Save on Low Cost Payloads to the Stratosphere

Save with payloads to the StratosphereOFFER EXTENDED TO 21 Nov 2016

Save A$1,100 on Sending Payloads to the Stratosphere.

We are trying to fill our calendar with low cost flights to the Stratosphere so you save A$1,100 min each flight. Our minimum price is usually $3,000 carried out by the world’s most successful team. 28 flights to date.

Our flights are conducted in Australia but you don’t have to live here to have us fly your payload.

Save: Save with the most consistent team on the planet.bookings can be up to 12 months in advance, but the promotion is only valid for 2 weeks and expires on:

Midnight the 21st Nov 2016.

Book a flight for your payload and then, when we give you a price, claim and save with your discount of $1,100. This way you know that we are giving you the real deal. All deposits must be made by 22nd Nov 2016 over the counter and as usual are not refundable. We immediately order gas, book travel, accommodation and register the flight with CASA, Rex Airlines, QantasLink and others. In other words, it compensates for work and other material bought or held aside for your flight.

Commercial work starting from A $1,900

Book and save in the next 2 weeks and we will cut the basic price to $1,900. We still require $1,500 up front for the balloon, gas, labour and other costs before the flight, but you would be getting the world’s best high altitude team. After 28 flights in Croatia and Australia, HABworx has recovered all payloads

We have been helping others make the most incredible flights for amazing reasons. There are always cameras, but our customers have their own requirements. We have had signage change during flight; we have taken up 360 degree immersive video cameras, radio systems; sensors and musical noise makers.

UpLift-19 Space ChickenWe have flown payloads for :

  • Bulla Cloud9 Yogurt online advertising
  • Several record launches
  • Conservation (Karl the Cassowary)
  • Art (Sounds in the Stratosphere)
  • Science competition (20 experiments flown in Croatia)
  • Science Week education – Albury lectures tracking a live flight
  • Product launches
  • Sydney University – Science
  • Toyota Team Bonding.
Balloon Burst4 seconds after the event - UpLift-19

Balloon Burst 4 seconds after the event – UpLift-19

What you get:

  • The most consistent team on the planet – with a 100% recovery success with 28 payloads released (at time of publication).
  • Released 2 flights in Croatia
  • Working with Murdoch University and a UK University for 2 separate Mars missions that will require precision balloon flights.
  • The experience of 28 flights under our belts.
  • Difficult projects that require old and new logo reveals, multiple cameras and 360 degree photography.
  • Ground photography of the release site and in vehicle photography of the chase.
  • Drone photography of the release site.
  • We will even wear special suits and tee shirts for the project.
  • Save $1,100 per flight.

Listen to what a difference a high altitude balloon campaign can make.

Hear and see more directly from the customer!:

Below is one the individual flights.

That was me (Robert Brand – the head of HABworx) in the closing scenes picking up the payload. It was definitely frozen! We limited the height of payloads by the size of the balloon fill. This ensured that they would come down before warming in the stratosphere. There were 41 people involved for 2 days in central NSW. The projects can be big or small – it is up to you.

Contact: contact @ projectthunderstruck . com   —  remove the spaces!

Save by using a small team. The locals always take an interest.We will give you a price for your project that will make it a reality!

The price of $1,900 would be a single flight in central NSW with 2 to 3 cameras (yours!) to usually above 30Km. We provide the tracking and everything else for the flight. You can even  track the flight from your armchair at home – or come with us for the adventure of releasing the balloon and tracking the payload to a field and recovering the payload!

Email me with your flight request and finalise payment within 2 days and let us send your payload to the Stratosphere.

A Guide to Prices and How to Save

  • Basic Price $3,000: We fly your payload with our trackers – Up to 4Kg – 2.5Kg will usually get to 30Km altitude or more). We travel 6 hours drive to West Wyalong on day 1, fill and release early on day 2; recover the payload and return home on day 2
  • $1,000 for additional per day for any customer reason (excluding second balloon flight).
  • $2,000 for additional balloon flight and recovery on the following day
  • $2,000 for a second tracking team for their first flight
  • $1,000 for a second tracking team for additional flights
  • $2,000 for us to build the payload and provide cameras (GoPros) for any flights with small mascots or logos – excluding new logo reveals.
  • $1,000 for a reveal mechanism – pulls the old logo away and reveals the new logo.
  • Other work will need to be discussed and quoted.
UpLift-28 Released. Our latest flight. The customers will tell you that we saved them a lot of money compared to doing it themselves.

