Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere – Croatia

Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere to Launch in Croatia in April

Jason and I are headed to oversee the launch of this flight in Croatia. It will be in the NSW School Holidays.

This is from the Team Stellar blogsite. The original link is here:

You really need to read this and other stories on the Team Stellar Blog:

Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere is our first serious educational program. That is why we have invested so much enthusiasm in its development. After a few months of preparations, uncountable work hours, eight creative workshops with over 130 participants, and many miles on the road, it finally starts. You can learn more about Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere competition here.

Group photo after the workshop in Metković, Croatia

Following the example of Google Lunar XPRIZE, we decided to offer a cash prizes to the most successful teams. We announced our competition everywhere and in every possible way.

We gave them an opportunity, and also the motivation.

We have prepared a special micro-site for the competition, we held a press conference, we were guests on TV on several occasions, and we were interviewed for the newspapers. Our social media pages and channels were constantly buzzing on the subject.

And now, all of our hopes have finally come true.  We have 21 teams in the competition! It is a great number of the teams, if you know that Croatia has the population of less than 4.5 mil. inhabitants.

We are more than happy with that number, but we are also very happy with the ideas for the experiments from high school teams.

You will hear more about the students’ experiments latter, but, in this post, I want to say something about creative workshops we have organized for the interested students.

The physicist Bojan Markičević, educational expert and communicator of science, was just the right person to conduct these workshops. Bojan has ten years of international experience in educational activities. He has a somewhat unconventional approach to knowledge transfer in relation to the classical education, especially in Croatia.

Bojan Markičević

Bojan traveled for over 2500 kilometers in just two weeks, in order to reach all of the teams (high school students) and encourage them to enter the competition.

He did not want to impose some ideas for the experiments or tell them what and how to do  them. The main goal of his creative workshops was to awaken their interest in science, and to prepare them for teamwork. Bojan has developed a series of activities for the 4-hour workshops which are interesting, refreshing and mind opening.

One of the activities during the creative workshop

He wants to include all of the participants in the conversation  to freely express their minds and to defend their opinions in a discussions, without any fear and reservations.

After the workshop, Bojan usually asks students to evaluate the workshop. They write their opinions about the workshop on the coloured papers, and stick them to the panel.


The high school students’ messages are clear, they find the workshops interesting, challenging, and they think that it helped them a lot to find a new perspective on the world around them. We are also hoping that Bojan`s workshops helped them learn the most important thing in science: how to ask the right question. When you learn how to formulate your question, only then you can conduct an experiment and find the right answer. Asking questions and finding answers, science is all about that.

Two days ago, we have published the names of the teams which entered the competition, and we wish all of them the best luck. Our balloons will fly the high school experiments this spring. Stay tuned.

Record Balloon (HAB) Attempt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAustralian or International Record High Altitude Balloon (HAB) Attempt?

It seems that some HAB friends along with my son Jason and I are going to attempt a Balloon (HAB) record. It may be an Australian record or an International record. The only question remaining is how we will do the attempt. It is a serious question and looks like it will be either a self funded exercise or one of good timing. As many of you know, Jason and I assist with commercial launches through my company, PlusComms. Several customers in the very near future will be  making flights using zero pressure balloons. These are amazing balloons that do not burst like weather balloons. They simply are huge envelopes that expand to their maximum size and any excess gas vents from the bottom of the envelope. They often look under-filled when the are launched and then as they ascend and the gases expand, the balloon fills to capacity. Right: is a small Zero Pressure Balloon from Raven Industries in the US. Alternately we can use a 3kg weather balloon. The record may be altitude, distance or both.

So we have 2 options:

  • A 3Kg weather balloon
  • Hitching a ride on a Zero Pressure balloon

3Kg Weather Balloon.

UpLift-1 ready to launch with help from the locals at Rankins SpringsThese are the domain of amateur balloon enthusiasts. Smaller balloons are affordable as are parachutes and trackers. By the time you travel to a good launch site, the exercise may cost US$500. These balloons are like standard party balloons. They are sealed envelopes and they expand until they explode. That is UpLift-1; our first flight: pictured on the right. 3Kg is the weight of the balloon alone. UpLift-1 carried a 500 gram payload (1 pound) and the balloon and parachute cost me US$75

By under-filling a 3kg balloon for a slow rise and making the payload a simple tracker, we would expect over 40km altitude. By using Hydrogen, we would get a lot higher. The cost of the balloon alone with shipping is over US$500. Our attempt would cost close to US$900 when we factor petrol, balloon gas and accommodation. Possible maximum altitude would be close to 45km or nearly half the way to space (100km by most definitions). At some stage the balloon would explode and the flight would terminate. We would not recover the tracker unless it fell into a very accessible place. It would either explode or float without exploding. Either way the balloon would soon explode within 24 to 48 hours as the strong UV destroys the Latex material.

I buy my balloons from a UK seller:

Balloon Sales:

Zero Pressure Balloon

This is a serious high altitude balloon. A small one weighs nearly 20kg (41 pounds) and will reach 135,000 feet / 41km with a 7kg payload. One is pictured top right. What we are planning (if we get permission from one of the customers) is to cut away the paying payload and continue the flight with a smaller amateur payload designed to do two things:

  • Rise further without a payload to over 45km
  • Stay aloft for many days or weeks traveling around the world

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9The secondary payload would have a communications package with a satellite modem to get back reports on the half hour and as requested. It will also be able to terminate the balloon envelope by command if required. During the night time, the balloon descends as the air cools. If the gas levels are low (leakage over time) it may descend into controlled airspace and it will need to be terminated. We will use solar power and rechargeable batteries and it will engage with local HAM radio operators with UHF RTTY capability and a frequency agile APRS transmitter. This is because there are different frequencies used for APRS in different countries. We may also have slow scan images from the balloon sent via RTTY packets. The images are broken up into 60 to 70 packets and sent with sequential RTTY transmissions. If sent back to the server, these are assembled back into an image. Any missing packets are left as grey or coloured bands. That is the example on the right with two missing packets. This was from a recent HAB flight conducted by my good friend Andy from Melbourne. Jason and I helped with both the launch and recovery.

With hydrogen, we may approach or exceed the 50kg mark and may exceed the maximum altitude of any object in the world other than rockets passing through the atmosphere.  The world record for HAB flights is 53km. We are now designing and building the equipment for flight. We are looking forward to flying with one or both of these missions.

As the customers may have unusual schedules or issues with secondary payloads, we may need to raise some funding through Kickstarter or similar to make this a reality. Minimum funding needed is US$15K.



Jet Stream Snapshot

Australian Jet StreamFind out what the Jet Stream is Doing.

If you are launching a High Altitude Balloon (HAB), it will be in the Jet Stream for a significant time during its flight. You had better know what the jet stream is doing. Predictions are good, but reality is the key. I have found a site that is perfect for this and the method of display is excellent.

Thanks to HAB enthusiast, Andy from Melbourne, for the link. In fact he launched a pico balloon flight (uses a foil balloon) that never got higher than 7,000m because he saw that the jet stream was running north from Melbourne. Before its transmitter battery failed or it ran out of range of the last tracking station it was nearing Bourke in NSW. Not bad for a foil balloon. That is nearly 1,000 kms. Below is a link to the Australian map for the jet stream.

