The Global Space Balloon Challenge is an international education outreach project to encourage people from around the world to build and launch their own high altitude balloons. Over a single weekend, teams from all over the world will launch balloons to the edge of space, recover them, and share the photos and data that they have collected.

The organisers, Stanford University, has set a goal to encourage people of all ages to get their hands dirty building their own space hardware, and to promote the spirit of hardware hacking and international STEM collaboration.

Here is some more information from the project, who’s web site can be found at

“There will be three challenge categories this year: highest altitude, best photograph, and best design. These are intended to reward those who go beyond traditional HABs and do something unique and cool- these challenges will be rewarded with awesome prizes like the $500 store credit to Sparkfun, so be sure to start early and send us your challenge entries on time!


We know not everyone is fluent in English. If this is an issue and you would like to participate in these competitions – please let us know.



The name says it all- the team that records the highest altitude will win! To enter this challenge, please send us pictures and the complete GPS data recorded during your balloon flight. The GPS strings must include timestamp, latitude, longitude, and altitude. If you are using APRS, we will also require your call-sign that was used on the flight.



For this challenge, we will use a combination of voting from our panel of industry judges and social media to choose the best photo taken by teams flying balloons for the GSBC. Anyone can enter- pictures at dawn, pointing at specific landmarks, capturing amazing phenomena like the Aurora Borealis, or of one balloon at altitude from another are all examples of awesome things you can capture from a HAB! Use your imagination and fell free to send more than one image!


For this challenge, we will also require a picture and GPS tag at every 10,000 ft of your flight to verify that the photo was taken April 18-20. The GPS strings must include timestamp, latitude, longitude, and altitude. If you are using APRS, we will also require your call-sign that was used on the flight.



This is the challenge for anyone who wants to show off their HAB. This category will take everything into account from launch location to data collected to size of payload and balloon to creativity in the approach and anything else that you can think of. Everyone who wants to compete in this category will be required to submit a 5 page report on their design and approach- include pictures and convince us why you should win! The ability to communicate information is essential to engineering and therefore organization and clarity of the report will also be taken into account.

The reports will be given to a panel of industry judges, including engineers at Google’s Project Loon, who will then decide the winner. No information will be shared beyond judges and the GSBC organizers without the consent of the team.”

The launch date for the challenge is April 18th to 21st – Easter weekend. Balloon News will be entering the event. We have also asked the GSBC what steps they are taking to make sure that groups launch safe HAB flights and what involvement they have sort with local aviation authorities; and will post their answers here.

HAB camera comparison shows big improvements in the Go Pro Hero 3+ Black

During a recent weather balloon / high altitude balloon launch John Flaig, of Iowa USA, made this comparison between the Go Pro Hero 2 and the Go Pro Hero 3+ Black. Both recorded video in 1080 HD mode. The GPH 3 image ( on screen second) is clearly crisper than the GPH 2 (on screen first) and performs better in low light conditions.

Go Pro Hero 2 (top) Go Pro Hero 3+Black (bottom)

Go Pro Hero 2 (top)
Go Pro Hero 3+Black (bottom)


Go Pro Hero 2 (top)
Go Pro Hero 3+Black (bottom)


Go Pro Hero 2 (top)
Go Pro Hero 3+Black (bottom)

For more information on the flight, go to  .

The full video of the flight can be found at

Wireless SSDV images from a canon camera using RTTY on CHDK

Wireless SSDV images from a canon camera using RTTY on CHDK by Chris Stubbs


CHDK (canon hackers development kit) is a temporary firmware hack that allows you to run custom code and commands on canon compact digital cameras. It is often used on high altitude balloon flights to run an intervalometer to take a photo every x number of seconds.  Using CHDK, the Canon PowerShot A530 can be used to broadcast photographs over a Radiometrix NTX2 FSK radio module (SSDV). Read more…

Happy 25th Birthday GPS



If there was ever a justification needed for space technology, it’s that it keeps people like me from constantly being lost. These days, my smart phone is much better than me at getting around thanks to a fleet of satellites that tells it where it is at all times.

Though not a particularly romantic anniversary, today marks 25 years since the first satellite in the U.S. Global Positioning System launched from Cape Canaveral, beginning the set up for one of the wonders of the modern world. In the two and a half decades since then, GPS has become inextricably embedded into just about everything we own, finding use in cartography, smart phone apps, geotagging and geocaching, disaster relief, and hundreds of other applications, while simultaneously raising privacy concerns.


GPS relies on at least 24 satellites flying 20,000 kilometers overhead in one of six different orbital paths, tracing out what looks like a toy model of an atom. With their solar panels extended, each of these 1-ton satellites is about the same size as a giraffe. At any given moment, each satellite beams out a signal identifying itself and giving its time and location.


