Stratocaching 2014 Another fun day for European HAB enthusiasts


Stratocaching is a unique game which combines high-altitude balloons with geocaching. It is the brainchild of the Czech non-profit association “Žádná věda” (“Not Rocket Science”) and its aim is to link science and technology with an adventure game – something we call “the magic of experiment”. Our first flight took place on November 16, 2013 with 13.000 participants. More than 220.000 viewers watched the live video streamed from the balloon to the online Czech technology magazine This year Stratocache was sponsored by Logitech, BASF, 4GLTE, AXIS, VW, FPV.CZ, and jobs.CZ.


Launch time in Prague

Ivan from Stratochaching has kindfully given us a roundup of the second successful Stratocache event in Czech Republic.


Up, up, and away for Stratocache 2014

Ivan said,

“This years‘ project turned to be quite dramatic –  firstly, because of the heavy payload (3,8 kg) and strict tests and negotiations with the Civil Aviation Authority in the Czech republic, we lost time and energy to manage all the tests nedded before start (quite a paradox). At the time of the start, the EMC problem caused failure of some of the technologies. Luckily, the emergency system worked and everything was safe.


Full video from both AXIS cameras:

Just a few details:


Drop onion releases caches

  • 6 technologies were used for the geolocation in the Dropion and Stratocaches (meteorological probe Vaisala, RTTY, APRS, LoRa, GSM tracker Meitrack MT-90, acustic signalisation + LED diodes)
  • 10.300 people registered for the stratocaching game based on geocaching. We have developed a special mobile app Stratocaching (you can download it) and sophisticated admin system for publishing the positions of the Stratocaches
  • Live video streaming  using Wi-Fi router Microtic and special AXIS F series cameras (two sensor units looking up and down) – had to be turned off before start because of EMC problem. LThe cameras were in recording mode only.
  • GoPro hero 3 camera failed. It’s micro SD card failed at the altitude of 3 km L
  • The GPS inside Dropion lost the positioning after start – the reason is probably a wrong final coat of white paint on the Dropion cover, containing titanium. We actually had a metal lid covering all the GPS antennas inside! A silly mistake made the night before L  That’s why the automatic system for balloon cutoff and releasing Stratocaches didn’t work.
  • The balloon bursted at 29.308 metres
  • The emergency system (timing 2 hours after start) released the Stratocaches at 4.105 metres – so it wasn’t a real strato- caching J, the stratocaches falled nearby on one field (no wind in the lower flight levels)

The landing site of onion and caches



Drop onion on the ground


  • We have completed a very sophisticated stratospheric probe that has a releasing system that could be used for many purposes, including the Stratocaching game. We only need to fix some small problems and can fly again! The only problem is that we will probably never get permission for next flight in Czech republic– this year, it was a „political“ achievment to get the authorities cooperating with our crazy project.
  • Would anyone be interested in launching the Stratocaching balloon in a different country? We are ready to pack all the components and test Dropion and Stratocaches somewhere else! It would help us to continue with our exploration of the „maple seed design“ of the Stratocaches and behavior of different GPS technologies.

‘Blimp in a Box’ latest tool in Eric Frein manhunt


Having eyes in the sky is essential to the Eric Frein manhunt.

But helicopters and planes are expensive and, more significantly, loud. The sound of rotors and propellers over the Poconos forest where the fugitive is believed to be hiding might as well be his signal to duck and cover.

The alternative, introduced to the search effort Monday, is a camera-equipped balloon, similar to a weather balloon. Unmanned, tethered and silent, it can hover for up to three days at a time and capture video of vast patches of ground.

State police have deployed a large balloon with a camera in its search for alleged Pennsylvania state trooper Eric Frein. State police say the balloon is on loan from the Ohio Department of Transportation and allow them to take aerial photographs silently and at less expensive than from a…

State police have deployed a large balloon with a camera in its search for alleged Pennsylvania state trooper Eric Frein. State police say the balloon is on loan from the Ohio Department of Transportation and allow them to take aerial photographs silently and at less expensive than from a…

State police have deployed a large balloon with a camera in its search for alleged Pennsylvania state trooper Eric Frein. State police say the balloon is on loan from the Ohio Department of Transportation and allow them to take aerial photographs silently and at less expensive than from a…

State police have deployed a large balloon with a camera in its search for alleged Pennsylvania state trooper Eric Frein. State police say the balloon is on loan from the Ohio Department of Transportation and allow them to take aerial photographs silently and at less expensive than from a…

State police have deployed a large balloon with a camera in its search for alleged Pennsylvania state trooper Eric Frein. State police say the balloon is on loan from the Ohio Department of Transportation and allow them to take aerial photographs silently and at less expensive than from a…
The $180,000 device — marketed as “Blimp in a Box” by its developer, Drone Aviation Corp. of Florida — uses a Mylar balloon filled with helium and can rise nearly 500 feet from its storage trailer.