The website is:

Below is the track of Andy’s Pico Balloon flight. There is a small chance that the battery is not flat and it may get picked up by a remote APRS station – HAM radio tracking station. If it gets seen again, we will let you know.

Andy Pico flight 20140217

You can clearly see from the Jet Stream map, that the flight was easily predicted visually.

Other countries will also have their Jet Stream maps – maybe on aviation websites. Search and you may be rewarded with a real tool. You will find many here:




Central America:

Southern America:


Stellar Balloon Mission Gaining Momentum

UpLift-1 Securing the neck and the payloadStellar Balloon – Stratosphere

This is the background detail on the Team Stellar High Altitude Balloon mission that Jason and I are flying to Croatia to assist. The article below is from the Team Stellar website:

Team Stellar is developing a project competition “STELLAR BALLOON – STRATOSPHERE”, open to teams from all interested high schools throughout Croatia.

Team Stellar will launch a science balloon into the stratosphere, about 30 km above the Earth’s surface, to collect data for the purposes of diverse student-designed experiments of the competition participants.

Through this innovative project, high-school students are given the opportunity to work with scientists and engineers from Team Stellar and experience an authentic flight mission from the start to the finish firsthand, while learning practical math, science and engineering skills, among others.


Stellar Balloon flight to the stratosphere in Croatia• stimulate the students’ interest in science and technology

• challenge their imaginative thinking and creativity

• support educational needs of gifted children

• encourage inter-institutional cooperation

• develop teamwork skills

• create a “healthy” environment and interest to improve the educational system and free-time activities

• raise awareness about the natural phenomena and ecological values of the planet Earth


There is no limit to the number of teams that can apply and every high school in Croatia can participate.

In order to join the competition, the applicants must submit an official proposal containing all the necessary documentation, including a clear description of the experiment, scientific objectives, technical plan, team organization, etc. A wide variety of topics may be pursued, including science and weather observations, remote sensing and image processing, engineering demonstrations, electronics, robotics and communications, etc.

Team Stellar and the committee members will select the first 20-50 candidates to participate in the balloon launch.

The selection will be made based on the originality of the idea and the quality of the student-designed experiments.

The schools are responsible for the funding of their teams’ experiments. Team Stellar will provide the necessary resources for the balloon [payload] design.


Team Stellar will award the best three experiments.

Team Stellar will uplift the balloon [payload], track it, collect it upon landing, and return the payloads comprising of various experiments, planned by the students, to the participating teams for further analysis of the gathered data.

Each team is obligated to submit a final report, including the experiment description and the results, along with the entire work process within the team. All the participating high-school teams will have access to the complete results of the experiments.

HAB Data From a Recent Flight

DCIM100GOPROHAB Data from 37km Flight

Recently I published a story on a High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flight I help with for my friend Andy from Melbourne. I was asked about the data collected.

The flight data was only stored from transmissions from the Payloads on the balloon. The payload did not carry a recording device for such data. There were two sets of data returned. RTTY on UHF frequencies and HAM radio APRS. APRS relies, like RTTY, on a number of stations picking up the transmissions and sending the resulting data to the network for storage and display (maps) on a server via the Internet.

Simply this post is to display the data collected and help decode the data. I have not cleaned up the results. They are simply in Text and Word (Docx) format.

Andy Flight 20140208 Text File

Sorry about the formatting in the above file. I will try and fix that shortly, but it does not matter. The formatting is only in the legend for the data.

Andy Flight 20140208  Word File (docx)

This from the data file:

This is the breakdown of the raw HAM Radio APRS data strings. I have chosen the first line of APRS data as an example:

Server Date                             2014-02-08

Server Time                             00:43:06 UTC

Call-sign of the balloon:          VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7    (including the APRS data and call sign of the relay station if applicable)

Beacon TX time                       004300h (time of transmission from the payload)

Latitude and Longitude           3532.44S/14456.90E

Course                                    O052/    Note “O” + course in degrees “052”

Speed                                      000/   knots

Altitude                                     A=000314   feet above sea level

Packet number                        143  – starts at “1” with the first packet of data and increases with each packet.

After this point, the data strings are determined by the user / builder of the tracking unit and spaced by commas. This unit is configured with the following:

Number of satellites                   9

GPS lock (3D)                            3

Navigation Mode                        6     Will work over 60,000 feet

Not used                                    0.0,0.0,

Volts (mV) of Battery                  3296   Note, the battery voltage falls over time and with temperature. The voltage increases as the battery warms before landing

The first few APRS packets of data transmitted every 36 seconds by the tracker:

2014-02-08 00:43:06 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004300h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000314,143,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:43:42 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004336h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,144,10,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:44:18 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004412h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,145,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:44:54 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004448h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,146,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:45:30 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004524h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,147,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296  (launch)


Balloon flight Payload Recovered

High Altitude Balloon Success. Payload Recovered.Andy PS1 Preparing to fly

Jason and I went to Deniliquin NSW (Australia) to help a good friend, Andy from Melbourne, launch and recover a high altitude balloon / payload. I am part of Team Stellar going for the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP). I am in charge of Communications, Tracking and Data. Jason (11) is their Australian Student Representative. Jason and I have launched and recovered 16 payloads to date and assisted with others and we love High Altitude Balloons (HABs).

I brought my fellow Team Stellar member, Tim Blaxland and his son Rhys (9) along for the experience. Tim is Stellar’s chief of Navigation. The launch was at Deniliquin and we traveled part of the way there on Friday and the rest early on Saturday morning to be there for a 9:30 start. It was an 8 hour drive and we intended to do another 8 hours back later on Saturday after we recovered the payload.

Fellow HAB enthusiast Todd Hampson also traveled from Sydney in his own vehicle. it was great that we all arrived at the designated point in a timely fashion and started the final preparations for launch. Other than Tim and Reece, we all have Amateur Radio licenses and on this flight we would have 2m APRS tracking system. See earlier posts about APRS. In addition there was also RTTY on UHF. The RTTY system s available for non amateur radio hobbyists to use.

Andy had a video camera camera hooked up to a Raspberry Pi unit. Its job was to break up the video into smaller packets of data and send it along with the RTTY GPS information. The pictures are then sent to a server on the internet and the packets reassembled into a complete picture if all of the packets are received. The transmitter is very low powered and many people set up their equipment to help receive and download the images. Below is an image from the flight. The grey strips are missing packets that no one managed to receive successfully.

Note that at this time of the year, the wheat and other crops  have been harvested and the temperatures are in the 40C range at times. With little rain, the fields are a brown cover. The dark areas are either farms with crops still growing or trees around the rivers that flow through the region.

Andy PS1 flight Deniliquin NSW
















The photo is only from a low resolution camera but the payload also carried a GoPro that took photos. The top image is a small section from the flight camera while it was on the ground.

Here are the details that Andy distributed before the flight:

FYI, there will be a HAB launch from Deniliquin NSW this weekend, Sat 8th Feb 2014 at 11am EST.

 Payloads will be:
– SSDV RTTY 300baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 434.650Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW quarter-wave antenna
– APRS 1200b 145.175Mhz 100mW with dipole antenna
– Cutdown RTTY 100baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 432.220Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW downlink, quarter-wave antenna.
RTTY tracking will be on, callsigns PS and PSPI
SSDV images will be uploaded to, callsign PSPI
APRS tracking will be on, callsign VK3YT-11

The temperature was 42C / 108F for much of the day and UV protection was essential. Recovery was easy, so we did not have an issue with tracking through the forests looking for the payload.

