Warminster astronomy club brought back to Earth with a bang after equipment stolen during weather balloon expedition

Source: http://www.thisiswiltshire.co.uk/news/13587707.Warminster_astronomy_club_brought_back_to_Earth_with_a_bang_after_equipment_stolen_during_weather_balloon_expedition/

MEMBERS of a Warminster astronomy club have been left devastated after parts of a weather balloon which they launched to the edge of space were damaged and stolen by thieves when it landed in Guildford.

The GoPro camera and its SD card, which had captured footage from the out of this world flight, was stolen from its polystyrene casing soon after the balloon landed with costs to replace and repair parts expected to exceed £800.
Organiser of the launch and chairman of StarQuest Astronomy Club, Pete Lee, said: “It landed in a school playing field in Guildford and we noticed that it had been moved to the side and we thought that maybe a match was going on and it was in the way.

“It took us about 20 minutes to get to the school from Farnham where we thought it was going to land, but we went around the back and there it was smashed open.
“You could see the boot imprints in it from where someone had kicked it open. I was with my son and daughter and we were all just totally and utterly gutted.

“We’d spent months planning for it and it just made the rest of it seem like a waste of time.”

After getting permission from the Civil Aviation Authority and sponsorship from local companies Olive Training and Case European Channel Sales over several months, the ill-fated launch took place at the start of the month from Warminster with the balloon travelling more than 80 miles in its two hour and 15 minute journey.


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During that time, data from a black box found that the weather balloon reached an altitude of 80,000ft and that the temperature outside plummeted to -50C.

Mr Lee added: “Everything was being put on the SD card which was the most valuable bit and so we’ve got no pictures. I think everyone is gutted.

“We’ve told the police and we feel that the school has got CCTV so hopefully it captured who did this but even if we do find them they might have wiped the SD card.

“It hasn’t put us off doing it again though, my son wants to have another go. We’ve got to get some pictures from up there.”

NASA launches next-generation scientific balloon

Source  http://www.nature.com/news/nasa-launches-next-generation-scientific-balloon-1.16642

NASA has launched its most ambitious scientific balloon ever. On 28 December at 21:16 London time, technicians inflated and released a 532,000-cubic-metre aerostatic balloon from near McMurdo Station in Antarctica. It is the biggest test yet of a ‘super-pressure’ design that enables a helium balloon to stay aloft much longer than conventional balloons.

If all continues smoothly, experts expect the flight to last for 100 days or longer. The current record for the longest NASA scientific ballooning flight is 55 days, using a traditional balloon. The record for a super-pressure balloon is just a day shorter, at 54 days.

More time aloft equals more science. The super-pressure balloon is carrying a γ-ray telescope to hunt for high-energy photons streaming from the cosmos. Known as the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI), it can detect where in the sky the rays are coming from, and thus begin to unravel various astronomical mysteries.

COSI is the first science payload designed from scratch to take advantage of NASA’s super-pressure technology, says team leader Steven Boggs, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley. Its predecessors used liquid nitrogen to cool themselves, but nitrogen runs out in less than 10 days. COSI carries a mechanical cooler so has nothing to run out of.

COSI collaboration/NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility

The balloon, flanked by a rainbow, as it ascended the Antarctic sky.

The imager stares upwards and gathers data through the body of the balloon above it, which is transparent to the γ-ray energies it studies. It can scan about half of the sky overhead during the course of a day.

One of its main goals is to measure the polarization of γ rays streaming from γ-ray bursts, black holes, pulsars and other cosmic phenomena. The longer it flies, the more data it will be able to gather. “The long flight time is key for this study,” says Boggs.

NASA has been pushing to expand its balloon programme as a way to get payloads above most of Earth’s atmosphere without the expense of a satellite launch.

Conventional helium balloons shrink at night, because the pressure of the gas inside them decreases as the temperature cools. The reduced volume makes the balloons lose buoyancy, and therefore altitude. The balloons regain some of that altitude during the heat of the day, but the constant fluctuations up and down make it harder to gather clean data. Actively adjusting for the fluctuations requires releasing gas and dropping of ballast, both of which limit the duration of the flight.

By contrast, super-pressure balloons have embedded ropes that keep their volume roughly constant, helping them to maintain altitude in a passive manner. “It gives you a stable altitude when the Sun goes away,” says Debora Fairbrother, head of NASA’s balloon-programme office at the Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

NASA tested its 532,000-cubic metre super-pressure balloon in Kiruna, Sweden, in 2012, but the latest launch is the first to carry major science instruments. The balloon is carrying a payload of 2,300 kilograms to an altitude of about 33.5 kilometres.

Because of the predicted length of the flight, the agency had to get permission from countries such as New Zealand in case the balloon drifts into their airspace, Fairbrother says. Conventional balloon flights that last only a few weeks generally make a circuit or two around Antarctica, blown by the circumpolar winds. If COSI goes as long as expected, it could leave the continent and move northwards.

From there, it is a matter of watching and waiting and then bringing the balloon and its payload down on a landmass where NASA can recover the telescope. “If we have to terminate over water, it’s lost,” Fairbrother says. (The 54-day record for a super-pressure balloon flight could have been longer had NASA not had to bring the balloon down over land because it did not have permission for it to leave the continent.)

The COSI team has already seen its share of ballooning heartbreak. In 2010, during a conventional-balloon launch in Alice Springs, Australia, the instrument that was COSI’s predecessor was lost when the balloon failed to release from the deployment mechanism. The 28 December launch was also delayed a year because of a US government shutdown in October 2013, which cancelled much of the Antarctic research season.