UpLift-28 Our latest flight. The customers will tell you that we saved them a lot of money compared to doing it themselves.

Lots of Balloon Flights

LaunchA-3Space Rich, Time Poor

It has been too long since we posted about our activities in space. I apologise. We have been so busy and time to do “things” has been scarce. Website updates have stopped for some time. None the less we have still been doing balloon flights. Yes, that is my son Jason (14) and me releasing the first balloon flight in this set. (image right)

We did 4 flights recently in Australia: UpLift-24 to UpLift-27. The project is under commercial wraps for the moment but I can say that it was a  set of weather balloon flights for a big company. They were for their internal restructuring and next few years of corporate direction. Because of the importance of the project, we had several camera including a 360 degree x 240 degrees video camera. We will have the entire 360 degree video available once the company concerned uses it internally.These snaps are from that camera The camera uses a fish eye lens and the software allows the image to decompress and normalise the view. This means that you can, with your PC or smart phone, that you can look around the image. Look in front, look down, look left, right or rear. It is like sitting in a bubble under the payload and balloon.

So I have taken 5 frames from the video and looked around the frame in 4 different directions. Because it is an extremely wide angle lens, the images closest are very big. Jason thus looks very big compared to me in the above image. None the less, there will be nothing but a few clouds near the camera once we leave the ground. Here are 4 images from each frame. The town is Rankins Springs in NSW, Australia. Balloon Central in Australia.

The Balloon Release:

LaunchA-3   LaunchA-2

LaunchA-1   LaunchA-4

10 Metres off the Ground:

LaunchB-4   LaunchB-3

LaunchB-1   LaunchB-2

60 Metres off the Ground

LaunchC-4   LaunchC-3

LaunchC-2   LaunchC-1

The Balloon Above the Clouds

3km-4   3km-3

3km-2   3km-1

The Balloon in the Stratosphere:

Max-4   Max-3

Max-2   Max-1

You can click on each of the images for a full screen view. As I said, these are clips from a single frame from a video. We will soon be able to show you the full 360 degree fully immersible video. You can even use a VR headset or google Cardboard. Please enjoy these images for the moment.

No, we are not being obsessive about dust – it was for the video for the company. It will be magnificent. We had cameras mounted on the tracking vehicle looking forward and back to the windscreen. There was even a drone following the launch and above the tracking vehicle traveling down the highway and down dirt roads. More on these videos as soon as we can release the videos.

Oh yeh – We still have 100% recovery rate – 27 flights and 27 recoveries. There were night recoveries with this one. Two were in the dark! A first for us.

Super Sale – 48 Hours only

IMG_7340Super Sale – Weather Balloons, HAB Flights and More – 48Hrs

Live in Australia?

Monday 17th November 4pm: We are, as always, raising funds for our Project ThunderStruck. Live in Australia and want weather balloons, want us to take your payload to the Stratosphere, or want to rent HAM radio tracking gear?

Sale Ends Wednesday 19th Nov 2015 at 4pm

Learn to Launch and Recover HABs

HABs? High Altitude Balloons. We can do just about anything. We can even take you along with us and show you how its done. It is the full course on flying payloads into the stratosphere. Just $500 per car and you drive your own vehicle – it must be in good condition and suitable for dirt roads.. We launch from west of West Wyalong in southern central part of NSW. The course is hands on and you will get to have a tracking radio in the car and be part of the recovery team. You cover all your own personal costs including road assistance coverage, etc.. You will also need a wireless enabled tablet – preferably Telstra connected and a mobile phone, again preferable with Telstra connectivity. Conditions apply. We may be flying this weekend. Maximum people in one car for the above price is three.

Balloons for Sale

We current have 30 x 100 gram balloons at $10 each + $15 delivery for 1 or 10. We have 2 x 500 gram balloons for $100 delivered in Australia by express post, a 350 gram balloon at $75 delivered in Australia express post and some older 3Kg balloons for $200 each – no guarantees. They are probably 3 years old, but that is all I know.

Helium

We can even rent you 3.4 cubic metre helium bottles (Size E) and balloon regulators. These need to picked up from and returned to Sydney and require substantial deposit of $700 per bottle fully refundable. At this stage it is cash only as we do not carry credit cards. It is also $2 per day per bottle after 1 week’s rental if overdue.