The flight lasted around 2hrs 50mins, reached max altitude of 36,789m / 120,699ft / 22.9 miles  before the balloon burst and landed in a paddock.

The following images were transmitted whilst in flight:

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9 2014-02-08--01-43-42-PSPI-8CB2014-02-08--02-04-48-PSPI-8CC





























































The last image was taken close to maximum altitude.

GoPro3 images in the next post. Below, the flight path from left to right. The tropospheric winds (Jet Stream) where pushing the balloon to the eastand the stratospheric winds blew us west . When the balloon burst, the winds eventually took us east again as we passed through the Jetstream.

The Flight PS1 Map The Flight PS1 terrain


Live images from Balloon Flight

Balloon FligAndy Flight still images from balloonI-896ht Scheduled Jan 8th 2014

My friend Andy from Melbourne, Australia is launching a balloon tomorrow. It is expected that the balloon will be sending back live images from over 30km altitude. We will be launching from the NSW country town of Deniliquin at 10am EDST. That is 2300Z Jan 7th.

I will be there with Jason assisting as will a few other of the regulars.

Andy Writes:

Hi Robert,

 Here are some info for the launch:

– Payloads will include SSDV, APRS, RTTY and cutdown

– balloon tracking positions will be uploaded to

– SSDV images will be uploaded to

– Expected altitude is more than 33km

You can track the Balloon on APRS on  – I will send the callsign later as a comment on this page

Jason and i will be leaving about 1 hour after I post this story. You can track us on the APRS service with the callsign of  VK2URB-7 as we travel to Deniliquin. We will probably stop on the way at a motel!

Jason Delivers 18 Lectures in 3 Days

UpLift-16 AlburyScience Week at Albury, Australia 2013

I was delighted when the organisers of the Border Stargaze and Science Fair invited Jason and myself to deliver 18 x 30 minute talks over three days to both public school students and high school students. I threw Jason in the Deep end and told him, it was his job to deliver the talks. We were also asked to fly a small balloon with just a tracking payload. It was designated sequentially in our UpLift series as UpLift-16. We were not planning on recovering the tracker, but with our record of recovery, it seems that we were destined to even get this one returned to us. That was mentioned in an earlier post. See: Australians Applying to CASA for a HAB Flight More on that later.

Here is a bit about the event:

Border Stargaze and Science Fair

The event is open to all ages, the wider community, schools and amateur astronomers. The Border Stargaze has grown over the past 7 years and with it the annual Science Fair. It is event such as these that have inspired individuals, groups, schools, the community and universities in our region.

When: Monday, August 12 2013 till Sunday, September 8 2013. 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Where: Albury, NSW, 2640
What: Festival, Hands-on activity, Talk / Lecture
Theme: Energy and transport, Environment and nature, Health and medical, Space and astronomy, Innovation and technology
We drove down from Sydney – a solid 6 hour drive and of course we had to drive back after the event. They had offered to fly us there, but the amount of gear we needed even for the simplest balloon flight and props for the lectures was too much to fly to Albury. Jason Delivered 18 Lectures in 3 Days.
We left after School on Monday afternoon and got to Albury late Monday ready for the lectures the next morning. It was a great event and after a few talks with me assisting, Jason (11)  found his stride and he was delivering the talks like he had been doing them all his life. The subject was launching and recovering stratospheric balloons. We passed around the tools of the trade we use to get a high altitude balloon into the stratosphere. Balloons, parachutes, even the thin cord used to suspend the payload from the balloon and of course the GPS tracker.
On Thursday morning we got up before dawn on a very cold winters morning and headed out to the designated launch site. Although it was the required 5km from the airport we had to liaise with Albury airport because we were in the landing circuit. We had to release our balloon between landings. We were able to give the airport our tracking web page and they were able to monitor our balloons flight, ensuring adequate safety for those in the air. We successfully launched our small balloon and tracker – no parachute as it would fall slowly with its super-light weight bubble wrap cover. We only used the bubble wrap to insulate from the extreme cold of the jet stream. The winds would take the payload to the east and over inaccessible land. We did not expect to see the tracker again, but we did thanks to the host of Canberra Fuzzy Logic Science Show, Rod Taylor. We still have a 100% recovery record after 16 balloon flights. Rod’s trip to recover the payload will be in another post.

Jason and I have HAM radio licenses and we use a HAM radio compliant tracker for these flights. We are amateur radio operators, (nick named HAMs). Jason got his foundation license at age 9 because he wanted to help with the radio systems that we use to communicate. His license is not high enough to use the APRS (digital) systems, but I have a “full” license that allows me to use the systems. My call-sign is VK2URB and Jason’s is VK2FJAB. You can look up your local club on the Wireless Institute or Australia’s website and select “Radio Clubs” on their menu.

. Contact you local club for more information..
UpLift-16 Albury - before sunrise - it was cold
UpLift-16 Albury – before sunrise – it was cold
UpLift-16 Albury - Preparations
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparations
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparations
 UpLift-16 Albury - Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury - Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
Jason in Class with the balloon being tracked across country
Jason in class delivering a lecture with the balloon being tracked across country.
  UpLift-16 Flight 01
UpLift-16 Flight over the lakes near Albury – Lake Hume on the right.
UpLift-16 passing overt the old Honeysuckle Creek Dish Site.
 UpLift-16 passing overt the old Honeysuckle Creek Dish Site.
Note the harsh mountain forests and difficult terrain.
Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station brought the world
Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon  – Apollo 11


UpLift-16 breaks our personal best altitude record.
UpLift-16 breaks our personal best altitude record.
Jason Brand and Dr Barry Jones - past Science MinisterThe flight made it to well over 30km altitude and set down in a field near the Monaro Highway as the small village of Michelago. It was too easy to recover after avoiding so many impossible places. The classes that watched the tracking in class cheered every time we set a new record. Jason was also given the privilege of representing his school in Sydney and wore his school uniform – Leichhardt Public School (Y6)
Jason with Dr Barry Jones – Past Minister for Science and quiz show contestant extraordinaire. Now in his eighties, he is still a huge supporter of science and was a key note speaker at the Albury National Science Week event where Jason was a guess presenter. Jason was excited when Dr Jones mentioned that he had heard of Jason’s balloon flight that landed south of Canberra in the ACT. He said that it was lucky to land south as all the hot air would have kept it from landing in Canberra (full of politicians). — at Charles Sturt University.
Our return drive to Sydney on Thursday night was uneventful and Jason was back at school the next day. He did have to give the same talk to his Y6 students at his school.

UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald (Archives)

Sydney’s very own space agency: Brand and son

*** Recovered from the Archives ***

This excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald, January 16, 2012. UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney’s Space Agency

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand, with the help of local school students has built and launched a weather balloon a quarter of the way to space.

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand and his 9-year-old son Jason recently launched a high-tech weather balloon a quarter of the way to space, retrieving images and flight data to help school children get a better understanding about space.

Mr Brand, of Dulwich Hill, has a history with space – at age 17 he wired up some of the Apollo 11 communications gear in Sydney during his term break from college. He was also stationed at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory in New South Wales at the request of the European Space Agency for spacecraft Giotto’s encounter with Halley’s comet in 1986 and Voyager’s encounter with Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and ’89. Also under his belt is an award from NASA for support of STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program, presented personally by the commander and moon walker John Young.

