This week I sent a high altitude weather balloon to near space. The aim of this project was to capture fascinating video footage of the earth from space using an onboard camera. This video shows the journey from launch to recovery:
The balloon was launched at 9:20am from Redditch, Worcestershire. Due to strong westerly winds aloft, the balloon travelled 106 miles east to a small village near Newmarket, Suffolk where it was recovered at 1:17pm.
The 800-gram high altitude balloon was filled with 3.5 cubic metres of helium, enough to carry a parachute and a payload containing a waterproof high definition camera, a SPOT GPS tracker and of course Ned the astronaut.
The balloon and payload ascended into the sky at a rate of 6.5m/s. As the balloon rose the outside air pressure decreased causing it to expand until the balloon reached bursting point. It took 67.3 minutes for the balloon to reach a burst altitude of 26,400m where it was possible to see the curvature of the earth and the refection of the sun on the Thames Estuary. The payload then descended back to earth at an average rate of 14m/s.
The balloon was tracked in real time using the SPOT GPS tracker; this meant the drive to find the payload could begin before the balloon had landed. The payload was safely recovered in a farmer’s field, having crashed into a fence. An element of luck was present as it is not uncommon for weather balloons to land in hard to reach places such as trees or rivers.
The preparation of such a launch involves the purchasing or hiring of equipment: a camera, balloon, helium, GPS tracker, parachute, and payload box. In many high altitude balloon launches the camera will freeze or run out of battery during flight. To prevent this from happening, the camera was wired to a larger external battery pack that sat inside the payload box and heat packs were used to keep all equipment warm.
It is essential to gaining permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) by filling out an online form 28 days before launch. This is of great importance as flight traffic control need to be aware of the launch to ensure the balloon does not obstruct any flight paths.
Future plans for further launches include improvements such as using multiple cameras, a larger balloon for increased burst altitude and an onboard flight computer to collect temperature and altitude data.