather balloon probe in the snow

This is what we’re looking for(Photo: Janet Shelley)
Abrar holds a found weather balloon in the Antarctic

Abrar holds our first balloon(Photo: Janet Shelley)
Melt stream terrain to find weather balloon

Slightly harder terrain on the second mission(Photo: Janet Shelley)
Emma holding up balloon probe in celebration

Emma doesn’t waste time(Photo: Janet Shelley)
Glenn holds up balloon probe

You can keep that string Glenn(Photo: Janet Shelley)
A landscape shows vast ice plains with three expeditioners looking for lost weather balloons

Emma, Kev and Glenn admire the view, er, conduct the search.


The Eagles Have Landed… And Released!


The University of Southern Indiana High Altitude Ballooning Team #11 (HAB 11) conducted a successful launch, release, and recovery of both the Command Pod and the Release Sphere on Saturday, April 6, 2013.  The balloon and equipment was released from the Protection of the Virgin Mary Church in Royalton, Illinois and is part of their space plane project.  

Shortly after launch, the sphere was released utilizing a timing sensitive and pressure sensitive code which subsequently opened the release mechanism at a predetermined pressure of 1.313 psi and a timing loop of approximately 44 minutes of flight time.  The sphere was released slightly earlier than expected at an altitude 32,770 and a flight time of 26 minutes and 32 seconds. Upon release t

he sphere, equipped with a Garmin GPS and LED lights to aid in recovery, survived the landing and was successfully recovered by the Launch Team.  The Balloon then pushed upward to a maximum recorded altitude of 108,484 feet before burst.  The command pod then safely landed in Poseyville, just outside our target landing zone, and was successfully recovered by the members of both teams.  The purpose of the HAB 11 Flight was to successfully document and release an object from a predetermined height; all aspects of the project were successfully achieved, as the cameras recorded the release of the sphere, the release mechanism in action, and much of the flight.


Weather balloon gives RC plane a ride to near space

8th March 2013

David Windestål from Sweden used an 800g army surplus weather balloon to carry an RC plane to over 20,000m and release it; to then be guided back to earth. Such a project has been tried several times before but this one was notable on several counts. The plane had a Go Pro Hero 2 which had been hacked and a video transmitter added. David reported that the images were grainy and black and white but, non the less, he describes a successful attempt to transmit pictures from the Hero.

The project is another good example of a remotely operated release mechanism.  David explained the release as follows, “To be able to release the plane from the balloon before it burst, I made this simple rope cutter. It’s just a 10 ohm resistor that is hooked up to a RC switch. When I activate that channel on the receiver 12V is applied to the resistor. Ohms law tells us that the current passed through a 10 ohm resistor at 12V is 1.2A. That is 14.4W, way more than the 1/4W the resistor is rated at. This will make the resistor heat up to the point where it’s so hot it starts to glow. It doesn’t burn out straight away, in fact it usually last for 10-30 seconds before finally burning up. This energy is plenty to melt the rope and release the plane. But just in case, I glued a match head to the resistor, to give it a bit of a boost. When the match ignites it’s self oxidizing, which means that it creates it’s own oxygen and can therefore burn (for a short time) in a vacuum.”

Other notable facts on the flight were that it’s total flight time was 108 minutes and the balloon was filled with hydrogen.


SPOT Messenger on the go

Like many personal locator beacons, SPOT Messenger can be used to track and recover payloads. And like other PLB’s, the tracking has an online presence in the form the SPOT Shared page containing a map and information on the location messages.

When you are out on a chase to recover a payload, a mobile phone compatible tracking map is essential. The viewing experience of SPOT LLC’s own shared page is great for desktop/ laptop computers, and to a lesser extent Ipad based viewing. The viewing and user experience fails miserably when accessed from a mobile phone (see below). Help is at hand for Iphone users. ‘SPOT Shared Page’, written by J Beech, is a simple App that displays SPOT message reports on a map scaled perfectly for mobile phone use.

Left- SPOT LLC's shared page view on Iphone 5. Rigt - 'SPOT Shared Page' App by J Beech

Left- SPOT LLC’s shared page view on Iphone 5. Right – ‘SPOT Shared Page’ App by J Beech.

The app allows the display of many shared pages and gives the usual information about each location message. It is prices at £1.99. This seems a little pricy but it worth it when placed along side the frustration that you can experience when using the SPOT LLC web site on your phone. Especially when you have your payload recovery to worry about.