So when it came time for Mr Brand to launch his own gear towards space he was well prepared, documenting his do-it-yourself journey on his personal blog for other space enthusiasts to watch and track.

Jason and his father Robert celebrate retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space.

Jason and his father Robert celebrate with ginger beer (soda/soft drink) after retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space. Photo: Supplied

“[The balloon launch] was being done to help science education in the Sydney area and anywhere else in fact because we were publishing [on the internet] all of the information and data that we got from the balloon launch,” said Mr Brand, 59.

Launch day was December 28, 2011 from Rankins Springs near Goolgowi in Central NSW. As the balloon got up to about 85,000 feet (25.9 kilometres) above Earth before it burst, Mr Brand and his son tracked it using amateur radio.

“During the flight we were actually relaying data back to the ground and off to a server and that allowed people from all over the world to actually participate with this flight and track it as it was going,” Mr Brand said. “We were getting back a lot of comments on some of the social media [services] such as Facebook just really helping us understand what they were sort of getting out of the whole project. People were sort of yelling loudly if you could put it that way, on the [wotzup] website claiming ‘Hey, they’ve reached this height and that height’, and so there was a lot of really great audience participation in this.”

Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch.

Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch. Photo: Supplied

The data being sent back from the balloon – which was later recovered about 50 kilometres away from where it was launched – tracked altitude, position, rate of climb, payload temperature, payload voltage and air pressure, Mr Brand said. The balloon also has a camera on board that captured still images. “We could actually see as [the balloon] hit different wind levels in the atmosphere and eventually we got up into a jet stream and actually found that we had two jet streams,” Mr Brand added.

When the balloon finally popped it came hurtling back towards Earth at about 40 metres per second, according to flight data.

“So this thing was falling a bit like a brick would fall at ground level but it slowed down and eventually the parachute dropped it on the ground at about six metres per second,” Mr Brand said.

The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commerical jets will normally fly at.

Photos from Robert and Jason Brand’s weather balloon flight

The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commercial jets will normally fly at. Photo: Robert and Jason Brand

  • The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commerical jets will normally fly at.
  • The view from 21,977 metres.
  • The view from 22,222 metres.
  • The view from 22,470 metres.
  • The view from 22,969 metres.
  • The view from 24,305 metres.
  • The view from 26181 metres.
  • The view from 300 metres.
  • The view from 3235 metres
  • The view from 4153 metres.

The balloon (payload) was put together with the help of senior students at Sydney Secondary College at Blackwattle Bay, who Brand sought to get involved with the project and tasked them with doing a whole stack of materials testing. They tested the Styrofoam and how it reacted in zero atmosphere as well as the glue, ensuring it would hold throughout the flight. “The students were putting these materials in a bell jar and sucking the air out of it . . . and checking all of the materials held together – and to protect some of the electronics from the very cold temperatures of about minus 50 Celsius we simply used bubble wrap. … You’d be surprised to know that bubble wrap doesn’t explode when it gets into pretty much zero atmosphere.”

What's in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon's payload.

The photos that came back from maximum altitude look “pretty much like that taken from a space shuttle”, Mr Brand said.

“So very dark skies looking at this very thin blue line around the Earth which is our atmosphere and protective layer. It’s a bit scary when you see that photo and realise how thin the Earth’s atmosphere really is.”

Picture right: What’s in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon’s payload. Photo: Supplied

When it came time to recover the balloon it was tracked to landing on a field near the small town of Weethalle in NSW, Mr Brand said. “There was nothing growing on it. It seemed to have been abandoned.”

After knocking on a farm door to no avail, he and his son entered the field to locate the balloon. After driving “pretty much right on top of it” it was recovered, allowing for the father and son duo to publish the photos it captured that weren’t sent back live but stored on the camera attached to the balloon.

Mr Brand hopes to do more balloon launches and get schools involved.

“I’ll keep doing this each year and trying to get . . . more interest in the school year earlier in the year. I’m very keen to hear from people that might be interested in getting involved.”

End of article: UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald

13th Australian Space Science Conference Pt1

13th ASSC Uni NSWSpace Education

by Robert Brand

I was fortunate to present at the 13th Australian Space Science Conference at Sydney University a little over a week ago. The only unfortunate thing was a mix-up by yours truly and I ended up there on the wrong day. I was meant to be delivering a talk on “Triple Play in the Space Sector” and poor Alice Gorman, who was hosting the panel, was asking if I had turned up. My biggest apologies ever Alice!

I did however get a chance to present in the education stream and I am including this presentation here. My son Jason came along to help me as it was school holidays. Luckily every talk was about some of the work that he does with me, so it was pretty interesting most of the time.

Below is the PDF version of my PowerPoint presentation. It is interesting to note that we are doing so much that I can easily put together a complete presentation during a few other people’s talks. As you can see I gave my WotzUp website a plug!

You can download it here:  Click to Download

Download (PDF, 3.5MB)

Balon Stellar Stratosfera 30Km

Stellar Balloon flight to the stratosphere in CroatiaJason & Robert to Fly Balloons (HAB) in Croatia.

by Robert Brand

As many will know, I am the Director of Spacecraft Communications, Navigation and Data for Team Stellar and Jason is Stellar’s Australian Student Representative.

Jason and I also hold a world record for launching and recovering High Altitude Balloons (HABs). We have launched and recovered 16 so far and you can’t get better than 100% success. Mind you, much of that is attributed to us researching and finding a fantastic launch and recovery area with HAM radio APRS coverage (one of our tracking systems), flat and clear land with little water and good mobile telephone coverage and good access roads to farming and grazing land.

Croatia is a very different place. Our Team Stellar Croatian associates have told us that part of our recovery team will be Aplinists, capable of hiking in snow and ice to recover any balloon that lands high up on a mountain!

So why is Stellar launching these flights?


Balon Stellar Stratosfera 30Km

Basically we will be carrying experiments from schools all over Croatia. They will go into the stratosphere and after recovery they will be returned to the schools for analysis and of course we expect them to publish the results.

More on this soon.

This is just one of several activities being undertaken by Team Stellar in the name of STEM Education – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Jason is 11 years old and will just turn 12 when we assist with this flight and will have just completed his first term in high school (year 7). He will be attending Sydney Secondary College – Balmain Campus just as his two older sisters did.

These will be larger balloons that will be needed to lift heavy payloads and to get them into the stratosphere before they explode and return to earth. We also expect to have cut-down ability to command the payload to release from the balloon and return to earth.

We will let you know more as we prepare for the flights in 6 months’ time. You can read more here later and more at:

That is Jason and I celebrating with a soft drink after the successful recovery of UpLift-1, our first balloon mission in December 2011. Jason does the tracking, radio systems and navigation – I just do the driving.
Jason and Robert Brand Recover UpLift-1

Stellar Launch Rocket

WotzUp Update (Archives)

Stellar Launch RocketWotzUp Update

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

Published March 25th 2013

Team Stellar

It is full steam ahead with a range of activities. The biggest one of all is the risk assessment of the navigation systems and choosing the system that best fits the mission. As for that activity, usually a risk assessment is done of a mission plan, we are changing that to be the other way around – developing a mission plan after we chose the navigation systems. Having said that we would like to land somewhere historic to be able to visit some amazing leftover systems like Apollo sites or other landers.

