SPOT service outage


For those who use SPOT trackers to recover their balloon payload, you should be aware of the latest press release from the company. SPOT, in a press release issued late last week,  said that they are improving their ‘service connectivity and service quality’. This will lead to lost location reports from the trackers between January 29th through March 19th. SPOT were very ambiguous as to how the service would improve so we will try and get some figures on this.

Boscombe down Balloon Challenge winners announced

The Boscombe Down Balloon challenge competiti0n, sponsored by RAeS, Cameron Balloons, QinetiQ, and us has finished and the prizes have been announced. Rod, from RAeS issued the following statement:

You may be interested to know that we have a result from the Boscombe Down Balloon Challenge:  Epsom College win 3 x £1000 prizes for greatest altitude, greatest distance, and greatest endurance.  Ryde School with Upper Chine (Isle of Wight) win the Chris Hillcox HAB Supplies prize for a commendable flight achievement that did not qualify for any of the 3 main prizes.


I am very pleased to report that this result is not only the technically correct outcome, but also that it entirely reflects natural justice.  Epsom college put in a Herculean effort, launching 6 flights in all (with a seventh in reserve for the evening of 31 Dec).  The students who built the balloon payloads were genuinely inspired and proactively led by two very enthusiastic teachers who engaged with our competition in a most positive way.  From the outset, their appetite for the Balloon Challenge and their determination to win it, was palpable.  Yet, despite being fiercely competitive, this team was totally committed to playing strictly by the rules in everything they did.  More than this, they respected a UK HAS advisory launch embargo when weather conditions would have carried their balloons into airport traffic zones (so as not to bring the Balloon Challenge into disrepute); and have offered to help other schools with HAB-based STEM projects in the future.


Ryde School with Upper Chine was also an enthusiastic competitor, but here the team was very much student-led.  The Senior Science Technician was our staff point of contact.  The School was undoubtedly supportive of their Balloon Challenge entry, but did not provide the level of guidance and inspiration that we saw at Epsom.  The Ryde team did, however, plan their flights with full cognizance of NOTAM requirements; and with commendable attention to the engineering detail of optimal gassing – the trick being to put not too much gas into a balloon.  In the event, the Ryde balloon flew furthest and for the longest duration (by a large margin), but since the balloon itself was bigger than the maximum size permitted in the Challenge, this result did not count.  It was, nevertheless, a significant achievement in its own right.


These results will be fully recognised at Prize Day on 10 Feb.

HABHUB services down this weekend

The administrators for the HABHUB flight prediction and tracking service have issued a warning that the service will be offline this weekend. A message posted on the UKHAS message board read:
“As previously discussed we are moving the physical hosting of the Habhub servers this coming weekend.The existing data center is being decommissioned so we are moving to a shiny new one with better power.

All Habhub services will be affected (tracker, predictors and the Wiki)

Downtime is expected to start at 0900 GMT on Saturday the 7th of January 2017. Services should be back up by midday subject to any unexpected delays.

Please directly any queries to the #habhub IRC Channel on Freenode.



For those urgently needing flight forecast tools over the weekend then Southampton University Astra is still available.

Don’t forget animals when designing your high altitude balloon payload

During two high altitude balloon projects this autumn, I’ve been reminded of a little considered hazard to HAB: cows. During work for Phillip Morris and Nationwide I have had payloads land in fields with dairy cows. On both occasions the cows came over to examine the payload. On both occasions the cows were sufficiently interested in the payloads to roll them over, taste them, and urinate on them. The cows lost interest after some time, but not before then payloads were bitten into and licked. In future I will be mindful to factor this into payload design; ensuring that there is nothing to harm and animal that may come into contact with the payloads.

Dear Santa …. From a high altitude balloon enthusiast

After Guy Forkes night or Thanks Giving, it is traditional to turn ones attention to Christmas and what gifts you would like to receive or give. Here are some gifts we suggest for the high altitude balloonist in your life.

For a small budget


£45 Tractive is a subscription based, sim free, GSM locator produced by an Austrian company. The small, lightweight unit (35g) uses the mobile phone network to transmit it’s location to a web based mapping system that can be accessed through your mobile phone.  We have been testing tractive this year and have found that it’s performance is as good as premium sim based GSM locators such as Cattrack live, and much better than economy GSM locators such as the TK102. Tractive’s battery life out performs the Cattrack and offers a simple to activate registration/cancellation service (£3.50 per month) so you can run the Tractive in the summer, when you are operating your balloons, and cancel it in the winter when you are not flying. This is far more cost effective than a range of other subscription based gsm locators with annual subscription terms of service.


