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Tomorrow (8/31/13), we will be attempting to tethered a balloon and get photos of the Nebraska State Fair before letting the balloon go. We plan to record temperature, pressure, and radiation data throughout the flight as well as cameras. Unfortunately, the weather forecast predicts that it is going to be very hot again, in the mid-nineties.
We will be launching a balloon at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island on Saturday, August 31, 2013.
We will also be offering a High-Altitude Ballooning Workshop through Metropolitan Community College starting Friday, October 4th, 2013 and we will launch on Saturday, October 19th, 2013.
Here are some lessons that we learned the hard way with our High-Altitude Ballooning program.
1. Do NOT turn the chase van off while preparing for a launch.
If you are using the vehicle to power your antenna and computer and/or other miscellaneous devices, it will drain the battery and you will have to get a jump start before starting the chase.
2. Do NOT forget your APRS antenna at home.
You will be dead in the water and have to run and get it which will delay the launch.
3. Do NOT forget to turn on all of your cameras and probes before you launch.
If you turn on the cameras too early, the batteries may run down and they will stop taking photos before you reach maximum altitude. The best way to prevent this is to have a flight list and follow it. Turn on everything inside the pods before you wrap them up and turn on the external cameras right before you fill the balloon, because once it leaves your fingers, there is nothing else you can do.
4. Do NOT count on your cell phone working during the chase.
If you are on the interstate or near a large city, there would not be much of a problem. However, if you go just a few miles out into the country, cell service will be spotty at best. Even with a booster, you are going to run into problems if you rely solely on your cell phone service for some vital tasks.
5. A car GPS won’t cut it.
We originally used the removable GPS from our car to try to find the payloads. Even though it could get us to within 20-30 feet of the correct latitude and longitude, we could still not find the payloads in very tall corn. When we had a good hand-held GPS like the kind used for hiking or geocaching, we were able to walk right to it.
6. Have a plan for feeding the chase team.
If you let a bus full of students stop at a convenience store or fast food place during the chase, you will probably miss the landing. Even if you have packed sack lunches, drinks, and snacks, you will probably need to stop for a bathroom break which will take a while if you have lots of people. If you have a small advance chase team, they could go ahead of the larger group and have a greater chance of seeing it land, making it much easier to find.
7. Have a plan when you get to the touchdown site.
Make the participants take the time to put the coordinates in their hand-held GPS units, have them go in teams, and make sure that one person in the team has a walkie-talkie set to the correct channel. We have had students run off willy-nilly when they hear approximately where the payloads landed so they can be the first ones to find it. Most of them are not used to walking long distances in the heat of summer through corn or down dirt roads. They get disoriented easily and might get hurt walking on uneven ground. If everyone has a walkie-talkie, they will hear when a team finds the payloads and everyone can regroup and if there is a problem, they can get help quickly.
We would like to acknowledge and endorse the following companies who provided the specialized equipment we used for the Husker-game HAB launch.
For the last three years, StratoStar and Jason Kreuger (President) have been an immeasurable help with the development of the ballooning programs for NASA Nebraska Space Grant and the Strategic Air and Space Museum. Without his assistance, as well as the high-quality, high-reliability HAB equipment StratoStar produces, we quite literally would not have gotten off the ground. Our primary experiment balloon for the Husker game launch and chase used the entire StratoSAT Elite Package.
Primary and back-up tracking for the 2nd balloon, and back-up tracking for the 1st balloon use two Byonics Micro-Trak AIO’s, and one Micro-Trak RTG. Both were the “HA” variants.
Both balloons used 60” Heavy Duty Spherachutes with Weather Balloon Attachments. Spherachutes allows you to choose your own custom color panels. Great for matching school-colors, or making high-visibility chutes. All ten experiment pods on our two Husker game balloons used Spherachutes’ fantastic Fabric Box Wraps (and 11x9x7.25 coolers from ULINE).
Project Aether has an nice assortment of high altitude ballooning equipment and is well worth your consideration. We used the 1200 gram Pawan Rubber Products Meteorological Balloons Project Aether sells for the our Husker-game launch.
Other vital equipment
Besides the aforementioned pieces of equipment, we also used an AvMap Geosat 6 APRS navigator matched with a Kenwood TH-72A in each of our chase vehicles. Each balloon also had a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger as a back-up for our secondary tracking system (i.e. a back-up for the back-up.) Lastly, we outfitted the balloons with 5 GoPro HD Hero 2 Cameras recording both HD video and taking still images.
The Nebraska High-Altitude Ballooning (N-HAB) project began in 2011 with our first launch through a workshop hosted by Metropolitan Community College and NASA Nebraska Space Grant. Since that time, we have been a part of dozens of high-altitude balloon launches in the state.
This blog was created to have a journal of our flights, a repository of ballooning data and images for teachers and students to use, and a place to discuss techniques for facilitating scientific inquiry.