We do have one favoured site where man walked on the moon, but we are yet to see if the navigation capability supports the mission. NASA have a “No Go” zone around some of these sites and also do not want rocket exhaust too close to their site so it will be a long haul for our little rover if we do visit.

As well as the everyday navigation available to anyone, I am looking at developing my own ideas about a novel system to give precise distance to our landing site and an exact speed. This will enable us to be very efficient with fuel. It will be interesting to see if we can construct a system to achieve this and thus need a very good secondary system. More later…

Some of my radio broadcast have focused on Team Stellar. Stay tuned.


Seems that our KickSat will be launched later this year. Some good news on that front and I have a prototype of what will fly – lots of updates soon.

Better still I have been taking pictures from the ISS with EarthKAM – WOW. Lots of photos of Australia and if you students in high school can get your science teacher across this, you too can take your very own ISS photos. Read more below.


ISS EarthKam Coopers CreekDid you know that there is a 12 MegaPixel camera on the ISS that students can control and snap photos from space? All you need to do is get your science teacher to sign up to the site and get an allocation of photos for students to take pictures of almost anywhere on Earth. More in a future article, but to get you going, here is a photo taken by my good friend David Galea (a Melbourne Science teacher) of the Exmouth area in Australia.

Note I have not checked whether these photos are north up or North down and sorry, but I don’t have the time.

and below another one of David’s photos of the Kakadu Area

Like around New Orleans in the US, you can see how sediment from this river has extended the river mouth out to sea.
In the News

Linda mottramLinda Mottram Sydney ABC 702 Mornings

It seems that Australia’s new space policy about to be tabled may not suit everyone and especially entrepreneurs like me. I personally want to see more funds for space and to make sure our brilliant minds graduating from university have somewhere in this country to actually work and not be lost to other countries.

Because of that I have engaged with several groups and I am hoping that we can develop a common narrative so that the general public and the media will know our desires and capabilities in the space sector.

I have been on many programs, but two in particular in Australia – One in Melbourne with a panel to discuss the issues and one on ABC radio in Sydney where I discuss the issues and also Team Stellar. Links to those broadcasts shortly.

On another note I made it into a Croatian TV show all about Team Stellar!! My piece was videoed in Abu Dhabi during the first Team get-together in December last year.

Public Speaking

I start professional Public Speaking gigs soon and it will be all about SPACE! For the moment I will be with Ovations exclusively, but they have been slow to kick off. I will still do free talks for universities and other deserving groups for free, but I am now in an interesting area.

I have a long history supporting space missions starting at the age of 17 when I wired up some of the Apollo 11 video and switching equipment in Sydney Australia back in June 1969. I supported most NASA missions from then to 1986 and that included communications support for NASA’s Apollo, Shuttle, Voyager and other missions. Also ESA’s Giotto Mission to Halleys Comet.

But the real interesting stuff is that I am involved in current space missions. Team Stellar’s lunar mission within the next 2 years and the UK’s Median experiment scheduled to touch down on Mars in 2020 (lots of green lights to get past) plus all the other great space stuff like EarthKAm and KickSat

If you want to get me to speak at your event go over here and you can book me:

I can promise you lots of great photos, the odd video and an amazing tale of being at the heart of so many incredible projects. I am also very animated. Don’t expect me to stay still when I get so excited about the subject. I also have a great tale about changing careers from Telecommunications to Aerospace!
UpLift Videos

I have completed a number of UpLift flights that were commercial. Since our first flight in December 2012, we completed 14 flights and 13 were commercial. We recovered all 14 payloads for 100% success rate. We are also available for commercial payloads with prices starting at $5,000.

Here is one video for a frozen Yoghurt company – we froze the yoghurt in the clouds!!

HAB / Weather Balloons

We sold the 20 x 350g weather balloons that I bought in November last year. They sold out within a month! I have tried to get more balloons, but no luck.

Andrea Guzmán

Just got a Skype message from Andrea Guzmán from Columbia. I encouraged her to not only follow here dreams but to take action. I interviewed her recently and she had done so well. Now she seems to have even done better and so fast. This interview from June 2011.

Andrea Guzmán: Hey Robert. Long time no talk to you. Hope you’re Okay. Let me tell you I’ve done very interesting stuff so lately. I earned an internship in Mexico, I was there a whole month working at the 1meter Telescope.
Robert Brand: Wow – great work!
Andrea Guzmán: Now, im working with the second colombian satellite and well, everything is going just great
Robert Brand: Living the dream !!!
Andrea Guzmán: just wanted to let you know, as you have been also my mentor 🙂
Robert Brand: It is one thing to Dream, it is another to make it happen! One day we will meet!
Andrea Guzmán: I was actually applying for a workshop in satellites in Australia. Let’s wait and I’m sure we will meet someday.
Robert Brand: That will be fun. Lots to see if you are here!
Andrea Guzmán: sooo… thanks a lot to have confidence in me, without even knowing who I was
Robert Brand: It is easy to see who will make and who will not!
Andrea Guzmán: Thanks Robert 🙂

Wow! Things seem to be going great for Andrea and I want to remind everyone that you HAVE TO TAKE ACTION and not just dream. I encouraged Andrea to follow her dreams with action and she would have done this without my help, I am sure! It is, none the less, a great example of success through hard work.


Weather Balloon Success (Archives)

UpLift-2 Payload Recovered

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

by Robert Brand

As I mentioned previously I was flying a weather balloon on Sept 25th. I cannot tell you too much about the helium filled weather balloon flight other than it was a success, because of a “Non Disclosure Agreement” (NDA). I can tell you that all objectives were met. It carried an amateur radio APRS tracker that sent back GPS details every 20 seconds.

Why the NDA,? A company actually paid me to be a consultant on an earlier launch that day. Although this payload was not fully commercial, they do not want too much said about the flight at all for the moment. I will post a comment for those interested to see the flight information in about 2 weeks.

It flew on schedule and reached the required altitude.

We had hoped to broadcast preparations for the flight, but unfortunately the local Telstra 3G base station was off the air! We had no mobile coverage and thus live TV showing the launch was not possible, nor was it possible to warn people that the tracking call sign had changed. I managed to get it onto my Facebook page briefly, but coverage was so poor that I could not warn anyone else.

Why the change?

We had 2 trackers fail! Luckily there was a third, thanks to fellow HAB enthusiast, Todd Hamson, but by flight time, we had to run with an adjusted call sign.

The payload capsule landed within 1/2 a metre of a farmers dam! Very close indeed.

Max altitude was 68,466 ft or 20868 m. The jetstream was running at 213kph (132mph) max. We had a lot of trouble catching up with the payload.


Below: High Cloud being streaked by the Jet Stream in the Troposphere. The yellow fields are conola:

UpLift-2 clouds with wind sheer

Below: Max Height

UpLift-2 Maximum Altitude

Below: They say it is not all over until the “fat lady sings”. We spotted this lake (normally dry) and my son Jason said it looks like a fat lady! Since the balloon had popped and it was descending on parachute, I guess she was singing! She also looks like she has burst a gasket singing the highs.

Below: Todd (L) amd Mark (R) Hamson – 2 fellow High Altitude Balloon enthusiasts and part of our recovery team. The Parachute was 1/2 a metre from the water of the farmers dam. The payload was under an NDA and thus I have had to blur it out. The cameras had been knocked off the capsule on impact. We will be adding a lanyard in future.


