A view from the other side of the hill

Taken from http://astroengine.com/2012/01/29/put-the-weather-balloon-back-in-the-box/

Posted by Ian O’Neill on January 29, 2012

What the hell is going on with this weather balloon craze? It seems that everything from beer to sushiis being sent “into space” these days. There’s only one problem… weather balloons don’t go into space!

Launching random crap into the stratosphere may be fun and give some companies a fleeting marketing opportunity, but please, quit it. Weather balloons should be used for… um, I dunno… high altitude research. And for high school/university students’ learning opportunities/science outreach. Oh, and Roswell conspiracy theoriesBut that’s it.

Just because you have a small camera with a gazillion megapixels, a credit card and a GPS tracker, the logic of buying a huge balloon and filling it with helium, strapping your camera to it and then running across the countryside to retrieve the wreckage seems silly. Sure, you get some nice video of cloud tops from an altitude of 20 miles, but you’re not the first to do this!

Having said all that, if you do feel compelled to create yet another YouTube video of a weather balloon launch, knock yourself out. But please, please, please don’t include the word “space” in the title, even the BBC gets confused (apparently, that weather balloon-launched Lego man went “into orbit”!). Space starts above 62 miles (known as the Kármán line). Weather balloons can make it to around 25 miles before popping. By no stretch of the imagination can balloons make it into “space.”

Also, weather balloons don’t take stuff on a “suborbital flight.” That’s about as “suborbital” as me taking a flight to Vegas.

Gripe over.

 

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The lengths I go to, to recover my payload – The Riverview Grade School road trip

On her school’s recent balloon flight science teacher Emily Dawson showed that you shouldn’t give up on a payload if your tracking fails. Sometimes it can literally fall by the road side.

Emily planned and coordinated Riverview Grade School’s recent balloon flight in Illinois, USA.

launch

The launch took place Wednesday, May 22 at the Caterpillar Inc. Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center in front of an audience of 300 students from East Peoria, Metamora and Brimfield. Students gathered at 9:00 a.m. for set-up, assembly and related activities, and the launch took place around 10:50 a.m. The launch was also broadcast live through a webcast on the WTVP-Public Media website.

The school project was made possible through funding from PNC’s FirstGrant to Riverview Junior High teachers Emily Dawson, JoAnn Lowry-Emery and Luann Kuehn. The FirstGrant program is designed to help classroom teachers throughout central Illinois accomplish creative and innovative projects they would otherwise be unable to fund because of budget limitations, and it is supported by the Ruby K. Worner Trust and the PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group (NYSE: PNC).

The helium required to fill the balloon was provided by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and arranged by WILL-TV. The launch site and equipment are courtesy of Caterpillar Inc. Production and broadcast made possible by WTVP-Public Media with support from WILL.

Payload

Payload

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

Recovery

Recovery

10:56…the last time the SPOT communicated. It either got bumped during the launch or it was accidently turned off prior to being taped into the payload box.

I ran the forecast software from University of Wyoming, which showed it would land in Lee County Illinois. So the chase vehicle started the two or three hour drive in that direction. Once in Lee County we started driving up and down county roads. We swept back and forth across the county and in to Bureau County until 4pm. Starting to give up we headed back home. The car I was in chose to take a route south and to the east of the projected landing site….then low and behold….just outside of Princeton Illinois south on Route 26….there it was in a field. Call it dumb luck or taking into account the change in wind direction and forecast of the landing….but WE found it!

We were able to recover everything that was in the payload box. We only lost the mascots that were attached on the outer bars. ”

 

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An unlikely recovery: The Cross Channel trip

 

 

 

In their payload the students used 2 Go Pro Hero cameras with wifi and extended batteries. Tracking was done with enhanced GPS trackers using SMS and GPRS. The payload was designed and manufactured by the school’s design team and comprised a polystyrene box with foam and hand warmers to keep the electronics running smoothly during flight.

