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UK Team Misses Balloon Altitude Record, But Beats a Few Others 34

An anonymous reader writes with this report from Hackaday, which recently covered an attempt at the UK altitude record for an amateur balloon launch. Says the story: "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 balloon drifted east from its launching point England, being tracked by Ham radio operators for much of the way, but eventually fell out of range, and is suspected to have ended its flight in Poland or 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."
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UK Team Misses Balloon Altitude Record, But Beats a Few Others

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  • A little device to burst the balloon on command, how difficult can that be?

    It seems to me that if you want your gear back, you'd better make sure you know in which continent it will land.
    From TFA:

    The balloon surely burst at this point, so it could have landed anywhere from Poland to Ukraine to Russia.

    If I read between the lines, they aren't even 100% sure it actually burst over Eastern Europe. It might as well be somewhere in Siberia or China. Or the Pacific.

    And it looks like a styrofoam box, and the alphabet used on it is not the cyrillic one, or Chinese, so a lot of people in the path of that balloon might no

    • It's called a cutdown device. It activates at a specific altitude. If the balloon doesn't reach that altitude, or for that matter a high enough altitude for the balloon to burst, then it won't fire and won't cut down the payload.

      • You forget and use a civilian GPS which stops updating above altitude mumble mumble *handwave*.
        • The GPS's used by these groups will work above 60K. And they are standard GPS devices (re: civilian). The better GPS devices use a combination of factors to decide when to shut themselves down. So, altitude alone won't stop them from working. Usually a combination of high altitude and high speed will make them stop working. There are devices that will stop working based on altitude alone. But, you won't find them on any of these flights.
          • There are devices that will stop working based on altitude alone. But, you won't find them on any of these flights.

            With as many people as are doing this now, and with as little preparation as they put into sending a $200 camera into space, eventually one of them will send up a device that can't handle the altitude.

      • If they can do that, they can easily add a time threshold.. or have it activate when it travels outside a certain radius.
    • A little device to burst the balloon on command, how difficult can that be?

      This is a cooler on a string tied to a balloon - the little device to burst the balloon, cut the string, whatever, would increase the technical complexity of the vehicle by an order of magnitude.

      Personally, I'd like an autopilot guided glider to return the camera to my feet (which has been tried...), but that's a whole lot more project than HAM tracking a GPS signal and running it down wherever it may fall.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      A little device to burst the balloon on command, how difficult can that be?

      As it turns out, very difficult. The group I work for, JP Aerospace [] doesn't burst the balloon directly, but cuts it with a "cutoff" device (which Gordonjcp discusses in another reply []). We had a working system up to a few years ago which depended on a particular pyrotechnic formulation. When the company no longer sent the formulation premixed, we spent something like a year attempting to remake that formulation, unfortunately, resulting in an unreliable cutoff. Now, we use a different approach which appears

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There was a GPS on the balloon - the GPS co-ordinates and altitude are radioed back down and then plotted on a map.
    However, they were expecting it to burst and land in the North Sea - hence no point having a cutdown device.

  • by need4mospd ( 1146215 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @10:14AM (#37817014)
    The California Near Space Project [] broke the altitude record yesterday.
    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Monday October 24, 2011 @11:04AM (#37818082)

      136,545 feet! That is 1515 ft more than previous amateur balloon altitude record held by Cornell University at 135,030 (though I don't think Cornell belongs in the amateur catagory but they used amateur radio as secondary freq). Cornell's balloon was a three-story tall zero pressure techology balloon. CNSP is led by amateurs: They have to pay for everything out of their own pocket, and all have day jobs (lead guy services swimming pools for a living).

      It was exciting to watch it keep going and going, breaking the 130K mark, getting closer to Cornell's, watching the packet transmission (also on and see that transmission of 136039 (nine more feet for 1st place!), and it kept going. No more transmissions after 136545, Stratofox [] had couple vehicles and a airplane, they estimated from predicted path where it may be and guessed correctly at Manteca. Saw one packet burst at ground level and found it in someone's backyard (they were helpful in retrieving it). It almost landed in a swimming pool.

      The ***highest*** balloon was done by the Japanese (University of Tokyo or Japan) at 172,000 feet. This balloon was huge, they had tractors and cranes and truckloads of gas to fill it. Obviously very expensive, much out of the amateur catagory.

  • Say I wanted to euthanize myself when I'm an old man and go out as a shooting star. Is that even remotely possible with a balloon? Obviously a lot of the normal safety issues could be disregarded.
    • Alas, no. The reason stuff like satellites burn up on reentry is that they are moving at least 28000 km/hr (about mach 24) when they reach the atmosphere. They had to be going that fast to be orbiting to begin with.

      A very high altitude drop from initial zero speed will reach a pretty high terminal velocity where the air is thin (even mach 1), but it's nowhere near enough to cause a burn up.

  • Take a look at the ground track, []

    What is exciting is consider an amateur radio repeater on a balloon with the balloon, gas, and payload sized just right for a neutral buoyancy at a really high altitude (i.e. 110,000 ft). Then let it drift and see how many ham radio contacts can be done over large areas of land (like for amateur satellites and ISS). There have been high alt balloons carrying repeaters but they usually go up and kablammo, balloon pops and it's all

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court