Below: The “Stills” camera snapped this shot of my son Jason (10), VK2FJAB  recovering the cameras that were torn from the payload capsule after a hard landing. That is me in the background, VK2URB


Below: The flight path:

UpLift-1 Prediction

Our First High Altitude Balloon Flight (Archives)

UpLift-1 PredictionUpLift-1 Mission Announced

Fuzzy Logic Science Show

Jason and Robert Brand on Canberra Radio

In April 2013, Jason and Robert Brand joined with Rod Taylor, the host of Canberra’s science show, Fuzzy Logic, for an hour of chat about space and what we are doing here in Australia. Jason got to talk about his involvement with high altitude balloon flights. He even got to back announce one the musical interludes. He had just turned 11 a few days earlier.

I discussed everything from my early days supporting space missions like Apollo 11 and right through to my work with Team Stellar.

You can listen to the show by clicking here

You can also use our flash player below:

“Canberra 2013-4-14 Interview about Space on the Fuzzy Logic Science program”

From Radio Interview Fuzzy Logic 2XX. Posted by Robert Brand on 4/15/2013 (6 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

UpLift-1 Raw Data 28th Dec 2011 (Archives)

WotzUp_Black_logo.135x100.jpg*** Retrieved from Archives ***

UpLift-1 Flight Data 2011-12-28

I have already detailed the top level science that is easily seen from the data returned by radio telemetry from the flight. The radio link returns data approximately every 20 seconds and it has a variety of information as described previously. There are a few plots missing from the start and end of the flight as the tracking system only 863worked when the receivers could see the balloon. We were effectively over the radio horizon due to the distance from the receivers – much like a light house cannot light the ocean around it unless it is on a high headland. There are also 3 plots missing during the 2.5 hour flight. I have added these in to smooth out the plots, but the estimations are all in red. I have not tried to extrapolate data from the landing as I was not present to see the course it took.

The Database information is available in metric form and not imperial. You will need to convert that yourself, but that is very easy.

You can download the database here for educational purposed and similarly any photos are available for education purposes, but are copyright – Robert Brand 2011


The file contains both flight data and graphs as used in the posts on this website re UpLift-1′s flight. There is also a list of photograph numbers. Many were unusable due to sun, glare, direction of the photo, etc. All photos indicated with a “1′ are available on this website in subsequent posts.

As far as position accuracy is concerned, the data from the telemetry also contain a parameter called HDOP. Firstly let’s look at DOP:

The following information is from

Dilution of Precision

The DOP factor is used in a very simple equation:

SD(position) = DOP * SD(inputs)

This means that the standard deviation of the position is simply the standard deviation of the inputs multiplied times the DOP factor. Of course, this formula isn’t as simple as it looks, since for GPS a multidimensional solution is required, and therefore matrix mathematics is used. But the idea is good.

One interesting thing about DOP is that it does not depend on the anything that cannot be predicted in advance. It only depends on the positions of the GPS satellites relative to the GPS receiver’s location. The satellite positions can be calculated in advance, so you can determine the quality of your GPS position fix in advance, without even using the GPS system.

Satellite geometry

DOP only depends on the position of the satellites: how many satellites you can see, how high they are in the sky, and the bearing towards them. This is often refered to as the geometry. The satellites move, so the geometry varies with time, but it is very predictable.

HDOP = Horizontal Dilution of Position

HDOP is horizontal DOP. It is one component of the total DOP. Others are VHOP for Vertical DOP, PDOP for 3D positions, TDOP for time, and GDOP for geometic DOP. Altogether they =DOP.

UpLift-1  was outdoors and the receiver facing the sky with only a layer of bubble-wrap and Styrofoam that had already been tested for GPS integrity. It offered no apparent impediment to GPS signals. In fact the entire flight was a DOP=1. This is the lowest error estimate and means the horizontal position information was estimated to be very accurate. It has not been included with the figures. The vertical position also appears to be accurate with the repetition of the data and the expected rates of slowing on descent. The smoothness of the curves attests to the quality of the results.

UpLift-1 Flight Data Pt-3 (Archives)

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

UpLift-1 Facts and Figures 28th Dec 2011 Pt-3

Time for some SCIENCE. I have cleaned up all the data from the flight removing duplicated figures and out of place data that sometimes occurs from having lots of receiving stations all trying to add it to the database. The figures are certainly interesting and even fun to see what is going on during the flight.

Wind Speed at Altitude

We all know what the weather is like in our own countries and the news and documentaries will often let you know about other countries. I live in Australia on the SE coast. For my high altitude balloon flight I traveled to the centre of my state (New South Wales – NSW) for a number of reasons. Predominantly it was because of the prevailing winds and the flat open farmland. Easier to ensure a clean landing with few trees and no mountains to have to climb. When I say prevailing winds, I am talking about those at all altitudes that my balloon will be passing through. I mentioned that in previous posts that I use a balloon prediction site and that I get a good idea of wind speeds and thus the direction of the flight. The site even outputs the file as a kml file that can easily be opened by Google Earth.

We can easily use the weather service for the ground winds, but the upper level winds can be a bit fickle and not easily forecast by the prediction service, but the balloon does not stay in those regions too long. The main winds that will govern most of the flight as my latitude (-33 degrees – south of the equator)  are those of the jet stream.

Jet Streams (from Wikipedia):

Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow air currents found in the atmospheres of some planets, including Earth. The main jet streams are located near the tropopause, the transition between the troposphere (where temperature decreases with altitude) and the stratosphere (where temperature increases with altitude).The major jet streams on Earth are westerly winds (flowing west to east). Their paths typically have a meandering shape; jet streams may start, stop, split into two or more parts, combine into one stream, or flow in various directions including the opposite direction of most of the jet. The strongest jet streams are the Polar jets, at around 7–12 km (23,000–39,000 ft) above sea level, and the higher and somewhat weaker Subtropical jets at around 10–16 km (33,000–52,000 ft). The Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere each have both a polar jet and a subtropical jet. The northern hemisphere polar jet flows over the middle to northern latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia and their intervening oceans, while the southern hemisphere polar jet mostly circles Antarctica all year round. Jet streams are caused by a combination of a planet’s rotation on its axis and atmospheric heating (by solar radiation and, on some planets other than Earth, internal heat). Jet streams form near boundaries of adjacent air masses with significant differences in temperature, such as the polar region and the warmer air towards the equator.

So what did we find? The following charts shows the balloon flight right up to burst point and also from burst point to landing. It shows the wind strengths that it encountered in kilometers per hour. For reference 40km per hour = 25 miles per hour. Altitude is in meters and similarly 10,000m = 6.2 miles. The chart showing descent should be similar but the rate of fall is exponential and not linear so there will be some compression and expansion of the horizontal axis. Due to the fall taking 1/3 the time of the climb there will be fewer plot points and also a greater potential for GPS inaccuracy.

Wind Speed vs Altitude - Climb

Wind Spped vs Reverse Altitude - Fall

In the chart below I have labelled the major points of change in the chart. Of interest there were three layers of wind prior to the balloon entering the jet stream or streams. The major point of interest was that there were two jet streams both traveling in the same directions. The winds of the troposphere were approximately half of the strength of the jet streams and in the opposite direction by chance. If the balloon had made it to higher levels in the troposphere, it may have encountered other wind directions, but the winds may have been much lower in strength.

