JHAB 1 – Initial Test Flight
The balloon was equipped with a still and a HD video camera – Canon PowerShot A480 and a GoPro HD video camera. The GoPro camera we used was mounted outside of the payload filming at an angle so that it would capture both the horizon as well as some of the ground level. The battery life of the GoPro, was a major issue as we came to later find out. However, the A480 had plenty of battery life as well as excess space left over on the memory card, which lasted for well over the entire flight. Unfortunately the pictures after the burst of the balloon were rather one sided; as they were pictures of either inside the box once it landed or of the sky as it descended tilted. Still fantastic shots of the descent.
JHAB – Tracking –
We were able to track the balloon, to an extent, using a combination of InstaMapper, downloaded onto my iPhone that we sent up, and a SPOT GPS device. After we retrieved the capsule we found out that my phone either died due to lack of battery life, or magically turned off. Yet the SPOT was able to give us regular GPS coordinates every 10 minutes or so. We did however, lose track of the SPOT once it reached about 60,000 ft, but strangely enough started to get GPS signal again at 90,000 ft, which shouldn’t have happened.
JHAB 1 – Temperature Control system were two hand warmers, embedded into the lid, then taped with Kapton tape.
JHAB – Launch –
After making multiple predictions using http://habhub.org/predict/ to chart the wind patterns for a chosen day. We were deciding on whether to launch the balloon somewhere near Victorville, which we ended up choosing, and somewhere in Barstow, California. If we launched the balloon in Barstow it would have landed somewhere in the desert, while if we launched near Victorville, it would have landed in someone’s yard, according to the predictions done. After making multiple predictions for a little over a month, we charted the wind patterns early the morning of, as well as the night before, and planned to launch the balloon at 08:00PST. Due to a slight error in balloon handling we lost our first balloon, and didn’t end up launching until 10:17
Amazingly – the impact site was only 11 miles from the original launch site, and only 5 miles away from the predicted landing site!
After arriving at our launch site with our capsule, 1 balloon and a spare, plus our 244cu ft of helium, we started to set up the launch zone.
The first balloon was setup at 08:05am, but the scale wasn’t giving us a proper reading, and by the time we did get a proper reading, it was at 7lbs of lift. Which if we launched at that much of lift, the balloon would have ascended at a rate faster than we wanted and burst at a lower altitude that we wanted as well. So our plan was to just remove the neck of the balloon filler and release enough helium to get the correct amount of lift we wanted, which was about 4.19 lbs of lift. In the process of doing so my father and I lost grip of the neck and off it went (wish we had a picture of our faces when the balloon took off by itself!). Luckily it wasn’t attached to the payload yet, and we brought a spare 1200g balloon!
The second balloon, we did with a lot more precautions. We attached the balloon to the counter-weight with nylon string, which we then attached a second string to my friend’s hand, as to not lose it again. We then adjusted the scale every so often to check to make sure the reading was accurate. We inflated our 1200 gram Kaymont balloon to a little more than 5 lbs of buoyancy with the payload attached. The balloon rose at about 20 feet/second until it reached 111000 feet where it burst due to the expansion of the balloon in the low pressure of near space.
The First Flight of JHAB
With the prelaunch checklist completed, it was time to let JHAB- 1 fly! At 10:08 am on September 18, we let her go. And go she did! As we had calculated with the 4lbs of lift, it ascended at a rate of 1200 ft/min. It was a very clear morning in the high desert and we were able to watch it climb for nearly 30 minutes. We met a very nice local Gary (Nicholson Forklift Service) who also helped us launch and spot JHAB on its climb with his binoculars
JHAB – Recovery –
As the balloon rose into thinner atmospheres it expanded to almost 5 times its original size until at about 111,000 feet, at which point the balloon popped and the capsule began its descent. With a parachute attached to the payload, it slowed the fall of the payload and the SPOT GPS was able to triangulate once again. When the capsule landed we were able to locate it using the SPOT, alone, because the InstaMapper didn’t work on my iPhone.
The payload landed in Apple Valley, in someone’s backyard, but we first thought it had landed in the Silver Mountains, according to three distinct GPS coordinates from the SPOT. We found out later after hiking through difficult terrain, in somewhere around 100 degree weather, that the SPOT was broadcasting a signal at 90,000ft.
GPS says where??
So after searching the Silver Mountains for over an hour in inadequate hiking apparel, using a car GPS to locate the capsule, we entered the data that was given to us from the SPOT, after that GPS ran out of battery we walked back to the car, and once there we checked the SPOT’s signals again and found that it was still on the move. After about 15 minutes of driving we tracked it down to a small community in Apple Valley, to someone’s backyard.
JHAB – Lessons Learned –
Overall, the project went very well. We did learn quite a bit about launching High Altitude Balloons. Here are a few notes:
GoPro Pro tip: We learned that the GoPro can fog up if sealed at a different environment (we used the waterproof housing, and sealed it at closer to sea level) than the area you launch it from, which caused condensation on the inside at about 10K feet. Next flight we’ll use the non-waterproof housing and the gopro anti-fog strips.
Canon A480 and the CHDK script: The script we used (and tested, then tested, and tested again), worked great. One item we missed during prelaunch was to turn off Autofocus and set to infinity. With Autofocus on and the spinning of the capsule, we didn’t get as clear as picture as desired. We’ll follow our prelaunch notes for next flight and ensure the camera is set properly.
Battery Life: The standard GoPro battery wasn’t enough to last the entire journey. It only lasted a little bit over 2 hours, while the whole journey lasted a little over 3 hours. Next launch we have the extra GoPro battery back which should double the record time. The Lithium batteries in the Canon worked flawlessly, providing power for the entire flight, and was still taking pictures at recovery.
Lift Test: We learned after the small hiccup with the first balloon, to test the amount of lift frequently, and have several safety strings attached to the filling device.
Multiple GPS devices are never a bad thing: If you can get your hands on multiple GPS devices to track your balloon, it’s in your best interest. If we didn’t have both the SPOT GPS as well as the InstaMapper, we would have never found the capsule. The iPhone stopped recording after only 15 minutes of flight time. The SPOT, sent consistent reading every 10 minutes (no altitude) until 60K feet, then three of the exact same reading at what appears to be 90K feet for some reason (this is what caused the recovery team to go four wheeling, and a nice 4 mile desert hike), but then at ground level sent very accurate readings, the final reading at exactly where we found it.
A tight grip can save time: We learned that a tight grip when adjusting anything on the balloon is probably a good idea.
Bring spare parts: Learned this the hard way, it’s a good idea to bring spare parts for assembling the balloon filling device, as well as spare balloons. We ran out of helium due to the first balloon prematurely launching. Luckily we found a Party City a mile down the road, and the manager was kind enough to open 30 minutes early and allow us to rent another tank to complete the fill of the second balloon.
JHAB Technical Information:
|JHAB Test Flight # 1|
17:08 Zulu (10:08 PDT)
Lat: 34.4282, Lon: -117.37704
Lat: 34.49163, Lon: -117.24806
1179 (g) 2.9 lbs
1200 g Kaymont Weather Balloon
~4.1 kg Gross lift, ~3 kg Net; with payload resulting in Free Lift of >1.7 kg
Temperature, Dew Point
Canon PowerShot A480
703 flight pictures (15 seconds using CHDK) 1189 total pictures
|Camer 2 time||
14 gb of video, total elapsed time of 2:04:52