NASA ready for balloon flight to test Mars landing technology


A saucer-shaped test vehicle holding equipment for landing large payloads on Mars is shown in the Missile Assembly Building at the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kaua‘i, Hawaii.  The vehicle, part of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator project, will test an inflatable decelerator and a parachute at high altitudes and speeds over the Pacific Missile Range this June.

A saucer-shaped test vehicle holding equipment for landing large payloads on Mars is shown in the Missile Assembly Building at the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kaua‘i, Hawaii. The vehicle, part of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator project, will test an inflatable decelerator and a parachute at high altitudes and speeds over the Pacific Missile Range this June. A balloon will lift the vehicle to high altitudes, where a rocket will take it even higher to the top of the stratosphere at several times the speed of sound. This image was taken during a “hang-angle” measurement, in which engineers set the vehicle’s rocket motor to the appropriate angle for the high-altitude test. The nozzle and the lower half of the Star-48 solid rocket motor are the dark objects seen in the middle of the image below the saucer.

Helicopter sent to Google balloon near Christchurch


Project Loon wi-fi balloon
The 12m high balloon was too big to be rescued by a local lifeboat

An emergency helicopter has been mistakenly scrambled after a Google wi-fi balloon ditched in the sea near Christchurch in New Zealand.

The plummeting balloon, measuring 12m (39ft) in height, was spotted by a pedestrian who thought a light aircraft was in trouble and contacted police.

Google said it would repay the cost of sending the helicopter to the scene.

In June 2013, 30 balloons were launched by Google in New Zealand to provide wi-fi in remote areas.

The call to the emergency services initially led to the launch of a lifeboat off the South Island’s east coast.

The helicopter was called in when the rescuers could not recover the balloon because of rough conditions.

“We will get in touch with the Westpac rescue helicopter crew to reimburse them for the mistaken rescue flight,” Google spokesman Johnny Luu told news site Stuff New Zealand.

Last year’s launch marked the start of Google’s Project Loon, which will eventually employ up to 400 balloons encircling the Earth to give people wireless net access.

The balloons will float in the stratosphere around the Earth’s 40th parallel, providing wi-fi to buildings fitted with a special antenna.

They are designed to stay up for about 100 days, and when they descend, co-ordinators try to guide them down on to land.

Most balloons were recovered after landing, Mr Luu added.

A postcard from the Great Plains Super launch 2014 taken by John Flaig’s payload during the GPSL

Every year HAB enthusiasts from the US gather in the great plains for a ‘super launch’.

The super launch is a chance for enthusiasts to get together to share ideas on a range of HAB topics such as hydrogen handling, radio tracking, and the latest in satellite based tracking systems. Last Thursday / Friday the event took place in Hutchinson, Kansas. Again it was well attended and included participants from

John Flaig, who attended, sent us a postcard from the great event.

“I launched a 3000 gram Hyowee this morning at 4:45am. I don’t have the right micro-sd card reader on me so I can’t check the altitude, but judging by the pics it surely exceeded 100,000 feet. The interesting thing was I tried two Spots, one facing sideways and the other in the gimbal. You can see the results here:
In the end they both would have worked alone.
The winds were insane today, luckily since I launched so early I didn’t have a problem, but you can see from the flight path how crazy it was. Everyone else was quite concerned about getting their balloons aloft. When I found the payload, it was just 1000 feet from the road, but as I approached it the winds filled the parachute and I literally had to run at full speed across the field to catch it. Everything inside got tossed as though it was a washing machine and a lot of mud covered the box and some of the cameras, but luckily no serious damage was done and all the cameras worked.
I also tried the new University of Michigan Flight Predictor. It was off by five miles, which is very good. CUSF was off by 3 miles.
I’m interested to hear how the other people did. It was amusing to observe the group as well. These guys are mostly middle-aged, extremely smart and highly skilled in radio, electronics, programming, engineering, ect. A few people there had competed in the GSBC, and I had the sense from others that there was mutual respect about the whole thing. On the whole they were very welcoming.”


Global Space Balloon Challenge Photographic competition winners announced

the winning entry by John Flaig

the winning entry by John Flaig

The organisers of the first Global Space Balloon challenge ( have announced the winners of the photography competition. The organisers said, “Congratulations to the winners of the Best Photo challenge! All the submissions were awesome, but these 3 stood out to our judges:

The Balloon News web store are proud to have supported the 2nd place entry by Barry from Orion 13.

US students put SPOT Trace to the test on weather balloon flight


In May 2014 students from the Midland Technical College in Columbia, South Carolina launched the first HAB flight with the new SPOT Trace tracker. The flight was part of their college project. Here is the flight story from one of the team members.


10:20am – I arrived at campus (our launch site) to begin setting up. WLTX news was already there! One of my students was already there and he helped me bring all the equipment to the launch site.



11:15am – All equipment and materials are laid out and we begin filling the balloon. Other students simultaneously are working on getting GPS gyro-bowl installed in payload and initializing GoPro camera. We were extremely fortunate our 125 cu ft helium tank ran out of helium exactly when we hit our required lifting force of 7.5 lbs.


11:39am – Liftoff. Everything went perfectly without a hitch.


11:50am – We pack up launch site and head towards predicted landing site outside of Sumter, SC. The balloon tracks very well, and heads north for a bit before turning sharply east.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 1.07.55 PM

12:19pm – We lose contact (as expected) with the payload as the balloon surpasses 20,000 feet (max operating altitude for SPOT GPS).

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 1.05.46 PM

1:42pm – We get our first GPS hit from Sumter a few miles away. We get three in succession right around each other as the balloon descends.


Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 1.21.31 PM

1:54pm – Touchdown. The payload comes to rest in a storage facility. Fortunately, the gates were open for customers and we were able to drive in and retrieve our payload.


We immediately get the footage out and view it on our laptop. Success!!

Loon Attack! Google Balloon Knocks Out Power Lines During Descent

Loon Attack! Google Balloon Knocks Out Power Lines During Descent

What goes up must come down — but with a high-tech, high-altitude balloon,where it comes down isn’t always so easy to tell. That’s what Google’s ambitiousProject Loon was reminded of when one of its floating Internet hot spots knocked out power lines in south-central Washington state.

Last week’s incident was first reported in the Yakima Herald Republic shortly after the balloon crashed. Google confirmed Tuesday that the balloon, originally launched in Nevada, was in the process of a controlled landing when it struck power lines around 1 A.M., causing a few local outages.

An experimental Project Loon balloon (not the one that crashed) takes off.

Project Loon is an experiment in providing Internet access to distant areas by means of long-range wireless transceivers suspended from weather balloons. The floating access points are meant to stay aloft for about three months, travelling at a safe altitude and eventually coming down in more or less predictable fashion.

But a sudden breeze can still knock one off course during descent — which may be what happened to bring this one down near the town of Yakima County town of Harrah.

Google’s balloons are operated with FAA approval, and the company said in a statement that “we coordinate with local air traffic control authorities and have a team dedicated to recovering the balloons when they land.” In this case, that also meant working with the local utility company, Pacific Power, to fix things up.

Of course, anything from a falling branch to a stray kite can take out a power line, and the problem is usually resolved in short order.