Radios, GPS, Cameras

The HAM radio equipment includes:

  • Yaesu GPS enabled APRS tracker VX-8 two way radio – VHF / UHF dual band
  • Byonics MT-400 APRS trackers – pre-configured with your call sign and SSD
  • GPS units for MT-400
  • Spot 2 and Spot 3 trackers
  • GoPro cameras with external connections for Lithium Iron batteries
  • Lithium Iron Batteries and charger
  • antennas

Send your Mascot or Sign to Near Space?

We can do it for $1,200, down for the sale from 1,500 and that was a special deal already – marked down from $3,000. Conditions apply.

Payment

Sale ends at 4pm Wednesday 19th November 2015 EDST

A 50% deposit must be made tomorrow (Monday) at a CBA branch OVER THE COUNTER to get this sale discount or goods with the balance on most items by Wednesday. This sale ends Monday at 4pm, but call me to negotiate a price after 4pm. For details on the rental of radio equipment and gas bottles- you can call me on 0467 545 755 or call 02 9789 2773 and leave a message if I am unavailable. You may have to ring for a while to go to the messaging service.

Want to see when we have the next sale. Subscribe to our RSS feed to get our posts and be ready.

http://wotzup.com/feed/

Project ThunderStruck Update

More News on Project ThunderStruck

Thanks for the support in both contributions of dollars and more importantly at this stage, getting the word out and helping with services. Tim Gagnon is a fine graphic artist from Florida and he has pledge support by offering to design the mission patch. If you have any thoughts about his skills, have a look at his website. I believe that he has done one or two before!

KSCartist.comKSCartist.com Fine Art & Graphic Design from America’s Space Coast

Spending Your Contributions

Now a little detail on how we will spend your contributions. I did say it would cost $80,000 and that was no exaggeration. For a start there is about $10,000 worth of electronics to buy and test for the final flight and that is just the TV link, the telemetry, the control system for flight, cameras, video from the balloon to see the aircraft and the release, the tracking systems for the balloon and the tracking for the aircraft, the balloon flight termination system. The balloon for the final flight will cost over US$10,000 and the helium will cost $3,000. We will have to buy 2 radar transponders to warn aircraft of our position and they cost $2,000 to $5,000 each (and are heavy too).

Every two weeks we will do a weather balloon flight to test the latest systems for Project ThunderStruck and these will cost between $1,000 and $2,000 dollars each and take up our whole weekend traveling and staying in hotels. Petrol alone costs us $300 for the trip and launching and recovering our systems. Below is a video of a launch we did in Croatia. You will see that it is very difficult and requires a lot of materials and you don’t always recover them. So far we have recovered 100% of our payloads, but one day….

The GPS tracking system will be special as ordinary systems will not work at supersonic speeds. You need a special clearance to buy these and we need 2 and they cost $6,000 each.

The airframes will be expensive and we will need two. Jason has said that since most of our antennas are internal, the airframe cannot be made from carbon fibre alone or the signals will be severely attenuated. He will also need to have sections of the fuselage and possibly parts of the wing fabricated from a material such as Kevlar.

phased circula polarised antenna - double mushroomThe picture, right, is an antenna that may be on the aircraft and shows why we must locate it inside of the airframe. It is a little fragile to leave out in a 1,800kph airstream!

 

CASA – Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority

Our Civil Aviation Safety Authority will also likely want us to travel to a remote part of the country for the big event. That will probably be one of our biggest costs – transporting all that gear and setting it up in the middle of nowhere and that is not a two person activity. We will need transport and accommodation for a huge crowd of people.

I look forward to to telling you more about the technical parts of the mission in the next update for Project ThunderStruck.

At the Mercy of the Winds

Forcast for upLift-20Adverse Winds Delay UpLift-20

It seems that we cannot win when planning some balloon flights due to unfavourable or adverse winds. Whilst UpLift-19 was very straight forward, I have had to postpone our next weather balloon flight by 2 weeks so far – that is two delays and who knows what is going to happen after that. It seems that we might need to make a determination a day at a time a week out.

What has caused this delay. Well other than aircraft maneuvers over the area, it is the wind. Our launch point is fixed as the landing area is determined by the launch point and we have a range that is covered by Telstra broadband and has few trees or water.

