Launch Diaries

Balyolo 3

2014-04-01 20:36:16

After the loss of HAB2 on 12th March, the launch team were keen to rectify their mistakes and immediately started preparation for the 3rd test flight, BALYOLO.  A new CAA permit was applied for and design and development of the new mission began. Space flight, even at this level, is unpredictable and has huge potential for problems so the procedures were revised to include more rigorous testing.

Aims for the third test flight included:

  • Higher altitude
  • Optimising filling procedure
  • Obtaining clearer pictures
  • Better GPS tracker testing
  • Stress free tracking and recovery
  • Test new equipment: wind anchor and new camera

Despite the inauspicious date, 1st April was our designated launch day. The winds were very low and the CUSF landing predictor indicated a landing location near Cheddington, a mere 18 miles from our launch site. The GPS radio tracker was compatibility tested with the other electronic components in the payload. We did not want to make the same mistake as last time, which was placing a phone next to the tracker that caused the radio transmitter to freeze so we could not track HAB2. On the day of the launch, the landing location was checked on CUSF landing predictor and a after a final systems check of all equipment (including uploading the GPS telemetry to, we were ready to fill the balloon.

Space Balloon High Altitude Balloon European Astrotech

To protect the delicate balloon from moisture and scratches, it was laid onto a clean sheet and prevented from blowing around using the sheet as a net to contain it during filling. A total of 3300L of helium was blown into the 600g Hwoyee Balloon. This gave a free lift of 2.2kg and an ascent rate of 6.6m/s. The amount of lift was double checked with the lift test weights, which were attached to the safety line. Once the balloon was sealed, the payload packed and sealed and the GPS tracker’s functionality confirmed, the safety line was cut and we were ready to launch.

HAB 3 Balloon filling prep

At precisely 11.23 BALYOLO was released and floated up into the atmosphere, along with our Lego astronauts, enthusiastic flying their flags.

Ben watching HAB 3 as its about to be released

With a very rapid ascent rate, BALYOLO soon disappeared into a cloud; all the while transmitting GPS coordinates to the launch team’s smart phone. The SMS tracker stopped sending texts at 11.25 around 1000m. Fortunately this was not long before the first radio telemetry string was uploaded to at an altitude of 1565m at 11.28. During the flight we had 6 different radio trackers uploading telemetry from our balloon.  Throughout the mission we were watching the flight path of BALYOLO in real time. The maximum altitude reached was 22201m, beating our previous record by 1627m. When the balloon burst, the launch team jumped into the chase car to retrieve the payload. The predicted path indicated the landing location would be in a field near Flitwick. The last telemetry string was uploaded at an altitude of about 500m and since it wasn’t a windy day, the payload had not moved far in the final 500m of descent. The chase car arrived at the landing location 30 minutes after the balloon had landed.

Predicted path of HAB 3

After a short walk around a cabbage field we spotted the payload and dodged through the cabbages to retrieve it. The payload and equipment was all intact, however the Lego astronauts were nowhere to be seen. After looking through the video footage, we found out that the Legomen had taken a leaf out of Felix Baumgartner’s book and jumped off the payload half way through the ascent (at around 13km). Fortunately we managed to get a few good photographs before they abandoned ship.

Felix inflight aboard HAB 3

The altitude vs time was plotted on, showing an average ascent rate of 6.7m/s and the decaying descent rate as the parachute deploys. The total flight time was 1 h 28 mins. After opening the payload box, we found it was humid inside and one of the camera lenses had steamed up. All other electronics were functioning fine. The video camera had a clear lens and obtained some great photographs…

HAB 3 Near Space Picture

HAB3 Near space image

HAB 3 was a successful flight which met the objectives of the mission