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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 spacenear.us 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.

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.

[Read more...]

Live high altitude balloon launch

[Terry] is planning to launch his high altitude balloon within the next few days. As we’ve seen before he has gone for a general setup – GPS tracking, environment sensors including temperature and humidity and pressure, and 2 on board cameras – all with an expected height of about 100,000 feet. What makes this project unique is the transmission of live telemetry data to a Google Maps or Google Earth interface.

The planned launch date is Sunday the 24th about 00:00 UTC so long as the Civil Aviation Safety Approval for the launch is passed.

As a final note [Terry] wanted to let inspiring balloon launchers to check out the UK High Altitude Society – who have been an invaluable source of information.

Crazy Holidays Extra


After sushi-thanksgiving at my house, I’m beat – but you guys have been busy on the tips line.

In one of those special moments of vengance, the ‘real’ ps3 grill was created. (It’s been built, don’t be fooled by the fund raising graphic they were too lazy to remove.)

In another moment of consumer electronics death, a 25mw 405nm laser was obtained from a blu-ray DVD burner and turned into the closest thing to a light saber I’ve seen.

[James Coxon] sent in his autonomous RC car project. I found his Pegasus high altitude balloon project even more interesting.

If you haven’t already heard about it, if you can hack this ps3, you’ll actually get to own it. Thanks [good4me] and [wierdguy].

[Chris_rybitski] sent in his music syncro’d christmas light control – he runs the AC audio into diode rectifier to drive a SSR.

If you really hate squirells, [Alexiy] thinkgs you might find a remote controlled airsoft gun handy.

Don’t forget to check out the Hack-A-Day Design Challenge. I already announced the iPod, the MAKE controller and Daisy MP3 player kit, but look for another prize announcement soon.

Let the holiday geekery continue!