Wind Speed vs Altitude - Climb - modified

Air Pressure and Altitude

The chart below shows plot points and both altitude and air pressure in Pascals. Pascals for those in non metric countries are defined in Wikipedia as:

The pascal (symbol: Pa) is the SI derived unit of pressure, internal pressure, stress, Young’s modulus and tensile strength, named after the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher Blaise Pascal. It is a measure of force per unit area, defined as one newton per square metre. In everyday life, the pascal is perhaps best known from meteorological barometric pressure reports, where it occurs in the form of hectopascals (1 hPa ≡ 100 Pa) or kilopascals (1 kPa ≡ 1000 Pa). In other contexts, the kilopascal is commonly used, for example on bicycle tire labels. One hectopascal corresponds to about 0.1% of atmospheric pressure slightly above sea level; one kilopascal is about 1% of atmospheric pressure. One hectopascal is equivalent to one millibar; one standard atmosphere is exactly equal to 101.325 kPa or 1013.25 hPa or 101325 Pa.

Simply at sea level there will be 100,000 Pascals (left side of graph and the start of the plot from the balloon). Air pressure (Pa)  is plotted in red and altitude (m) in blue. The rate of climb is near linear while air pressure is more exponential. Note that the initial rate of climb on the left corner is high as it appears that we were in a thermal or rising air mass.

Altitude and Air Pressure

That concludes the science breakdown of the flight. there are plenty of more breakdowns of the data that can be carried out, but in this and the previous 2 posts I have explored most of the more relevant information that can be derived from the flight. My next post will provide access to the data from the flight.

UpLift-1 Flight Data Pt-2 (Archives)

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

UpLift-1 Facts and Figures 28th Dec 2011 Pt-2

Time for some SCIENCE. I have cleaned up all the data from the flight removing duplicated figures and out of place data that sometimes occurs from having lots of receiving stations all trying to add it to the database. The figures are certainly interesting and even fun to see what is going on during the flight.


Unfortunately, UpLift-1 did not have an external temperature sensor – just a payload sensor. The payload sensor will be useful to see the stresses that the payload has to handle, but due to the thermal properties of the capsule (polystyrene is an insulator) and the thermal wrap around the electronics (bubble-wrap) the payload temperature will be both reduced and delayed slightly. The capsule did have some small penetrations that made its insulation poor and the transmitter also produced some small amount of heat that would have affected the cooling effects slightly. It was mainly the bubble-wrap that protected the electronics from the -40 to -50 degrees Celsius (  -40 to -68F). So what happens and why the cold temperatures?

The atmosphere has many layers and the first that we live in is the Troposphere. The following (Troposphere and Stratosphere) are from Wikipedia:


The troposphere begins at the surface and extends to between 9 km (30,000 ft) at the poles and 17 km (56,000 ft) at the equator, with some variation due to weather. The troposphere is mostly heated by transfer of energy from the surface, so on average the lowest part of the troposphere is warmest and temperature decreases with altitude. This promotes vertical mixing (hence the origin of its name in the Greek word “τροπή”, trope, meaning turn or overturn). The troposphere contains roughly 80% of the mass of the atmosphere.

The tropopause is the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere.


The stratosphere extends from the tropopause to about 51 km (32 mi; 170,000 ft). Temperature increases with height due to increased absorption of ultraviolet radiation by the ozone layer, which restricts turbulence and mixing. While the temperature may be −60 °C (−76 °F; 210 K) at the tropopause, the top of the stratosphere is much warmer, and may be near freezing. The stratopause, which is the boundary between the stratosphere and mesosphere, typically is at 50 to 55 km (31 to 34 mi; 160,000 to 180,000 ft). The pressure here is 1/1000 sea level.

Our balloon flight will start at the bottom of the Troposphere 34C (93F) at ground level, pass through the thin Tropopause at a bit less than 17 km (56,000 ft), where temperatures could be as low at -50C (-68F) and into the stratosphere where temperatures could warm to just above or below freezing. The climb will end in the Stratosphere when the balloon expands until it explodes and then falls back to earth and back through the cold. The chart below provides critical data on payload temperatures:

Payload Temperature vs Altitude

Above we see the effect of passing through the very cold temperatures of the Troposphere and then the warming of the Stratosphere – even though it is only warming to about freezing! The descent takes the already cold payload back through freezing conditions in the Troposphere again further cooling the payload to a maximum of -12C (10.4F) before warming to a balmy +3C (+37.4F) by the end of the flight. By the time of recovery 2 hours later the  payload had warmed to outside temperatures.

Thermal delay

The chart below shows an approximation of the outside temperatures encountered during the flight plotted alongside of the payload temperatures:

Payload Temperature and Estimated Outside Temperature

There is a good possibility that the temperature in the Stratosphere was above freezing as the payload was warming up substantially. It is not likely to have been from the electronics as the transmitter was extremely low power with a small duty cycle (10%).

Battery Conditions due to Temperature

Simply put, batteries fail when they get cold. This got a little colder than I would have liked. Extra bubble-wrap would have been helpful or sealing the camera penetration better would have helped. In future, I will do both. The battery volts dropped to very low levels due to the cold, but since they were Lithium batteries they worked okay at -12C (10.4F). Battery volts had fallen from 5.8V at the start of the flight to 5.1 in the extreme cold and returned to 5.8v by the time of recovery of the capsule.

Payload Temperature (C) and Battery Volts

In the graph above the battery voltage had started to recover as the capsule landed on the ground. The size of the batteries meant that they would have remained cold the longest even though the electronics warmed up relatively quickly the thermal mass of the batteries took much longer to warm. The batteries were inside the many layers of bubble-wrap.

More on the flight data in the next post

UpLift-1 Flight Data Pt-1 (Archives)

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

UpLift-1 Facts and Figures 28th Dec 2011 Pt-1

Time for some SCIENCE. I have cleaned up all the data from the flight removing duplicated figures and out of place data that sometimes occurs from having lots of receiving stations all trying to add it to the database. The figures are certainly interesting and even fun to see what is going on during the flight.

Some Facts first:

  • Altitude of the launch site is about 90m or 300ft above sea level. flat farmland was chosen for lack of trees and easy access for recovery.
  • Morning was chosen for air stability and lower wind levels.
  • Weather: Clear with little to no wind. Summer.
  • Flight launch: 10;53 28th Dec 2011 EDST (23:53 27th Dec 2011 UTC).
  • Flight landing: 13:40 28th Dec 2011 EDST (02:53 28th Dec 2011 UTC).
  • Flight time: 2 hours 47 minutes.
  • Maximum Recorded Altitude: 26.181km – 85,896 feet – 16.2681 miles.
  • Distance traveled: 45.6km (28 miles).
  • Direction from launch of 72 degrees.
  • Rate of climb: 3m/sec (5ft/sec) near sea level to near 5m/sec (8ft/sec) at the burst point.
  • Payload temperature during flight: 34C (93F) at ground level to -12C (10.4F) minimum.
  • Maximum recorded rate if fall: 33m/sec (110ft/sec)
  • Anomalies encountered: Thermal at the time of release caused 9m (30ft) initial rate of climb.
  • Balloon: Totex 350g (optimum fill 1.2m, actual fill 1.35m diameter)
  • Gas used for lift: Helium
  • Payload: Polystyrene box with a bit less than 1/2kg weight (1lb) including parachute.
  • Camera: GoPro 7mp still camera set to take photos every 30 seconds – lasted entire flight. Housing included
  • Tracking was via Amateur Radio APRS with Internet and direct reception in vehicle. 145.175MHz Packet radio.
  • Transmitter from Argent Data system with GPS rated for over 60,000 feet and 1/2 watt transmitter.
  • Antenna – precision tuned vertically mounted dipole.
  • Transmitter Power: 2 x mounted on-board Lithium 3V pile batteries.
  • Reporting time: 20 seconds.
  • Thermal insulation for transmitter: Polystyrene capsule and three layers of bubble wrap.