In this case the water is the big problem. We simply do not launch when the winds are taking us to the lakes area. We did overfly this area once, but not at a high altitude where the balloon would burst. So why do we worry about those little blue areas? Basically because they are not so little. on Google earth they in fact look like dry areas. It turns out that we discovered the unusual nature of the lakes during one of our earlier flights in the UpLift series. When we recovered the pictures from UpLift-2 we saw a massive lake that was simply not showing on the maps. Well it was there in name only. Here is what the balloon payload saw:

Fat Lady Lake UpLift-2

Above: 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. Note that there are more lakes to its left at the bottom centre of the photo. There are also lakes to the north, out of view. Recovery of payloads would be near impossible in these lakes.

Below: As a reminder of the problems with water, our balloon payload parachuted straight to the only large farmer’s dam in the area and landed less than half a metre from the water. ouch! That’s our ballooning friends, Todd and Mark next to the payload. I have blanked out the actual payload box as it was a commercial flight that required secrecy. We can now inform you that it was the test flight for Bulla’s Frozen Yogurt “Cloud 9”. We eventually send balloons into the stratosphere to freeze yogurt in the clouds. There were 12 flights and 12 recoveries.

UpLift-2

So what else can postpone a launch when all else is going right?   Last flight a few weeks back, we encountered 40kph winds (25mph) and that was a shock to the system after traveling 7 hours by car and staying overnight in a nearby town. We were lucky to find some protection from the wind, but the wind sheer as the balloon rose past the protection could have ripped the balloon apart. We were lucky. Note the cameras on the ground, One at Mark’s feet. They got flung off on impact. We now tie them on with a lanyard to make sure that we do not lose them.

We always carry enough gas for a second launch if the balloon pops before launch, but it is something we do not want to think about. It has happened once! always having two balloons is not good business if you don’t really use it before the expiry date. Some larger balloons cost hundreds of dollars.

Watch the weather and use prediction software for the stratospheric wind details.

Space Chicken? Not Quite.

Space Chicken Flight Matches our RecordUpLift-19 Space Chicken

UpLift-19 continues our incredible success in launching and recovering payloads. That is 19 launches in the UpLift series and 19 recoveries. UpLift-19 was a bit of a record breaker for us in that it is the smallest of our balloons to reach 1/3 the way to space. Yes, that is right, 1/3 the way to space with a 1.25 kilogram payload. So not quite a space chicken, but what is in a few words said our customer.That is 2.75lbs for those few countries still using outdated measurements systems. I think that there are three left out of step with the world! (I do like to have a gentle dig at my US friends). Oh yeh – our first chicken too.

We managed to reach exactly the same height with a 3Kg balloon that we launched in Croatia, but that was carrying 2.5Kgs of payload. So what else was so special about the flight. Well, we cracked the best method of doing photography and have our clearest and most colourful shots ever taken from a balloon flight! It is hard to say what we like best about the flight, but it was a flight that we never thought would get of the ground. We had to launch in 40kph winds. Errhhh, that is 25mph for my non metric friends. That is 22 knots and please note that knots are acceptable in the metric world as they are not imperial measurements, but linked closely with dividing up the world into useable chunks – from the old sailing days.

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19 The flight was commissioned by Clinton Toyota and we carried 3 cameras and 2 trackers and some science experiments. We used our Spot3 tracking for the commercial requirements and provided a secondary private payload where we added an APRS tracker and some experiments. The APRS tracker gives good data above the ground where the commercial stuff is pinpointed with the SPOT3 as it will give precise coordinates when it is one the ground. We use a simple one ring gimbal to ensure that the antenna always has a view of the sky and the satellites that it uses to communicate position. For the commercial aspects, that is all that is needed – to recover the payload and cameras. The APRS invariably stops communicating anything up to 1km from the ground, depending on how close it lands to a HAM radio APRS receiver. We launched from Rankins Springs, NSW – our main launch site. It gives a clear area over most of the flight with little water or little in the way of forests to get in the way. The tracking is good on APRS for all of the flight above 700m at launch. We test the radios are fully functional before letting go. I also realised after launch that my old call sign was on the balloon. That probably confused a lot of people. My fault, but I will rectify that for the next flight.

The winds were over 40kph and we could not see a way to launch until i spotted a solid line of tall trees on the other side of the sports oval. We repacked our equipment and set up in the light wind behind the trees. It worked, but that was with the wind from the north. Usually southerly winds are the problem, so we will watch carefully for weather conditions for future flights and I have a few sites around town picked out if we get caught again.