Launch

Launch

The CAA required the school to launch between 7 and 8 in the morning and only with a SE wind.  The school launched the balloon on March 3rd 2013; with a forecast for a landing in eastern France. The school launched the balloon and it climbed over the English Channel, however the last transmission received from the trackers was from The Channel, just of the Belgian coast; then nothing. Nothing that is until the payload was washed up on the Isle of Sheppey approximately 5 weeks after the launch date and the other side of the English Channel.

When the school finally picked up the payload, the cameras were rusty and saturated with salt. They had to be dismantled around the SD card to retrieve the image data, but the SD cards were also damaged.  The electronics were then transferred from the SD card casing to the new housing of another, before data could be retrieved.

Go Pro Hero 2

Go Pro Hero 2

Go Pro Hero 2

Go Pro Hero 2

It was a miracle that the payload was recovered and equally unlikely that the photo images of the flight could be recovered. Well done Sevenoaks school.

Payload

Payload

 

 

For more information on the flight go to

http://www.sevenoaksschool.org/sevenoaks-near-space-weather-balloon-flight

photo4

 

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SPOT Gen 3… USEFUL or USELESS?

SPOT Gen 3

SPOT Gen 3

After the euphoria of a new tracker being launched it is good to say, “ Are Gen 3’s new features useful or useless to me?” . So even though it isn’t available yet, let’s look at the specifications and decide if they are useful or useless.

Case – USEFUL – It has the water resistance of the Messenger 2 and it has moulded loops to help with easy attachment to the exterior or interior of the payload.

Power – USEFUL– the Gen 3 supports rechargeable batteries so you can save money on powering your tracker but it has yet to be seen if there is equivalent reliability of power after use at altitude.

Weight – USEFUL-the lighter it is, the less helium or hydrogen you need. That’s a no brainer!

Variable tracking rate – USELESS – there is no realistic need to have 30 minute plus position reporting on a high altitude balloon unless you want to have a floater. Lower rates would be nice but if they come at a $150 premium then I will stick with 10 minutes. Uncertainty though is the cost of location reports every 5 minutes.

Motion activated tracking – USELESS- There is no way to stop the high altitude balloon ascent once you let go. The question is, will it report minor position changes once a payload has landed? If this is a power saving function then it could be beneficial if the tracker lands in a remote location.

USB interface – USEFUL – if it offers the ability to download position reports but we need more information about this.

All in all the new features are USEFUL but there doesn’t seem to be a killer feature, like smart phone link, that makes me want to rush out and get one now. Sure, when I replace my SPOT M2’s I’ll be getting one but, at first sight, there is no ‘deal maker’ there.

SPOT Gen 3

SPOT Gen 3

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It’s here! SPOT 3rd Gen

spot 3rd gen

It’s out at last – the 3rd Generation SPOT tracker. Information is hard to come by at the moment so for the time being, here is the promotional information for retailers.

Best use
HABing (my input)
Manual
1 meter
Yes
4 AAA lithium
3.4 x 2.5 x 1 inches
90g
Activation
Water-resistance
Waterproof
Batteries
Dimensions
Weight

source: REI.com

The SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger keeps you connected and in touch during your far-flung adventures. Using satellite technology, SPOT maintains communication almost anywhere on the globe.

  • Check in with your professional and social networks, send custom text messages and let others track your real-time location via Google Maps
  • In an emergency, transmit an SOS with your exact location to GEOS Emergency Response Coordination Center to activate a rescue
  • Tracking options let you choose the capture rate that best suits your movement: 2.5-, 5-, 10-, 30- or 60-minute increments
  • With Motion Activated Tracking, SPOT Gen3 knows when you’re moving and when you stop to make camp; it stops sending tracking info until you start moving again
  • Weighing only 90g. with batteries, the compact SPOT Gen3 packs easily for traveling fast and light
  • Contoured shape with dual attachment points makes it easy to fasten the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger to your pack, bag, boat or vehicle
  • Power options include single-use AAA lithium batteries (included), rechargeable batteries (sold separately), or line-in power via the unit’s USB port
  • Comes with 4 AAA lithium batteries, USB cord, carrying strap and carabiner clip

$149.99 yearly subcription covers basic service and tracking. Add unlimited tracking for an additional $50 per year, or unlimited tracking at 2.5 min. intervals for an additional $150 per year.

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