A model showing the 24 original GPS satellites in orbit and a point on the Earth rotating. Animation: El pak/Wikimedia

Your GPS-enabled phone or car captures that signal and compares the time it was received to the time it was transmitted. A quick calculation involving the speed of light allows the device to figure out the distance to that satellite. If you have your distance to two or three satellites, you can triangulate your position on the Earth. When all the GPS satellites are working, a user always has at least four in view, allowing them to determine things like altitude, speed, and direction.

In order to properly triangulate, GPS requires extremely accurate timekeeping, which is why each satellite carries an atomic clock. The satellites are also some of the most important technology using lessons learned from Einstein, who taught us that clocks outside a gravitational well will run faster than those inside of it because of the warping of space-time. An opposite effect comes from the fact that GPS satellites move at 14,000 kilometers per hour (0.001 percent the speed of light), meaning that they experience a slight time dilation making their clocks run slow relative to one at rest on the ground. The two effects taken together mean that the clock on a GPS satellite runs about 38 microseconds faster each day than ones here on Earth. GPS requires accuracy of 20 to 30 nanoseconds (one microsecond is 1,000 nanoseconds), so both effects are part of the calculation determining how far away each satellite is at any given time.

The idea behind GPS comes from the very beginnings of the Space Race. In 1957, the Soviet’s newly launched Sputnik satellite emitted a characteristic radio beep that could be tuned in to as the object passed overhead. While the rest of the U.S. was freaking out, two scientists at the Applied Physics Laboratory realized they could use those transmissions to pinpoint where the satellite was. As Sputnik approached, its radio signals would get compressed a little, shortening their wavelength, and as it receded, the wavelengths would lengthen. This is known as the Doppler effect and can easily be heard as an ambulance speeds toward you, the pitch of its siren getting higher.

The APL scientists used UNIVAC, one of the first commercial computers in the U.S., to figure out Sputnik’s orbit. A year later, they were asked to do the opposite problem: Find out where someone was on Earth based on the location of an overhead satellite. This was soon taken up by the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (later named DARPA, the agency responsible for developing the internet), which launched satellites starting in 1964 as part of the TRANSIT program, the first satellite navigation program. The U.S. Navy was the main user of the TRANSIT satellites, using them to provide location information for their missile submarines.

Developing, launching, and maintaining the satellites necessary for a full GPS system was horrendously expensive (eventually costing roughly $8 billion in today’s dollars). If it hadn’t been for the Cold War and the fact that the U.S. needed to launch nuclear missiles from anywhere and everywhere, GPS might never have happened. The paranoid U.S. military wanted to make sure they would be able to respond to a Soviet nuclear attack even if some of its nuclear arsenal was destroyed. It wasn’t enough to have aircraft bombers and land-based intercontinental ballistic missile launchers. Submarine-launched ballistic missiles were needed to provide a counterattack from the sea. (The Soviets, of course, had similarly spread-out countermeasures.)

But submarines needed to accurately know their position before launching a missile in order to hit their target. The Navy had TRANSIT for this. Working in parallel throughout the 1960s, the Air Force developed a similar concept called MOSAIC for their bombers and the Army launched satellites under the SECOR program that could determine the location of a unit somewhere on the globe.

By 1973, the branches of the U.S. military realized they could combine their ideas and come up with something superior to all three. In September of that year, the top brass met at the Pentagon and came up with what would eventually become known as the Navigation System Using Timing and Ranging program, called Navstar-GPS, which was later shortened to just GPS. Between 1978 and 1985, the military launched 11 satellites (10 of which worked) to test the new GPS system.

An unlaunched GPS unit, which looks like probably the most satellitey satellite ever. Image: Scott Ehardt

An unlaunched GPS unit, which looks like probably the most satellitey satellite ever. Image: Scott Ehardt

After Korean Air Lines flight 007 was shot down in 1983 for wandering into prohibited U.S.S.R. airspace, President Reagan promised that GPS would be opened up for civilian use on passenger aircraft once it was completed. The first GPS satellite in the modern fleet launched on Feb. 14, 1989. The Air Force had planned to use the space shuttle for this launch in 1986 but was delayed by the Challenger disaster and eventually used a Delta II rocket. The full GPS fleet was completed in 1994 and now at least 32 satellites are in orbit to provide redundancy. During the same time, the Russians developed and launched GLONASS, which works on principles similar to GPS, and is currently the only alternative location-finding system in the world.

At its beginning, the U.S. military feared that GPS technology would be used by enemies, and purposely degraded civilian information so that it could only provide accurate location information to within 100 meters. In 2000, President Clinton had this feature turned off and now civilian devices are usually accurate to within 5 to 10 meters. The European Union and China are currently building their own global navigation systems, known as Galileo and Beidou, respectively, that will serve as further alternatives to GPS in the coming decade. It seems likely that folks in the future will never have to worry about being lost again.