It’s on loan to the Pennsylvania State Police from the Ohio Department of Transportation, which uses it to conduct traffic studies and monitor construction sites, among other tasks.

Feeding imagery to a laptop computer, the balloon at its highest altitude gives authorities a view as expansive as that from a 50-story building, said Dan Erdberg, Drone Aviation’s chief operating officer.

“You’re panning back and forth with the joystick and monitoring a very large area,” he said. “If you’re monitoring at night and see a heat signature, you have a highly stable optical zoom and can move in and see if it’s something with two arms and two legs.”

Frein, a 31-year-old military buff and self-trained survivalist, is accused of using a rifle to kill Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wound Trooper Alex Douglass in a Sept. 12 ambush outside the state police barracks in Blooming Grove, Pike County. He was identified as a suspect Sept. 16 after his disabled sport utility vehicle was found abandoned about 3 miles from the barracks.

New tool to help police in Eric Frein manhunt
Large balloons will be launched with cameras to aid in the search for Eric Frein.
Hundreds of state police and federal agents have been pursuing him in a broad, intensive search that has come up empty despite a number of unconfirmed sightings in Monroe County near Frein’s home town of Canadenis and, more recently, Swiftwater.

The cost of the manhunt has exceeded $1 million a week, but the balloon will be a relatively inexpensive addition to the search arsenal. A full charge of helium costs $1,000 but keeps the device aloft for three days. That compares quite favorably to the cost of fuel and manpower for helicopter and plane flights, which can’t match the unblinking surveillance capability of the balloon.

The drawback is that the device can’t be used in especially windy conditions. It was grounded by wind over the weekend when authorities tried to test it.

This is the first time state police have used a surveillance balloon, said Trooper Tom Kelly, an agency spokesman. Police agencies elsewhere have used them for security during large outdoor events and for surveillance of isolated areas.

In Tennessee, for example, the Nashville Metro Police Department has used a Blimp in a Box to thwart thefts at rail yards, spokeswoman Kris Mumford said. The device can also be a valuable tool for crowd control during major events, such as the Country Music Association Festival, she said.
Steven Faulkner, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said the agency bought the Blimp in a Box earlier this year.

“The uses where it could be beneficial are numerous,” he said. “We get some tornadoes here in Ohio. Should there be an instance where transportation is limited by debris, we can use this system to identify potential survivors.”

Recently, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction used the device for a pilot project. Prisons were monitored from above “either for those trying to get some contraband over the fence or others trying to get out from under the fence,” Faulkner said.

Erdberg said the civilian version of the Blimp in a Box is only a few months old — Ohio’s was the first transportation department to get one — but a military version has been under evaluation by the armed services for about 18 months.

The company said the devices could be valuable in border control and even in communications in isolated areas. With a communications radio attached, the blimp could be converted to a floating cell tower.

“We’re happy that’s it’s there,” said Erdberg, hopeful that Drone Aviation’s brainchild will help put an end to the hunt for Frein.

Second Stratocache flight to take off this weekend

Stratocaching has announced the second near space Geocache flight fro the check republic this weekend.

Launch Date: 25-th November 2014

Launch Time: 8:00 UTC

Launch Location: Czech Hydrometeorological Institute Prague, Czech Republic


Stratocaching is a unique idea combining launch of a stratospheric balloon with a geocaching game. The Czech association Žádná věda (meaning Not a Rocket Science) is goung to launch a special ballon set with a gondola called Dropion that includes 12 flying modules with GPS trackers called Stratocache. The modules (an imitation of maple seed design) will be released in the stratosphere and after they fall somewhere in the Czech republic (hopefully!), a geocaching hunt for Stratocaches will be started.