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19The local primary school (Rankins Springs) came out in force to hear us talk about what we were doing and a bit of fun and science. They came back for the release of the balloon. My son Jason wore his School uniform as he was representing the school for the science experiments that were being launched. He attends Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus.

We completed the payload frame, made from light wood (4 x 1.2m lengths) in the hotel room the night before release and it held together very well with no damage, despite a heavy landing due to the parachute getting rather twisted up and spiraling down.

IMG_3081This meant that we were not at the site where we thought it would land and we had about a half hour drive to reach the site once we realised the problem. In essence the balloon traveled east in the jet stream at speeds of up to 130kph and then broke into the stratosphere and stopped any horizontal movement. As it climbed into the stratophere it picked up speed and traveled to the west reaching 100kph at the point the balloon burst. That was an altitude of 33.333KM – 1/3 the way to space. As I said, this exactly matched our Croatian record where we had a 2.5Kg payload and a 3Kg balloon. The free fall saw a top speed, in the upper atmosphere where the air is thin, of 400kph. That was with a parachute and a rather non-streamlined pyramid frame. That was about 1/3 of the speed of the sound barrier at sea level. I can’t wait for future flights were we will build payloads designed to fly super fast in thin air. Watch out for our attempt to break the sound barrier with a small Radio Controlled aircraft. There will be a few records broken that day. Note in the picture (left) the bubble wrap used as an insulator for the batteries and trackers.

IMG_3073That is Jason holding the balloon during the fill. Notice the cotton gloves. We use these to protect the balloon or we use latex gloves, but they really make my hands too sweaty for my liking. We measured the balloons lift with a set of luggage scales – digital – and they have a “hold” button to make it easier to turn the hand held strain gauge over and see the reading.

This flight we used a new cutdown system that uses a UHF radio (1.4 watts) and a 10 channel modulation system. It should work up to 100km, but we are yet to test it at the extremes. The unit does work on all tests on the ground and this flight we did not have to terminate the balloon other than it bursting.

By the way, Clintons Toyota had a special “Clinton’s” jacket made to keep the chicken warm during the flight, but I doubt the toy mascot needed to worry about the cold. It probably experienced about -50 to -60C in the jet stream. That’s -58 to -76F for my US friends.

Bel;ow are some more photos of the flight. I hope that you appreciate the great leap in photographic quality and that you also appreciate the careful work that I have done to ensure that we recover each and every flight. It is always a challenge to keep our record at 100% recovery. Once we lose a payload, we can never again claim 100% success rate for all of our flights.

DCIM100GOPRO

Above: Jason and I give the payload a bit of close scrutiny before launch, caught by one of the payload cameras. Posing with the Space Chicken!

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19

Above: You can see the wheat and canola fields up here!!!

UpLift-19 Space Chicken

Above: Our Space Chicken at 33.333Km

Rankins Springs Free Fall UpLift-19

Above: Our Space Chicken in a 400kph free fall.

Rankins Springs Sunny UpLift-19

Above:  I hope I slip, slopped, slapped enough before the flight! The sun is bright up here.

Editor’s Note. We do not approve of the term “Space” Chicken from a scientific viewpoint as it is not space, but the company that contracted us to launch the balloon decided to use the term:
http://www.macarthuradvertiser.com.au/story/2562196/space-chook-takes-history-making-journey

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 spacenear.us, callsigns PS and PSPI
SSDV images will be uploaded to ssdv.habhub.org, callsign PSPI
APRS tracking will be on aprs.fi, 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-02-08--02-44-03-PSPI-8CE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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 wotzup.com 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

UpLift-2

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.

UpLift-2

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

UpLift-2

Below: The flight path:

UpLift-1 Launch (Archives)

UpLift-1 Takeoff 28th Dec 2011.

UpLift-1 launch weatherBefore we even left home we needed a massive list to make sure that we did not leave anything behind. After all, a 600km / 400 mile trip for nothing would not be a lot of fun. It was a huge list for such a small balloon and payload. It included the balloon, parachute, payload, helium, spare balloon, test equipment, hoses, cameras, tripod, 2-way radios, tracking radios, decoders, computer, USB cables, mobile phones, car chargers and much, much more. But this is not about that story, this is launch day! We traveled to West Wyalong in NSW (Australia) and spent the night in a great little hotel ready for an early morning departure. We still had 100km / 60 miles to drive to the launch site. The first thing was to check the weather. We had already looked at a long distance forecast before setting the date as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia have to issue an alert to pilots for our balloon. CASA have been wonderful UpLift-1 Launch site with Jason Brand age 9and amazingly helpful. A peek out the door reveals a perfect day for a balloon flight. The photo on right shot outside my hotel room reveals a brilliant day with little wind early in the morning. We packed the car and headed to Rankins Springs near Goolgowi. I had fallen in love with this little town in the middle of nowhere. With about 50 people living in town, it was just a speck on the map at the intersecting of some sealed main roads. What struck me was that it was a place that people cared about. The public places were clean and the grass cut, perfect for preparing a balloon flight.

