High Altitude Balloon Keeps Going

Here’s a post from the AMSAT-UK high altitude balloon blog. It’s a great story about a balloon cruising at about 12km above the Earth completing its sixth circumnavigation of the planet. That post is from October 4th, and two weeks later the balloon is still going strong. Right now it’s over the Baltic heading into Russia with no sign of stopping or popping any time soon.

globeThe balloon was launched July 12, 2014 from Silverstone, UK. In the 100 days since then, this balloon has covered 144168 kilometers and has crossed its launching longitude six times. Even if this balloon weren’t trapped at high latitudes (including coming within 9 km of the pole), this balloon has still travelled more than three times the equatorial circumference of the Earth.

The balloon was built by [Leo Bodnar] a.k.a. [M0XER] with a self-made plastic foil envelope. The solar-powered payload weighs only 11 grams. It’s an exceptional accomplishment and one that has smashed all the amateur high altitude balloon distance records we can find.

48 thoughts on “High Altitude Balloon Keeps Going

  1. WOOO!!! B-64!!!

    Watching the story of the B’s flights unfold since B-1 has been a great demonstration of the engineering process. It’s been a blast watching Leo improve the designs, analyze data, invent, research, try and try again, each time flying further and further. The B flights have broken past what the amateur balloon community considered nearly impossible for the given constraints and budget.. and now the B’s have finally broken past the cursed 190 hour mark only to circumnavigate around the world six times… that’s nothing short of amazing and inspiring.

    Float on!

  2. I am duly impressed as a ham and being interested in the WX. Google is too.
    Let’s litter the beaches of the world and all the land too with dead internet balloons.
    Will they be fun to hack?

    1. It is.
      A balloon like this one won’t cause critical damage to a plane though because it is very light.
      Also the chance of collision is so small that there are no records in history of plane balloon collisions.
      I even think a jet engine just eats the balloon without too much trouble and birds are more dangerous.

      1. That’s completely wrong. The metal used in the transmitter will cause damage to the blades inside the compressor or the engine. Birds do not damage blades. They are composed of soft organics, even the bone is hollow. The only damage they do is to light aircraft windscreens at low altitude. They shoot frozen turkeys at the engine to demonstrate worst case scenario bird strikes (frozen birds simulate a big dense bird). Anything else isnt guaranteed, and its a guarantee it will devastate the engine.

          1. Anything? Like a nitrogen molecule? Or a tiny tiny dust particle from a far-away volcano? There has to be a limit of what is dangerous and what is not, organic or not. And a single engine failure on airliners is not very serious anyway.

        1. Second hand story…
          A man was nearly sucked into a jet engine, a wrench slipped out of his pocket into the engine, the pilot noticed a momentary drop in engine RPM.
          Eventually the engine was shut off and the man survived.

        2. No, they don’t work like that.

          Modern turbofan engines have bypass ratios of 9:1 or higher. That means that there is a 90% chance of the balloon being sucked through the fan only and not the engine core. Modern jet fans are designed to tolerate a certain amount of FOD without damage. It’s unlikely the pilot or the maintenance people would even notice that this had happened.

          Even if does get sucked into the core, it will have first been pre-chopped by the fan. The compressor blades and vanes are likewise designed to tolerate small amounts of FOD, and will chop it yet finer. From there, it will go into the burners, which are going to melt everything it’s made of. Most of the balloon will burn at this point, including a good chunk of the aluminum. What emerges from the burners will be finely atomized… and not capable of causing much if any damage due to there not being very much there in the first place.

        3. FAA regulations don’t prohibit these balloons. Unmanned balloons can have total payloads of up to 12 pounds (limit of 6 pounds per container) and be launched with no advance notification. There is no specification of what components is allowed or disallowed.

    1. Actually, while I partially agree with all responses on engines sucking in and eating what would be considered light debris, it is actually devestating to the the compressor blades. Frozen turkies will not be as rigid as metals that will be found in that balloons transmitter. I used to work on the J52-P408B, which is a military engine by Pratt and Whitney. We have found that even tiny screws will cause FOD (foreign object debris) damage to the inside of the engine. Remember, these things are turning very quickly. So yes, the weather balloon will surely damage the engine if ingested. It might not fail in flight but it will cost the airline a lot of money to repair the damage. One hackers $500 weather balloon might cause over a $100,000 in damage to the inside of the engine. The blades aren’t cheap. Plus the first incident will have the FAA changing its rules instantly.

      1. Gah, that’s a painful thought. If anything endangers planes the FAA looses it’s shit. It could fall on a baby and the FAA wouldn’t give a crap, but as soon as it gets anywhere near a plane, well…

      2. Well, you have to consider that it is 100% the aircrafts fault (fast moving vehicle) for coliding into what is essentially a static object (super slow moving balloon) . To better illustrate this, who do you think is at fault if a car going 55 mph runs into a pedestrian going 0 miles per hour…. The car or the pedestrian? Its the cars fault or rather the driver of the car.

        Airspace is a commons shared by all. Likewise so are public roads.

  3. FAA regs for the US say that it’s legal (and presumably safe) to launch balloons that…

    Have a balloon smaller than 6 feet in diameter
    Have a combined payload weighing less than 12 pounds
    Have a single payload section weighing less than 6 pounds

    And they have to stay out of Class B and C airspace (these are near the ground around medium to big airports).

    Presumably, within these limits, the amount of havoc a balloon could cause in a collision would be pretty small.

  4. I thought they fired the frozen birds at windscreens. I would think a high speed frozen turkey would be really hard on an engine. Remember the plane that injected some birds and landed in the Hudson?

  5. This seems pretty irresponsible. Nice technical achievement but spending that much time at cruising altitude for trans ocean fights seems like a good way to cause an incident that gets amateur ballooning banned for everyone.

      1. Most weather balloons rise with an ascent rate of close to a 1000ft/min or greater meaning they’ve punched through the altitude a plane could possibly run into it fairly quickly into the flight. Not to mention nearly all issue a NOTAM with the FAA of the predicted flight area of the vessel.

        This thing is just randomly flying around right at cruising altitude. Is it likely someone will hit it, of course not. It’s a big ass sky. Is it possible? I’d say they’re increasing the likelihood quite a bit through negligence.

    1. That seems pretty irresponsible why? The chance of this 11g (!!) payload bringing down an aircraft is just ridiculously low. Or are you that kind of guy lecturing kids about the dangers of launching paper airplanes without wearing safety goggles?

      Engineers spend countless hours making sure that a 4-8 pound bird can not take a plane down. This payload is 0.024 pounds. It’s composed of a PCB, ~4 chips, some SMT passives, a battery, a small solar panel, and a bit of thin wire. The metals are soft metals. So the chance of anything serious happening in case of an impact is remote. The chance of an impact is remote. Remote x remote = remote^2 = yeah right whatever.

  6. Let’s try a little thought experiment: Impose a worldwide ban on amateur high altitude baloons and weather balloons. Now measure the increase in aircraft security.
    Meteorologists have been letting off balloons for decades and a meteo ransmitter is much more substantial than this little package.
    Now a practical test, calculate the volume, in cubic mles, of the civil aviation flightpaths in your area, then look at the volume of this package (eleven grammes).
    Not worth a Mythbusters episode, but the informtion in the comments is interesting.

      1. Indeed, It’s a cliffhanger at the moment. The balloon seemed to be doing fine when radio-contact was lost. It was heading into the arctic regions, which means not a lot of sunlight and little APRS coverage. I watch it daily to see if it reappears.

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