More info:


  • Balloon Hwoyee:3000g filled with helium
  • Total weight of payload:3000g
  • Chute:Sperachute 72“
  • Estimated Ascent/ descent:5-6 m/s up, 4 m/s down
  • Dropion:1800g, made of styrodur, design inspired by nature (the name originally come from „drop- onion“)
  • Stratocache:93 g, 40cm long, falls down rotating as a maple pod (2,5 m/s), with a GPS tracker Meitrack MT90 (replaced battery pack – Energizer Lithium)
  • Radioseed: 2 of the 12 „maple seeds“ bear a different tracking technology: RTTY+CW tracker

APRSseed:   4of the 12 „maple seeds“ bear APRS trackers

  • Electronic systems:APRS tracker, RTTY+CW tracker, Arduino computer, pyrotechnic system for releasing Stratocaches and balloon cutoff, IP video stream module (IP camera Axis M2014, PoE injector router Microtic), video recording module (GoPro Hero 3)
  • Altitude:the launch of Stratocaches and the balloon trajectory will be limited by a flight plan programmed in Arduino computer based on the wheather conditions (maximal altitude 30.000). The aim is to end the flight within the borders of the Czech Republic

Trackers onboard:


Callsign: OK1OMX – UKHAS RTTY 300Bd, 7N2, 450 Hz shift, freq 437.650 MHz, SSB/USB

OK1OMX-11 – APRS, freq 144.8 MHz


Seed1 – UKHAS RTTY 300Bd, 7N2, 450 Hz shift, freq 437.670 MHz, SSB/USB

Seed2 – UKHAS RTTY 300Bd, 7N2, 450 Hz shift, freq 437.690 MHz, SSB/USB

All the trackers are using CW ID with HAM callsign  in between rtty sentences. Seed1 and Seed2 trackers will transmit in CW (20wpm) altitude and locator also.



Skydive from edge of space beats world record



Google executive Alan Eustace has broken the world altitude record for a parachute jump by leaping from 135,890 feet (41,419 metres).

He exceeded the speed of sound, setting off a small sonic boom, and set several skydiving records in the process.

Mr Eustace was carried by a large helium balloon from New Mexico to over 40km (25 miles) above the earth.

The previous record was set by Felix Baumgartner two years ago, after he jumped from a height of nearly 128,000 feet.

To get more information on this story go to

Video footage courtesy of Atomic Entertainment and the Paragon Space Development Corporation

More ways that High Altitude Balloon flights can go wrong : Forgetting that most of the public do not know what high altitude ballooning is

High altitude balloon flights take a great deal of time to research and plan. When going through the process of designing and launching a HAB it is very easy to forget that the majority of the general public aren’t aware of the hobby, let alone what a HAB payload may look like. Forgetting that most people may not know what a HAB payload is if they came across it can be a recipe for the mission to fail, and by fail I mean be completed without causing alarm and injury to the participants and the wider public.

Last summer an American teen band launched a piece of pizza on a HAB payload.

This was harmless in itself but they failed to take simple steps to label the payload and describe the payload as harmless. A member of the public found the payload and called the local police. This sparked an incident. The sight of a polystyrene box with a parachute, a piece of pizza stuck on the side, and music coming out of the box would not scare me into calling the local police, but I would be able to work out what the obviously out of place package was. A simple label on the side of the payload explaining what it was, would have easily avoided this incident and the need for the operators to have to collect their payload from the local police.

Slow motion aerial birds eye view of fireworks exploding

In recent weeks I have seen a plethora of firework displays videos from quadcopters. This comes every year with the approach of Guy Forke’s Night. The aerial views were stunning but always shot from a distance. Recently I chanced upon this video of a daytime display recorded from a tethered balloon. The balloon based Go Pro Hero gave some impressive views. It also showed why you would not want to risk an expensive quadcopter above exploding pyrotechnics.


Go Pro Hero 4 camera battery a let down

One of the key features of any action camera for HAB is the battery. Many photographic high altitude balloon flights last somewhere in the order of 2-3 hours. So it is very important to get an action camera that will run for this long. The new Go Pro Hero 4 camera offers many interesting features including the improved frame rate and quality in the images. Unfortunately initial tests show that it’s battery performs less well than the Go Pro Hero 3+ Black; itself a camera with battery performance that will not always match the length of a HAB / weather balloon flight. Here is a test done at ground level.

The Go Pro Hero 4 Black lasted for 1hours 44 minutes, the Go Pro Hero 4 Silver lasted for 2 hours 5 minutes, and the Go Pro Hero 3+Black lasted for 2 hours and 10 minutes . All the cameras were shooting at 1080 and 24 frames per second.

When the cameras run in higher specification modes then their operation time is a lot shorter. One test already out there put the Hero 4 Black camera run time, set to 4K 30fps, at 38 minutes. (

This test was only on a single battery sample but, taken on face value, does not show any improvement in battery performance with the new camera. Thankfully the old Hero 3 battery bacpacs can be used with the new cameras to extend it’s life and we are awaiting tests to show how long the new cameras run with the external battery supply.

The cameras tend to perform less well during HAB flights for a variety of reasons.