Registration for the Global Space Balloon Challenge 2015 opens

Organisers of the GSBC have posted the following message about GSBC 2015

“We are pleased to announce that the new Global Space Balloon Challenge website is now live and registration for GSBC 2015 is now open! We have worked really hard to create a site to help teams take their ballooning to the next level and make it easier to interact and hope you’ll enjoy it.

The GSBC is the world’s largest high altitude ballooning event, where teams in various locations around the world launch simultaneously – last year 60 teams from 18 countries on 6 continents flew together. The fundamental goal of the GSBC is to build a community where everyone can learn from each other and build on each other’s accomplishments, with a focus on education and technological development. We attract students and teachers, beginners and professionals, children and their parents, and we want you to join!

Check out the site and please let us know if you have any questions, issues, or feedback! We can’t wait to see what you build in 2015.
Fly High!

LaunchBox CubeSats on Balloons Project‏


In Australia a small tech company called Launchbox has been launched. Launchbox, as well as seeking to launch real cubesats in low Earth orbit, has developed high altitude balloon kits for schools to emulate their high orbiting products. Flavia, one of the co founders of launchbox described to us what they are now offering to schools. Flavia said, ”

The LaunchBox project aims to make a near space mission as simple as possible to involve primary and secondary school students. It is based on a frame which is very similar to the actual cube satellite in terms of size (10x10mm) and we are currently developing the second generation that will be designed to contain two or three different PCBs depending on the mission planned by the students. The box will have a quarter wave antenna in the top of it for RF.

One of the PCBs includes a telemetry system developed in house with the support of Horus project, an amateur group in South Australia. The first generation of the kit (the one you can see on the website) consists of a GO Pro camera system, a GPS and several sensors. We record temperature, pressure and altitude and we use an Arduino as microprocessor. In the new generation of the kit we are trying to connect the camera module directly to the microcontroller. The microcontroller that we use is an Arduino UNO. The second generation of the kit will be available at the beginning of 2015. There is a cut down system on the board as well. It will be mounted on top of one PCB, together with a radio modulator and a GPS.

We send this kit in the stratosphere with individual school launch or combining several CubeSat kits, i.e. several schools. In both of the cases, our flights enter in the light balloons classification. We use 1 to 2 kg balloons depending of the particular mission.

The balloon launches are an intermediary step to introduce space and engineering concepts to students. Next year LaunchBox will send two real CubeSats in LEO and schools will participate to a competition to have their hardware (a PCB payload) on board of the space mission.  “

Flavia Tata Nardini

LaunchBox Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Mobile: (+61) 0424487893

Berlin Wall: Thousands of balloons released to mark fall



Some 8,000 helium balloons have been released into the night sky over Germany’s capital at the culmination of events to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Earlier, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the fall of the wall had shown the world that dreams could come true.

Tens of thousands of people attended events, including a “citizen’s party” at the Brandenburg Gate.

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to stop people fleeing the communist East.

Its fall in 1989 became a powerful symbol of the end of the Cold War.

The white balloons – perched on 3.6m poles to match the height of the wall and stretching for 15km (nine miles) – were released one by one to symbolise its disappearance.

At the scene: Damian McGuinness, BBC News

For a weekend the balloons had become a part of the city, with Berliners strolling, jogging or cycling along the route.

Today not much of the Wall remains, and often you don’t even notice when crossing between East and West. That’s because, after 1989, Berliners wanted to destroy the much-hated barrier and rebuild their city.

But suddenly seeing the circuitous and often illogical line which tore through the city’s heart was a reminder of the insanity of using concrete to split a city in two, dividing neighbourhoods, friends and families.

Now the balloons have floated off into the sky, each one accompanied by cheers from the crowd – a shining and delicate symbol of peace and light, in stark contrast to the brutality of the heavy slabs of grey concrete. And a powerful reminder of how 25 years ago, under pressure from ordinary Berliners, this deadly barrier suddenly lost its threat.

Boomerang altitude control system.

Smith & Williamson, LLC, a small US tech company, is developing a complete gas venting altitude control system for latex weather balloons. The Boomerang Flight, Altitude Control, and Termination System aims to provide balloon operators altitude control, longer duration flights, and controlled recovery options. In addition to altitude control, the system includes two independent means of flight termination, a suite of atmospheric and balloon sensors, on-board data recording, ports for GPS and radios, and supporting mission control software.

3rd generation valve

A complete Boomerang System consists of:

Boomerang Gas Vent Valve

Boomerang Primary and Backup Flight Control Boards

Boomerang Ballaster

Boomerang Mission Control Station Hardware & Software

Boomerang Operational Procedures, Documentation, and User Guides

Boomerang Flight & Ground Support Equipment


The vent system is aimed at operators of weather balloons involved in photography, radio repeaters, science payloads, weather probes, and even Cubesats where altitude control is required. The system can be used for low-altitude balloon flights as well.

Mark Williamson from the company told us,

In developing Boomerang we’ve applied some of our knowledge working with bigger weather balloon systems (zero and superpressure) and have tried to apply it to latex balloons.  Our goal is to enable one person to inflate, launch, and operate Boomerang with ease. The valve is the main part of the overall Boomerang ecosystem that we feel can act as a bus for high-altitude payload developers. We also have a Mission Control Station that provides the operator of the system a lot of command, control, and tracking capabilities.

Pictured here is our 3rd Generation valve while our YouTube video shows our 2nd generation valve in flight. We gained a lot of knowledge doing a low-altitude flight test at the end of July.  We are wrapping up work on our 3rd generation system with another flight test in the next month or so with no major issues to report.