We found a clear grassed area next to an old Railway water tank used for filling steam engines. The contrast was great – the old and the new. This story is going to be a bit instructive so lots and lots of pictures. First I had my son Jason (9) laidUpLift-1 fill - Latex Gloves out the clean plastic sheet for the filling operation. We placed items in the corner in case a breeze kicked up the corners and destroyed the balloon. We also used Latex gloves to stop acids and other oils from transferring from our hands to the balloon and potentially causing an early failure of the balloon when the UV and other chemicals in the air act on it. We could also have used clean cotton gloves. The problem there was two fold. Sweat from our hands filled the gloves and needed to be changed occasionally to prevent and drops from landing on the balloon. The second problem was that every time we wanted to use duct tape, our gloves stuck very well to the tape! That is me on the left taping the hose to the balloon to protect it and getting the gloves stuck to the tape. There were cable ties under the tape and I used the tape to protect the balloon from sharp edges. The cable ties held the balloon to the flexible PVC tube. I also had the other end of the tube over the balloon fill regulator on the helium tank. That was just sealed with duct tape.

It was then time to prepare the payload. I had decided to block off one of the port holes for the video camera as I wanted this balloon to rise quickly. I was also going to overfill the balloon above specifications to ensure that it would explode a bit earlier than normal. All precautions for a first flight. While we were preparing for the flight, Wally, one of the locals came by on his ride-on mower and remembered me calling in at the petrol / gas station a month earlier. He was excited that we had chosen his town for the launch and APRS Tracker being wrapped in bubble wrapwent off to find the kids in town so that they could join in with all the excitement. Wally was the unofficial “mayor” of the town! A lovely character that obviously cared about kids. The photo on the right shows me preparing the GPS transmitter (Amateur Radio APRS). I am wrapping it in bubble wrap as a thermal insulator to protect it from the cold at the outside air temperature at times during the flight will be between -40 (-40F) and -50C (-58F) or possibly even lower. The capsule is also made from Polystyrene so that too will provide some protection from the cold, but with openings for the camera, there will be some cold air entering the capsule. Care was taken to ensure the dipole antenna (the two gold wires) was mounted vertically in the capsule in the correct place and the small GPS receiver was on top so that it would get a strong signal from the GPS satellites orbiting the earth. The balloon was on a 10m (30ft) cord so that the antenna had no chance of puncturing the balloon. The final benefit was that the capsule would never land upside down so the GPS receiver would always be able to receive satellite signals and report its position once on the ground. Lots to consider. The batteries were also the best that we could buy. Failure was not an option and the cold can kill batteries. We also wanted UpLift-1 Tracker competethe transmitter to last for as long as it took to recover the balloon. The unit was switched on and the receiver in my car was used to checked it was operational and all systems working. The unit reported position, altitude, atmospheric pressure, payload temperature and battery voltage. All parameters where checked and normal. APRS normally will allow you to see the track on the Internet, but we were too far away from any receivers to register. That would only happen when the flight was high enough for the distant receivers to “see” the balloon – once it was high enough to overcome the radio shadow caused by the curvature of the earth, allowing “line of sight” radio signals to be heard. Similarly when we landed, we would lose the signal close to the ground. We were going to rely on the receiver in our car to pick up the transmitter signals and read the location. This would be super important in a couple of hour. More on that later. The photo at right show the transmitter with one layer of bubble wrap. Two more were added with the GPS receiver wrapped to the top – above the side that you can see the unit with care taken to get it the right way around.

UpLift-1 CapsuleThe camera batteries were charged the night before and the camera then required special care. We had it in a sealed box with desiccant overnight to ensure that there was as little moisture as possible in the camera. This would otherwise cause condensation during the flight and fog the images. It was inserted quickly into the housing and the almost closed housing was flushed with helium from the filler hose. This ensured that water in the air was removed and the housing was sealed. The camera was turned on and set to commence taking photographs – the counter on the front began incrementing every 30 seconds. Both the camera and the transmitter were mounted in the capsule. The picture shows the camera in place secured with blocks of polystyrene  and the transmitter in place with the GPS receiver at the top. The payload bay was covered and sealed with duct tape and the capsule was ready to fly. All that waited was to fill the balloon.

