HAB-3: Launch and Recovery

By Josh Eiland · May 21, 2015

On May 2nd, we successfully launched and recovered our third high-altitude balloon, which was our entry for the Global Space Balloon Challenge.

Early Saturday morning, we loaded up and drove to Lake Allatoona, about a 40 minute drive northwest of Atlanta. Here we unloaded all of our gear on a small peninsula jutting out into the lake, and began inflating the balloon while Bo and Carson went to pick up a few canoes and kayaks from High Harbor, a nearby camp that was generous enough to let us borrow a some of their boats to make our water launch possible. We laid down a tarp on this small peninsula and began to set up the payload and fill the balloon with helium.

We ran into a little trouble when we realized that the nine-volt battery intended to power the Arduino datalogger did not have enough power left, so we had to make a quick run to a nearby store and get another battery.

For the launch itself, we wanted to get really good footage for our video entry in GSBC. Blake, Lovett’s cameraman, and James, videographer extraordinaire, loaded up into a canoe with a motor attached. They were able to take photos and video from the water nearby.

After launch, we departed towards the projected landing area a little southeast of Athens after a brief stop in Atlanta. After SPOT signals appeared to show a landing site, we tracked the last few points. What we discovered is that the balloon had landed on top of (literally, as we would later find out) of a small building, and had then traveled to a nearby larger building after a short time. After further investigation, we learned that the balloon had landed on the roof of a small extermination company, and the woman working there had heard the landing and proceeded to call 911. The firefighters and police came, and the firefighters ended up taking the balloon to their station, which was located right across the street.

We drove the fire station and met the men, thanking them and watching the footage from the GoPros with them. The Anker battery bank worked perfectly, and had managed to keep both GoPros charged for the entirety of the flight while still maintaining over half of its own charge by the time we retrieved it. The Hero4 got footage of the full flight, while the Hero2 lost the last few minutes of footage due to the SD card being forcefully ejected upon landing. However, the Hero4 actually had the perfect angle to enable us to watch the firefighter’s looking at the balloon and pulling it down from the roof, and one of them had even posed and smiled for the camera.

Unfortunately, the datalogger failed slightly before the launch, lasting only 15 minutes from the time we initiated it. Though the sensor connections were solid, the cables linking the 9V battery to the datalogger were likely worn enough to cause it to loose power. We plan to decrease the datalogger’s frequency of reports from recording data to the SD once every tenth of a second (much faster than necessary) to about twice per minute in order to increase power efficiency. In addition, since so much of the Anker’s battery was left, we will likely use its third USB port to power the datalogger on future balloons.

This balloon’s successes and failures give us a very clear indication of what we need to focus on going forward, as will be outlined in an upcoming HAB-4 early post. Our primary focus going forward will be getting the datalogger and HAM-radio to a dependable and consistent state where we can count on them being operational for the entirety of the flight. The data from these sources will be instrumental to further understanding the conditions of near-space and how to better suit our payload for these conditions.