UPDATE: NASA brought the super-pressure balloon down two days after launch because of a leak. The balloon landed on the Antarctic ice about 560 kilometres from McMurdo Station. Researchers intend to travel to the landing site to recover the γ-ray telescope and the data it collected while aloft.

UK NanoSat Weekend

The Catapult PocketQubeWould you like to build your own satellite?

Would you like to do that in a single weekend…and fly it too?

The Satellite Applications Catapult has developed a build-your-own satellite kit. Over the course of a weekend you will assemble, test and program your own satellite, your results will then be tested by flying the kits on a weather balloon!

The free event takes place the weekend of Sep 26-27, 2015 at the Satellite Applications Catapult, Electron Building, Fermi Avenue, Harwell, Didcot, Oxford, OX11 0QR.

The NanoSat design includes some basic sensors: temperature, light, orientation. Satellite Applications Catapult are also providing a basic camera for image capture. This is your chance to get hands-on with the code to operate these devices that will give you the experience of working with modern embedded systems.

By the end of the weekend, you will have an understanding of the principles of how a typical satellite works; from the basic avionics systems to the operation of an on-orbit instrument.

Participants should be familiar with basic programming skills in C, ideally on the Arduino platform. If you’ve ever wired up a simple experiment or experimented with Arduinos, Raspberry Pis or mbeds, you’ll be fine.

Registration requires you to submit a team of four. Individuals can also register, but you’ll be entered into a team on the day.

Registration and FAQ at https://sa.catapult.org.uk/nanosat-weekend
also see https://sa.catapult.org.uk/-/nanosat-weekend

Project SPEED from California Near Space Project

They clever guys at California Near Space Project, known for their successful trans Atlantic crossings, are currently developing super pressure balloons to aid large payload long distance HAB flights.

SPEED stands for Super Pressure Evolution Efficiency Design. CNSP say on their web site, “The primary goal of the SPEED Project is to create successful Super Pressure Balloons. The evolution of efficiency and design with a Super Pressure Balloon requires extensive testing of candidate films including, tensile strength, film weight, gas permeation, seaming techniques, solar heating and geometric design. The project leader of SPEED is Lee Meadows; he has designed and built several custom Super Pressure Balloons. Most recently, flight # CNSP-21 that circumnavigated the world. CNSP will continue to refine the techniques used in our SPEED Project to push the evolution of efficiency and design in the Super Pressure Balloons we build. “

So far this year CNSP have done 6 super pressure balloon flight.

US Hackers launch large solar tetrahedron balloon

Source http://quelab.net/blog/18721/solar-tetroon-launch/

Back in January of this year an American hack group, Quelab, from Albuquerque inadvertently launched a self built solar balloon in the shape of a tetrahedron. The Quelab blog picks up the story.

On Sunday morning in January 2015, a member’s project finally took flight from Quelab, and caused a bit of a stir. Gonner was test-flying his solar balloon, and it managed to get away from him. The tetrahedral contraption (known as a Tetroon) broke free and floated free in the skies above Albuquerque, prompting local residents and a news-team to call the United States Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. KOAT-7 (ABC) came by to interview the creator, and put the story on the 5pm and 10pm news on 18 January.

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Source: Quelab Flickr-Cam
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Gonner’s Tetroon project was inspired by a seeing a black tetroon flying through the New Mexico skies back in the mid-seventies. He constructed it as a thin-plastic shell in a tetrahedron configuration (a shape made from four triangles), and the lift is provided by solar heating of the air inside the balloon.

His two previous balloon-constructions proved to be too heavy and/or too small to fly, and even this envelope had its problems. Previous attempts to inflate and fly the balloon had only managed a flying-height of about 14 feet, and a lot of that was lift caused by the wind. This attempt was to see if he could get continuous lift if he started with colder ambient air. Side note: this is why most conventional propane driven hot-air balloons launch in the very early morning, to take advantage of the cold air. The last few tests indicates that solar does not work as well in the very early morning, so the test didn’t start in earnest until about 11:30am.

This design was roughly 20′ on a side,  with a clear plastic top to allow for both side wall heating and greenhouse style heating.    It was made with very thin 5mil plastic sheeting  and a sewing machine.

The plan was to reel it up with a GPS-enabled cell phone attached which would function as a sensor package to determine altitude and to take photos from the air. Unfortunately, the tetroon jumped the leash and got away. The attached GPS stopped responding about an hour later as the balloon had headed off out of town, so recovery is not expected. The payload phone does have a card with our name and address on it, so if you find the Tetroon, please get in touch! Talking with the maker, he is going to be more careful with any future tests, as this was more of an adventure that had been planned.

Iridium trackers are getting smaller and smaller

The go to tracker for may HAB flights is the SPOT family of trackers; not only because of it’s low cost to operate but also because of it’s small size. In the past Iridium based satellite messengers and trackers have been large and heavy. For example, the 1st generation inReach tracker is 3 times as heavy as SPOT Messengers.

With the availability of the Gsat Micro, from Gsat, size is no longer an issue.

The GSatMicro is smallest self-contained Iridium tracker in the world. It transmits positions, SOS alerts and other specialized information through its industry-leading satellite antenna and electronics technology to be monitored and analyzed in real time.

The Gsat Micro is small with it’s external dimensions of 45mm x 45mm x 34mm. It weighs a mere 127 which makes it just slightly heavier than the SPOT Messenger.

The one thing that is large is the price tag though, coming in at $999; 9 times more expensive than the SPOT Gen 3. For now then SPOTs will still be the ‘go to’ tracker for HAB operators wanting to use satellite messengers but it is now clear that Iridium devices can be small enough to consider using.