UpLift-1 Balloon FillWe had brought a large bed sheet to hold over the balloon in case the wind was too strong for a simple fill. The wind was light and we did not need this, but if we had we would have asked volunteers to hold each corner down while we filled the balloon. The balloon fill was simple, but we needed to measure the diameter to get the fill right. If we under filled the balloon then it might never burst or even rise fast enough and drift long distances before popping. Either way I had made a decision to lighten the payload UpLift-1 measuring the diameterby leaving out the video camera and to overfill the balloon slightly. It was, from the manufacturer’s specifications meant to be 1.2m (3.937ft) in diameter.  I was going to fill it to 1.35m (4.43ft). Since the day was sunny, it was easy to accurately measure the diameter. We simply used a tape measure across the centre of the shadow – perpendicular to the rising sun. This meant that any stretch of the shadow from the angle of the sun would not affect the measurement. In the picture at left you can see that the sun is behind me and Jason is in the right place. The local that was helping just needed to move the measure up closer to the camera to get the final measurement (the photo was a few seconds early). We had the right diameter now and were ready to remove the hose and secure the payload. The helium tank valve needs to be shut off at this point in case the hose gets pulled and the tank either topples or adds more helium to the balloon. If the tank falls, then you could damage the regulator.

This next operation was the most difficult part of the procedureUpLift-1 Securing the neck and the payload. We had already wrapped a cable tie in duct tape to lower the chance of tearing the balloon when inserted. it would secure the nylon cord that secures the parachute and payload. First though, we needed to cut away the cable ties securing the balloon to the hose – all without cutting the balloon. The protective duct tape was peeled away and side cutters were used to sever the heads of the cable ties. This kept sharp edges away from the balloon. That is me on the right cutting the cable ties away (sorry no close-ups). Once the hose is removed then the balloon needs to be sealed and secured. I have no photos of this but the fill tube of the balloon is folded once and then a second time (4 folds thick). The cable tie with duct tape that was prepared earlier was inserted in the middle of the bottom folds ready to secure the payload. I then secured the balloon and and its UpLift-1 ready to launch with help from the locals at Rankins Springsgas with three cable ties above that making them tight around the fill tube. It must be tight to keep the gas in during the flight, especially as the outside pressure gets down to a few percent of sea level and the inside pressure remains the same. I cut the loose ends of the cable ties and used duct tape to keep them from touching the balloon. The cable tie that secured the payload was looped and the payload tied to the balloon. Again duct tape was used to secure the knot holding the payload to the balloon. Nothing was left to chance. The knot used was a bowline and few half hitches – sufficient if you have the duct tape to stop them unraveling. We were ready to launch. The local mission control countdown team were assembled (all but one shy kid and a few adults) and provided the all essential countdown – that’s Wally in he green/yellow safety shirt.

UpLift-1 Launch with Jason BrandIt was a great moment. Rankins Springs’ first near space mission. The countdown proceeded with the kids leading the chant. At zero, my son Jason released the balloon and it was away. Note the old steam engine water tank behind Jason – the old and the new. At about 270 metres the distant APRS receivers saw the balloon’s transmissions and we breathed a sigh of relief that we would be able to track and recover the balloon. We saw the updates every 20 seconds on our smart phones with all the details of the flight. We watched as the balloon stayed in clear view right up to 5km. We kept losing site of the tiny white dot, but the odd reflective glint from the shiny black duct tape brought our eyes back to the tiny 1.35m (4.5ft) white dot up in the clear blue skies of central NSW.  It should be noted, that none of these photos have been altered. They are directly from a number of cameras. The colours have not been corrected! The final job was to pack the car and chase the balloon.

It was serendipity that the first photo snapped by the payload camera at around 270m (900ft) was of the town itself. A wonderful memento of the occasion.

Below is the photo from Rankins Springs. You can click on most of the photos above and below to see a large version of the image (requires that you click through an intermediate page). I have uploaded the image of the town in the highest format possible.

UpLift-1 Rankins Springs 60 seconds after launch

60 seconds after release (below). This photo looking east above Rankins Springs: