Would you like to start your own near-space scientific program? High-altitude ballooning provides a unique opportunity to carry out unique scientific experiments as well as making learning more exciting with Amateur Radio applications among others.

For professors, it is also a good chance to motivate their students through research and it is also a good way to introduce them to near-space exploration first hand. The experience of launching a high altitude balloon consists of a bunch of different areas where everything has to be planned in advance (sometimes it is like solving a puzzle) and several problems have to be faced. The most powerful source of knowledge comes from this need to struggle to solve technical, logistical and computational problems as well. And the most important question, launching a balloon like any other project requires the full implication of a motivated team.

Preparing an experimental balloon used to be time consuming and costly. The system consists of a balloon (typically made of natural rubber it weighs 1.200 to 1.500 gram when deflated), a parachute for recovery, and a string of payloads including an experimental payload, the radio tracking payload and a position buzzer (sound beacon), just to name a few components. We commonly refer to all this stuff attached to the balloon itself as the “balloon train”. For tracking the payload, one can use different methods and approaches but the most common consists of the usage of one of the following: a Ham Radio using the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) station complete with a GPS receiver, a SPOT location transmitter (requires annual subscription) or a SIM card based GPS tracker (best to make a backup of your SIM card stored agenda before launch). No matter which communications protocol one use in order to track the payload during the real flight, what matters most is that the system itself has to be fully tested and a hundred percent functional before launch (which is absolutely crucial). Note that every country has its own regulations for each of the stated above positioning systems and protocols.

 

after_launch

This photo shows a Stratoscience high altitude balloon shortly after its launch