3rd generation valve

3rd generation valve

Low Altitude

Test flight

The 4th generation valve should be completed around the New Year and will be available to non-Beta customers.  We have tried to minimize manufacturing labour on our end while making the valve flexible in terms of expansion. It’s a modular system. For instance, the GPS and radio do not have to be shipped with the valve if customer wants to use a particular device.  One of the sensors in particular, we feel, is only really needed if the user intends to operate the balloon at the high end of it’s operational limit. The ballaster can also be left out if it is not required.  We have not incorporated the automatic altitude control algorithm yet, but our manual control routines have been designed with that goal in mind.  There are some smarts in just “opening and closing” that we think are pretty unique.”

By Mark Williamson

Can HAB bring down a dictatorship?

South Koreans wage chocolate propaganda war with chocolate pie


North Korean defectors carry to release a balloon to let it fly to the North, carrying chocolate pies and cookies during a rally against the North's recent threat at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, South Korea, Wednesday, 30 July 2014.Those sending the balloons to North Korea often include Choco Pie snacks, which are much coveted in the North
Can chocolate biscuits topple communism? Does a humble snack have the political power to push the North Korean regime out of existence?

Activists in South Korea certainly think that a sugary and gooey cookie known as a Choco Pie might help bring about change in the North. That is why defectors from the North send thousands of them attached to balloons back over to the country they left.

And maybe North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fears the power of the chocolate biscuit too. It is not so much the calorific content that is the problem, but the pull the cookies have on his people.

Choco Pies are something of a delicacy in South Korea and prized in the North so much that they’ve become a form of currency there.

South Korean companies operating in a special industrial area just inside the North decided to give their North Korean workers the cookies as a bonus. Reports from North Korea say that many workers kept them and re-sold them or exchanged them for other goods.

So much do the North Korean authorities dislike the propaganda balloons with their goodies from the South that they have threatened to shell launch sites, and two weeks ago North Korean soldiers fired at the balloons, prompting an exchange of fire when the South returned the shots.

Still of poster mocking Kim Jong-unDefectors released a poster saying Kim Jong-un “turns aid into rockets, not food”

Of course, it is not just the Choco Pies which are offensive to the North Korean regime.

The balloons also carry insulting leaflets which depict Kim Jong-un as a cartoonish, overweight despot. They have slogans saying that he has used aid meant for food to build rockets instead.

But it is the goods from the South which may be more effective in toppling the regime.

Prof Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul told the BBC that he thought the treats had huge propaganda value: “Choco Pies are actually the best thing to send.”

“When North Koreans see high-quality consumer goods produced overseas, they begin to understand that their economic system doesn’t really deliver.”

“We saw it in Eastern Europe. Communism in Eastern Europe wasn’t destroyed by the dream of freedom but by the sight of a Western supermarket. And I don’t see why North Korea should be any different”.

Prof Lankov is the authority on this subject because he was educated in the Soviet Union and then studied in North Korea before ending up in Seoul.

He thinks leaflets have a minimal effect because they are usually picked up in the North by hardly any people. They are also mistrusted because they come from the source of hostile propaganda.

“Broadcast is better, and digital stuff which can be smuggled in.”

“North Korea is a poor country but not as poor as most people imagine, and now many North Koreans have access to computers – there’s no internet connection but there are a lot of unconnected computers in the country. So scanning books, entire libraries is a good idea.”

He wants the provocative balloons to continue even though he says the effect of the leafleting is minimal.

“Balloons should continue exactly because the North Korean side gets so annoyed. It’s quite important not to give in to North Korean political demands because one concession will make another concession unavoidable. ”

“Because the North Korean side is so demanding, it makes sense to hold fast, just to show them a bit of firmness, to show them that they are not going to order other people around as they please.”

But that is not a universal view in South Korea. There are often counter-protesters at balloon launches. These opponents are not people who approve of the regime in the North.

Rather, they say that: one, provoking a nuclear state is not a safe way of conducting oneself, and two, that the aim is to re-unify Korea and that ultimately means talking to the leadership in Pyongyang.

The counter-demonstrators object to the way the balloon launchers dress, in military style uniforms with wrap-around sunglasses.

As one objector to the balloons put it to the BBC: “The North Korean defectors organise themselves almost like a military. You see the uniforms and hats and boots, and sending those leaflets saying that the North Korean leaders are evil people.”

But aren’t they evil? “I don’t want to make a value judgement about that”, replied the anti-balloon protester.

“If you want peace, you should respect each other with the ultimate goal of peace-making. If you want to start a war, then you can criticise North Korean leaders in a bad manner.”

Still of North Koreans eating Choco PieChoco Pies are said to be prized in the North and have become a form of currency

This debate is reminiscent of the debate which took place in the West before communism in Europe collapsed.

The argument then was between those who thought “standing up to Russia” was the way to win and those who wanted concessions via what became known in Germany as Ostpolitik.

There are parallels between the Korean situation and the German situation: they are both divided peoples keen to be reunited, keen for families to be reunited.

In Germany, there were also balloons carrying goods sent over the wall – they were called “mauerseglers” (wall sailors).

Many Germans believe that what brought down communism in East Germany was the pervasiveness of West German television on the other side of the wall – East Germans could see the living standards of the West every night on a screen in their living rooms.

Ideology and vague notions of freedom may be less powerful than the ultra-sweet, ultra-gooey Choco Pie.

SKY-Probe ceases trading


The small flight computer manufacturer of California, USA, seems to have ceased trading. We have featured the sky-probe flight computer and were very impressed by it’s performance. But it’s web site has gone off line, emails are being returned and it’s facebook page has gone. We think it has ceased trading but if anyone has anything more concrete then we would really like to know.