Beating the wrong amateur balloon record

Friday, we covered a little project that attempted to beat the UK altitude record for an amateur balloon launch. Things don’t always go as planned, but the APEX team did manage to beat the several other UK records, including ones for the longest distance and flight duration for a latex balloon.

The APEX team was originally trying to beat the altitude record set by [Darkside] and his Horus 15.5 payload that made it to 40,575 meters. The APEX balloon was launched and slowly climbed over the North Sea to the expected burst point. Unfortunately for the trackers, the balloon leveled off at about 36km and just kept going.

The total Great Circle distance of the APEX Alpha flight was 1347km, with a total flight time of 12 hours, 20 minutes. The balloon eventually drifted out the radio range of anyone aware of the project. Despite the valiant efforts of HAMs across Europe, APEX Alpha was lost in the “HAM wastelands of Eastern Europe,” somewhere over Poland.

Even though the APEX team lost contact with their balloon, Alpha was still transmitting at the time. The balloon surely burst at this point, so it could have landed anywhere from Poland to Ukraine to Russia. The APEX team is offering a reward for finding Alpha, so if you see a small styrofoam box in Eastern Europe, drop the APEX boys a line.

Of course this flight couldn’t have taken place without the efforts of HAMs across Europe. [Darkside], [2E0UPU], and so many others helped out with the tracking as Alpha passed over the Netherlands and continued towards Berlin. The last contact was made by the awesome [OZ1SKY], who was very gracious to stay up until the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Not a bad flight for something that was supposed to take a swim in the North Sea. If you’d like to see the raw data from the flight, the APEX team posted everything they pulled down.

Going for the amateur balloon altitude record

At 11 AM London time, October 22, the Sutton grammar school for boys is going to be launching Apex Alpha, a high altitude amateur balloon for an attempt at the UK altitude record. Unlike a few other balloons we’ve seen, the Apex team is doing it right and giving everyone the downlink details for the balloon.

The payload for the balloon was built entirely by student of the Sutton grammar school and weighs less than 300 grams. While it’s not carrying a camera for the all-important pretty pictures, the payload does have a GPS module and a transmitter; it’s just enough to do the required testing on the lead up to Apex III.

Right now, the UK amateur balloon record stands shy of 130,000 feet. The team gained a lot of experience with their Apex I and Apex II launches, and they’re pretty confident they have the experience to pull this one off. You can check out the progress of the Apex Alpha flight on the tracker. For us Yanks, the launch should start October 22nd at 6:00 am Eastern time and 3:00 in the morning for the West coast. The team says they’ll be updating that throughout the flight.

UPDATE: Apex Alpha just won’t burst. Any HAMs near Berlin in Eastern Europe are sorely needed. Head over to the IRC chat if you can help.

Space camera streams data during flight

Take the risk of not recovering your hardware out of a near-space camera launch by streaming the data during flight. [Tim Zaman] is part of a team that developed the rig seen above. It sent 119 image back during the recent balloon launch. This included transmissions from as high as 36 kilometers.

The main hardware included a BeagleBoard with connected Webcam housed in a Styrofoam cooler for thermal protection. Pair that with a GPS module for location tracking, and a GPRS module for data transmission and you’re in business.

But that’s not all that went up. The team built a backup hardware module in case the primary failed. This one also had a GPS and GPRS radio, but was driven by an Arduino.

The radio connection made it easy to recover the hardware. GPS data led the team directly to the landing site. The package came to rest on the roof of a building, but we guess that’s more convenient than getting snagged at the top of a huge tree.

Don’t miss the hardware detail video that we’ve embedded after the break.

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Czech-ing out the view from 31 kilometers

The team at czANZO, the Czech Amateur Near-Space Object group, sent up one of the best high-altitude balloons we’ve ever seen last weekend and the resulting video is remarkable.

The team’s build blog (Google Translate link for everyone without Chrome) goes through the design and construction of their payload. Like every other balloon build we’ve seen, a styrofoam cooler is used for the enclosure, but there’s a lot of really neat additions that make this build special.

The team included a cut down device in the event the balloon gets caught in the jet stream. Without this cut-down device the balloon could end up hundreds of miles away from the launch point. That’s the reason for the cut-down device they’ve given, although we suspect it’s an excuse to play around with pyrotechnic rope cutting. The optical and audible alarm is something we haven’t seen on many high-altitude balloon launches, which is odd because it made ground recovery much easier.

The team has a lot of video from the flight that [Pavel Richter] dumped onto Vimeo. We really like the footage showing all of Prague, you can check that out after the break.

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Play-by-play of a high altitude balloon flight

[Greg Intermaggio] and [Shumit DasGupta] at Techsplosion launched a high altitude balloon last week that climbed to 90,000 feet above sea level somewhere over California. The play-by-play of the flight is one of the better stories we’ve seen on high altitude balloon builds.

The balloon, christened VGER-1, carried a SPOT satellite GPS messanger to send telemetry back to the ground. We’ve seen a few home brew balloon tracking devices, but [Greg] decided to use an off-the-shelf solution for the sake of simplicity. Like other balloons the VGER-1 carried a CanonPowershot camera with CHDK firmware.

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Trackuino – an Open Source Arduino APRS Tracker

trackuino board

Trackuino is a new open source (GPLv2 license) Arduino APRS tracker designed by [Javier Martin]. If you are unfamiliar: APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) is an amateur radio method used to relay small packets of position-tracking data to an online database for easy access and mapping. In this case, GPS telemetry data is used to track latitude, longitude, altitude, course, speed, and time measurements in near real-time via

Although this reminds us of the WhereAVR that we covered previously, the Trackuino includes an onboard radio so no external handheld unit is necessary. Since the Trackuino was designed primarily for high-altitude balloon tracking, a number of useful related features are also included: dual temperature sensors, support for a humidity sensor, and a remote “cut-down” trigger really make this a complete package.

Initially there was some concern that the 300mW radio used would not be powerful enough to reach the ground-based receivers from peak altitudes. This was clearly not an issue however, as the signal was heard from nearly 600Km away during the maiden voyage. If this still doesn’t sound like enough power, a 500mW radio is also supported.

Make sure to check out [Javier]’s blog for some amazing high-altitude photos and everything needed to get your own Trackuino up and running in no time!

Thanks [Brad]!

Target hunting UAV armed with fireworks

Don’t just build a UAV, use it to blow things up. In this case a tri-copter seeks out colored balloons and pops them using low-grade fireworks. We’ve seen this type of flying armament before, but not in a ‘copter form factor. It looks like the targeting and firing is done by an operator, and is not an automated system despite what the text overlays on the video after the break says. The lack of autonomous firing capability makes this delightful, rather than scary. Don’t miss the build log for the tri-copter itself. How do you think this one stacks up to the last 3-bladed build?

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