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.

DSC_6978.JPG DSC_6982.JPG DSC_6989.JPG DSC_6994.JPG
Source: Quelab Flickr-Cam
P1180148 P1180168 P1180155 P1180167

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.

Will 2015 be Britain’s windiest year in two decades?

Source : Will 2015 be Britain’s windiest year in two decades? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/weather/11766178/Will-2015-be-Britains-windiest-year-in-two-decades.html

There have been just eight calm days this year in Britain because of more low pressure systems

Walkers struggle against the wind and rain

Windy weather has been more common than usual this year Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

With gales battering the country it may come as no surprise to learn that 2015 is on course to be the windiest year that Britain has experienced for two decades.

The Met Office said that the traditional calmer months of summer have been dominated by low pressure systems which have brought blustery conditions to most of the UK.

Just eight days this year have been officially ‘calm’ which is defined when at least 20 British weather stations record maximum gusts of 11mph or less.

Fewer than 22 calm days over the whole year would make 2015 the windiest year since 1995.

Although it is only July and there’s still another five months to pass, crucially none of these days have fallen in May, June or so far July – months that would usually notch up a few calm “Calm days are typically associated with areas of high pressure, which normally bring dry, settled conditions during summer and cold, frosty conditions in winter – but common to both seasons often light winds,” said Mike Kendon, climate information scientist at the Met Office. days. And the year is now moving towards a seaonally more windy period.

“Areas of high pressure tend to block the prevailing westerly airflow across the UK. However, the variability of our climate means that some years see more days of high pressure, others see fewer such days,” he added.

Sea level pressure for the six months of the year has been lower-than-normal to north of Scotland but higher-than-normal to the southwest, resulting in a westerly airflow over the UK – and that has resulted in windier weather.

On Sunday the Met Office issued a weather warning for “unseasonably strong winds” in coastal areas that threaten to disrupt holidaymakers’ outdoor activities and cause hazardous driving conditions early in the week.

Forecasters warned gusts might exceed 50mph along the north coasts of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, and also Bristol Channel coasts of south Wales.

It comes after wet weather swept in from the Atlantic on Sunday, bringing widespread heavy downpours and a washout end to the weekend, following a brief respite to the soggy summer on Saturday, when most of the country enjoyed dry conditions.

Provisional rainfall statistics for July 2015 so far suggest that with 5 days of the month remaining much of the country has already received close to or above average rainfall for the month – but we’re some way off breaking the records for each country.

The highest wind gusts ever recorded in the UK was 142mph in 1989 in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire.

How have your UK HAB flights been effected by the strong winds?

Global Space Balloon Challenge winners announced

Back in April, the second GSBC competition was run, in conjunction with Google. The winners have finally been announced and show off some great high altitude balloon projects. Here are the results.

Category: Highest Altitude

1st Place with 42895m: Random Aerospace of the UK
Prize: Team Names and individual names will be laser-etched on a Planet Labs satellite before its launch to space

Category: Best Photograph

1st Place: NearSpaceBallooning of the US
Prize: Pi In the Sky Tracker from HAB Supplies

2nd Place: Project Ikarus of Switzerland
Prize: 2 300g balloons from SSTL and a 1m parachute from High Altitude Science

3rd place: LKN Sky 2&3 of Poland
Prize: 1 300g balloon from SSTL and a 1m parachute from High Altitude Science

Category: Best Science Experiment

1st Place: JADE of Poland
Prize: Byonic GPS module, 2 800g balloons and 1 500g balloon from SSTL, and 2 72” parachutes from Sperachutes

2nd Place: IRBE-1 of Latvia
Prize: 1 350g balloon and a 1m parachute from High Altitude Science

Category: Best Design

1st place: Borealis of the US
Prize: 1 Eagle Flight Computer and a 1m parachute from High Altitude Science, 2 600g and 1 300g balloons from SSTL, 1 Arduino, 1 52” parachute from Sperachutes

2nd place: Stratocaching of the Czech Republic
Prize: 2 350g balloons and a 1m parachute from High Altitude Science

Category: Best Space Technology Demonstration sponsored by the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space

1st place: MONSTER of Russia
Prize: $500 and 4 platinum tickets to either New Space 2016 or Satellite 2016

Category: Longest Ground Track

1st place: RandomRace of Russia
Prize: Team Names and individual names will be laser-etched on a Planet Labs satellite before its launch to space

Category: Best Video

1st place: Lovett Makers Club of the US
Prize: 1 Eagle Flight Computer from High Altitude Science, 3 Arduinos, and 1 500g and 2 300g balloons from SSTL

Category: Most Charitable Team

1st place: MIT Space Balloon Team of the US
Prize: Phoenix Tracker from Titan Aerosolutions, 2 Arduinos

Category: Most Helpful Team

1st place: Team SHARP of Canada
Prize: 5 education electronics boards from Ti, 1 inflator, 3 350g balloons, and 3 1m parachutes from High Altitude Science

Category: Most Educational Initiative

1st Place: Museum of the Coastal Bend of the US
Prizes: HAB kit (includes inflator, eagle flight computer, 1200g balloon, spot GPS, payload frame, parachute, and HAB manual) and 1 350g balloon from High altitude science, 5 education electronics boards from TI

2nd Place: Team ACES of the US
Prize: 5 education electronics boards from TI, 2 350g balloons and a 1m parachute from High Altitude Science

3rd place: Blessed Sacrament School of the US
Prize: 5 education electronics boards from TI, 1 350g balloons and a 1m parachute from High Altitude Science

Find full details, including the reports submitted from all the teams on the website here: http://balloonchallenge.org/winners . 127 teams flew from 27 countries including including Japan, South Africa, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Egypt, Peru, Israel, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Spain, Russia, Malaysia, Oman, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Nigeria, Colombia, Norway, Slovenia, Ecuador, and the United States.

SPOT – Globalstar tracking system ‘open to attack’

The Global star satellite constellation underpins the SPOT messenger Satellite messenger system so this article is of interest to all of you who use SPOT trackers for your high altitude balloon flights.

Source http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-33731185

Globalstar satellite
Globalstar uses low earth orbit satellites to help track vehicles and assets

A widely used location-tracking system can be intercepted or fooled with fake data, claims a security researcher.

Many firms use Globalstar’s satellite-based system to keep an eye on trucks, cars, containers and ships as they move around.

However, said Colby Moore from security firm Synack, the way it passes data around is “fundamentally broken” making it vulnerable to attack.

Globalstar has not yet issued any comment on Mr Moore’s findings.

Car trouble

Mr Moore said the problems with Globalstar’s network arise because it does not encrypt the data passing between devices and satellites. Instead, he said, the system attempts to conceal what it does by changing frequencies and padding transmissions with useless data.

The system also does not check that data was coming from where it claimed, he said.

“I ended up figuring out how to decode the data in transit,” Mr Moore told Reuters, adding that it might prove hard to fix the flaws as existing hardware was not easy to update.

Globalstar has been told about the flaws, he added, but so far has not issued any updates or fixes.

Attackers can easily find out these flaws, he said, making it easy to spoof data or keep an eye on assets being tracked. Organised crime gangs, police and intelligence agencies might already be listening in, he said.

Mr Moore is planning to release more details about his work at the Black Hat hacker conference in Las Vegas next week. This month has seen the early release of other investigations into the security of cars and Android phones that will also feature at Black Hat.