Launching A Balloon And Not Landing In The Ocean

In just a few short hours, the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association will launch their 4th high altitude balloon project into the rarefied air of the stratosphere and with any luck bring back pictures of the view high above Connecticut  Long Island, Rhode Island, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Inside their surprisingly strong unibody chassis is two GoPro cameras and a triple-redundant telemetry system consisting of a custom radio system capable of transmitting over 40 miles, a cell-phone based comms system and a SPOT satellite tracker.

There is one very large problem the Yale Aerospace team has had to cope with; Because they’re launching their Skyview balloon from the eastern seaboard of the US, it’s very likely their payload could end up taking a drink in the Atlantic. To solve this problem, the team developed a novel cut-down solution: a piece of nichrome heater wire is wrapped around the line tying the payload to the balloon. If the hardware receives a signal from the ground, or has a software problem, or runs out of battery power, the nichrome circuit will release the balloon from its launch vehicle to hopefully return it to solid ground.

The Yale Aerospace team has also written a custom iOS app allowing the chase cars to track the balloon in real time – a great feature if you’re trying to communicate with several cars going down the highway. You can check out the live data from the balloon on the Yale Aerospace tracking site or just head over to their twitter to read the latest news about the flight.

32 thoughts on “Launching A Balloon And Not Landing In The Ocean

  1. nichrome wire cutdown is new?! I had that idea years ago and then realized plenty of others have the same idea.
    It’s lightweight, easy to use/incorporate into the tether. The trick is getting enough voltage across the wire to burn through the tether without burning out/breaking first.

  2. 40 miles? The 10mW radio’s used by UKHAS members routinely get over 500km/300 miles range.

    And not landing in the ocean is not that hard, there is a lot of data available about winds at altitude, including websites which will predict the flightpath. It’s just a matter of choosing the right day to fly.

      1. very true flink – We tend to launch over to Europe – the winds are going the wrong way most of the time to get stateside. Mind you I guess we could always aim for the states by going the long way round. Sadly as we fly over eastern europe its about as dead as tha atlantic for trackers.
        but watch this space – we’ll get there!

        1. :-) I figured that to be the case. Still, it’s a very interesting hobby. I’m already out of time hobbywise. 3D printing, CNC, microcontrollers, metal casting, and 3D graphics have account for every minute I can squeeze out of a day.

          I think I need to win a huge lotto jackpot so I could pursue my hobbies full time!

  3. There is a lot of arrogant guff on their website, for example:

    ‘The craft, now stored by the team for safekeeping, is still one of the most advanced amateur balloons to date, featuring two independent tracking systems, a failsafe aborting mechanism, a camera, and sophisticated software for real-time ground tracking.’

    As someone familiar with High Altitude Ballooning, this is just purest nonsense. This feature set is par for the course, flights like that happen all the time and have done for several years. On the basis of their website I can see nothing that would qualify such a bold claim.

    It’s well and good, and to be encouraged, that they’re having a go at doing these projects in an extra-curricular undergrad way. I used to run with others a university balloon/rocket spaceflight club whose work has been featured on HaD several times over the years in exactly the same mould as these guys. But I’d like to think we had the humility to learn from what others had done around us and be aware of the context in which our stuff fitted. These chaps would be well advised to do the same. Start by having a look at the UKHAS webpages to see some of the stuff that has been done.

  4. I think a better and cheaper solution would be to include a water-activated life vest on the package. That way they’d still be able to locate the device if it lands in the water.

    1. In the air, on the land, on the water the vehicle doesn’t appear very high viability to me. In some photos it appears to be reflective, good camouflage except for the moments it catches the Sun just right and a tracker is looking at it at that moment. I understand the requirement for a certain radar reflectivity, but that can exist below a RF transparent high visibility material. Perhaps I’m being particular, but I didn’t see a unibody chassis as in that circuit boards battery trays & even the batteries are load bearing components of the vehicle structure. Would have been far out if the team would have designed it that way, but I’m not seeing it in the photos I looking at. Would be nice to read more about the transmitter, custom antennas ec., but I not fidining anything about those. Anyway hope the filght went well & they have a reusable vehicle.

  5. Is this post from 2002? We have launched more lightweight and powerful tech than what they seem to have on board, and we are just a couple of people, not a school. The arrogance they display is more lofty than the altitude of their balloon.

  6. Exactly, flink. That’d be a much better solution that would benefit future trans-oceanic balloon flights.

    There’s nothing truly ground breaking here, aside from the fact that maybe they have the most internal airspace of any balloon project that’s made it on HackADay.
    For the size of their payload, it’s mostly empty…

  7. I think their balloon crashed as it’s been in the same spot for a long time and the altitude plot shows zero feet.

    I tuned it at 2 hrs after launch. . . how long does a flight like this typically last?

    1. They usually last around 2 to 3 hours. The one I did went to 37.5km/123,000ft when it burst and then came back down by parachute. This one climbed very very very slowly, it was either they payload was too heavy or the balloon was underfilled or too small. But the tracker page was behaving so weirdly we can’t be sure. For stuff like this there’s a burst calculator developed by the Cambridge University Space Flight organization There’s also a predictor which you can see where your payload is going if it climbs x m/s and reaches x altitude. I think this Yale team could have saved themselves a wet payload if they had used Google a bit more. UKHAS also have a tracker, which works very well in tracking and predicting (live) the landing spot. I actually saw my balloon come down under chute as it went through the final few hundred meters, as we’d chased it and we drove to the predicted landing spot.

  8. DIY GPS glider is a good idea.

    Always wondered why someone hasn’t
    just attached a cheap R/C heli
    mechanism as an alternative to a
    chute.. the RC goes to max about
    1000 feet up and comes in for a
    controlled landing.

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