For a large budget


£340 360Fly. This year has seen many high altitude balloonists try their hand at capturing 360 video footage of their balloon flights. The most popular camera to do this is the 360 FLY camera. The 360 Fly camera comes in two variants, the 4K model and the HD model. Unlike some of it’s predecessors, 360Fly has a continuous video recording function, essential with balloon flights, capacity to take large capacity memory cards, and a battery with sufficient capacity to  allow 100 minutes of video recording. This is sufficient to record up to apogee on many balloon flights. The camera is also robust enough to not require additional insulation. There are some down sides to the camera. Many users have reported the centre of the lens cover fogging up, with is to be expected if the lens cover is sealed on to the camera case. Also the camera lens sits on top of the moulded plastic case, obscuring this area within the lens field of view. You will also need a high spec computer to edit the video produced by the camera.




Doongara is a reusable self-contained thermal line cutter that severs the synthetic line connecting balloon and payload. It is typically flown in a tandem balloon configuration and separates one or both balloons at specific points during flight. Doongara is powered from a single AA battery and cuts line based off of user-programmable settings: elapsed time, barometric pressure, and/or rate of pressure change. Features include:


Integrated sensors with on-board data storage:

Barometric Pressure, Temperature

Redundant burn-wires

Battery heater

Duration >3 hrs

Light-weight at less than 40g, including battery


Whatever you buy for the HAB enthusiast in your life, happy Christmas!

The British CAA implement rule changes on high altitude balloon payload sizes

A new Air Navigation Order (ANO – CAP393) came into force on 25th August. This consolidation sets out the provisions of Implementing Regulation (EU) 923/2012 (the Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA)), the European Aviation Safety Agency’s supporting Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material, specific articles of the Air Navigation Order,  The Rules of the Air Regulations and supporting guidance prepared by the Civil Aviation Authority.  It also contains General Exemptions and General Permissions made against SERA and the Rules of the Air Regulations. The details can be found at:

The full document is here:caa

In brief, users are finding that payloads over 2000gm are subject to greater restrictions from the CAA.

Exert from page 88


APPENDIX 2 UNMANNED FREE BALLOONS 1. CLASSIFICATION OF UNMANNED FREE BALLOONS 1.1. Unmanned free balloons shall be classified as (see Figure AP3-1): (a) light: an unmanned free balloon which carries a payload of one or more packages with a combined mass of less than 4 kg, unless qualifying as a heavy balloon in accordance with c) 2), 3) or 4); or (b) medium: an unmanned free balloon which carries a payload of two or more packages with a combined mass of 4 kg or more, but less than 6 kg, unless qualifying as a heavy balloon in accordance with c) 2), 3) or 4) below; or (c) heavy: an unmanned free balloon which carries a payload which: (1) has a combined mass of 6 kg or more; or (2) includes a package of 3 kg or more; or (3) includes a package of 2 kg or more with an area density of more than 13 g per square centimetre, determined by dividing the total mass in grams of the payload package by the area in square centimetres of its smallest surface; or (4) uses a rope or other device for suspension of the payload that requires an impact force of 230 N or more to separate the suspended payload from the balloon. 2. GENERAL OPERATING RULES 2.1. An unmanned free balloon shall not be operated without authorisation from the State from which the launch is made. 2.2. An unmanned free balloon, other than a light balloon used exclusively for meteorological purposes and operated in the manner prescribed by the competent authority, shall not be operated across the territory of another State without authorisation from the other State concerned. 2.3. The authorisation referred to in 2.2 shall be obtained prior to the launching of the balloon if there is reasonable expectation, when planning the operation, that the balloon may drift into airspace over the territory of another State. Such authorisation may be obtained for a series of balloon flights or for a particular type of recurring flight, e.g. atmospheric research balloon flights. 2.4. An unmanned free balloon shall be operated in accordance with conditions specified by the State of Registry and the State(s) expected to be overflown. 2.5. An unmanned free balloon shall not be operated in such a manner that impact of the balloon, or any part thereof, including its payload, with the surface of the earth, creates a hazard to persons or property. 2.6. A heavy unmanned free balloon shall not be operated over the high seas without prior coordination with the ANSP(s).
Implementation of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 of 26 September 2012 (Standardised European Rules of the Air) in the United Kingdom

Implementation of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 of 26 September 2012 (Standardised European Rules of the Air) in the United Kingdom  Page 89 of 99