The first bit of data showed that UpLift-1 climbed very quickly. At first I could not believe the rate of climb, but there it was climbing at 9m per second. I now know that this was an anomaly. The simplest and most likely explanation is that at the time that we released the balloon we were in a thermal area where the hot air at that spot was rising quickly were near by air was falling. As it was early in the day, upper air thermals had not formed so the affect was short lived. So here is the graph of altitude for the flight:

Atitude vs Time

At the very start of the flight there is a slightly different rate of climb caused by the thermal that dissipates at about 2km. From then on the climb is steady and near flat. The rate of climb being mainly determined by the size of the balloon (air resistance and lift) and the wright of the payload. As the air thins, the balloon expands keeping the air resistance somewhat the same, but as altitude increases, the ability to lift is also reduced. The result is a fairly consistent rate of climb. At the maximum altitude the balloon bursts and the payload is released. The parachute is ineffective in the free air and the rate of fall is determined by air density producing a somewhat parabolic curve. For most balloon flights with a reasonable rate of climb, the climb to fall ratio is usually between 3:1 or 4:1 for flight estimations.

The rate of climb graph shows the linear and parabolic effects more clearly”

Rate of Climb - Fall vs Time

In the graph above, you can clearly see the high initial rate of climb and the slowing of the rate as it left the thermal event. The rate was not flat, but slowly climbed from 3m/sec (5ft/sec)  to near 5m/sec (8ft/sec) at the burst point. There is a fairly long period of time following the burst point before the payload reaches terminal velocity of greater than 33m/sec (110ft/sec) – remember that the plots are 20 seconds apart. There is one plot during the initial fall that indicated that the payload was accelerating and was showing 9m/sec (30ft/sec) fall and accelerating until terminal velocity is reached – the point where air resistance stops any further acceleration due to gravity.

The payload – a foam box weighing less than 1/2kg (about 1lb) has plenty of air resistance at sea level, but very little in the thin atmosphere. As it falls the air density increases and the rate slows. Where the rate of climb was determined by fairly linear forces, the rapid descent is clearly non linear when plotted against time.

Part two shortly with links to both imperial and decimal data data sets.

UpLift-16 Grazing Property near Michelago

Australians Applying to CASA for a HAB Flight

Are you Australian and want to fly a High Altitude Balloon (HAB) in Australia?

CASA  Civil Aviation Safety Authority

Although I have been adding archives back to the site, there is one key post that I was unable to restore – the all important letter to CASA for the launch with details of the flight, so i will ad this one to the site. It was for UpLift-16 launched only 2 months ago for Science Week.

First some background: There is a real problem with the rules for releasing balloons in Australia. Simply put, there is a mistake in the regulations for light balloons. It says a “Light” balloon cannot every be more than 2m (about 6ft)  at any altitude. Of course that is nearly impossible, especially when lifting heavy payloads in the light balloon category. We launch up to 2.5kg payloads so most missions fit this profile.

You will need to contact CASA with a request – simply call and ask for a contact in your state.

Second you need to detail your flight and include predictions for the flight. There are websites that will give predictions, but since these are good for only 24 hours prior to launch, you need to give an estimate based on the average for the days seen. It is important that you give CASA plenty of time to process the application. Why? Because you may be asked to make changes. This is especially for first time flights. I had 3 delays in getting my first application through the system. I suggest that you allow 2 weeks minimum. If your application is okay, it is actually a requirement that CASA process the application within 2 days and issue the NOTAM (notice to Air Men – pilots) if there are no problems with the application.

This is the sort of letter required:


Please find below a request for a balloon flight that is a little different from our normal flights. This is from Albury, 5.42km NNW of the airport. If further distance is required, we can arrange that. Jason and I are traveling to Albury to assist in their mentoring for science students over 3 days. Jason (11) and in Year 6 will be giving 18 x 30 minutes science lessons to classes up to Year 8 over a 3 day period and we intend to launch a balloon with tracking as part of the mentoring sessions.

Regards, Robert Brand

1 The name, address and telephone number of the person who will release the balloon: Robert Brand, xx xxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxx NSW 2xxx  Phone: xxxxxxxxxx

2 The date and time the release is to begin 7am 15th August 2013

3 Where it is to be carried out Elizabeth Mitchell Drive and Ettamogah Road Albury NSW  Lat: -36.0267  Long: 146.9876

4 The estimated size and mass of the balloon’s payload: 10cm high x 5cm wide x 5cm deep of bubble wrap. The mass of the payload 70g.

5 If more than 1 balloon is to be released at a time, how many balloons are to be released at the time Only one.

6 The balloon will have a very light weight 4 layer bubble wrap protection for the extremely light weight electronics. Cut down is not included at this point and the balloon expansion is not likely to be more than 2m before it exits normal air traffic altitudes. The balloon will only carry enough helium to lift itself and the payload at a reasonable rate. It is a 350 gram Totex Balloon. Tracking is by HAM radio APRS and can be followed on the Internet during the flight. We will be in good phone coverage during the flight. Tracking will begin before launch.

7 The Balloon will likely not burst until well out to sea over 400km east of the coast and is expected to follow a line of slightly below east (by about 10 degrees and slowly increasing to just above east (10 degrees after it has left the coast. It is expected to be out of controlled air space within 50km of launch (30 minutes).

8 It is part of the Science celebrations in Albury for school students.

Your help in this matter is truly appreciated.

UpLift-16 Grazing Property near MichelagoNote, in the above letter there is a comment that the balloon will not be over 2m – this was simply because for this flight, I did not want the additional weight of a radar reflector. A simple radar reflector may be required for most balloon flights in Australia.

Also not that the ability to cut down a heavy payload may also be needed – either by CASA or to ensure that you can recover your payload before it gets into country difficult for recovery. Also note that our balloon had some previous damage from Ultra Violet exposure and burst earlier than expected. It came down south of Canberra and the electronics has been retrieved from a grazing property just east of the NSW village of Michalago.

My good friend, Rod Taylor, host of Canberra’s FuzzyLogic Science Show went down and retrieved the payload. He also interviewed me for the show the following Sunday. I will provide a link in the near future. That is Rod below with the payload.

Rod Taylor with the UpLift-16 balloon and Payload at Michelago NSW

The CASA response is below:


Hi, Robert . . .

Airservices Australia require you to telephone the Albury Air Traffic Control Tower (ATC) on the day of launch to provide advance notice of a proposed launch time, and again at that time for approval to launch. The telephone number is (02) xxxx xxxx. No launch is to take place unless contact with ATC is made and approval provided.

The following NOTAMs have been issued in relation to your proposed launch.

ALBURY (YMAY)                                             C114/13




FROM 08 142110 TO 08 150100


MELBOURNE FIR (YMMM)                                     C4868/13




FROM 08 142110 TO 08 150100

Regards, xxxx xxxxxx