Now that I have a few minutes free here’s what happened during the day:
The first thing I noticed after waking up was just how windy it was on the ground outside, in the past I had carried out a launch in reasonably windy conditions and it proved difficult so I was concerned whether I would be able to get it underway. After packing the car with radio equipment, chargers, duck tape, batteries (can never have enough batteries in the chase car!) etc, I headed off to the launch site – only about 150m down the road.
I arrived about an hour before I planned to launch as in the past I have ended up underestimating the time it would take me to set everything up. Out came the ground sheet to protect the balloon from the stones on the ground during filling – it actually proved difficult to get the ground sheet pinned down due to the wind – at this point I really began to doubt whether I would be able to get the balloon filled and launched successfully. Fortunately help was on hand, another “HABist” who lives close to me in Worcester (Will Duckworth) came along to help out with the launch; also a few friends and family joined in.
After I had rigged up the payload (the box that contained all the equipment), powered on the radio tracking device I had built and checked I could receive and decode the telemetry via the laptop, the all clear to begin filling the balloon was given. As expected, filling proved extremely tricky due to the windy conditions, despite the many hands trying to keep the balloon in one position it bounced around all over the place, narrowly missing the ground on a couple of occasions. Once the balloon was filled, I quickly switched on the gobandit video camera and initiated the script on the Canon A570 camera to capture stills. I popped the lid on the payload box and tapped it up (duct tape is probably the most useful thing in HAB – solves almost every problem!) then proceeded to slowly let the balloon out on the string. A brief lull in the wind allowed me to launch – off it went, just missing a nearby tree!
Fortunately everything was working as it should – telemetry was being received and decoded successfully by the in car laptop. By the time I had packed everything up from the launch site it was already over 1km in altitude and about 10miles away. I took along a friend in the chase car – always a good idea to have someone else in the car operating as a ‘co-pilot’ – we immediately headed off towards the predicted landing site (approximately 35miles away).
It took about an hour to get near the predicted landing, at this point the balloon was around 25km in altitude and still ascending at a rate of ~5m/s. I was expecting a burst around 31km in altitude so pulled over at a service station and grabbed some lunch. Returning to the car we were surprised to see the balloon was still ascending and about 33km in altitude! Could this be a new altitude record for me?! I spoke too soon.. a few minutes later (at ~14:15 UK time) the balloon burst and the payload started plummeting back to Earth, reaching speeds of over 150mph initially due to the lack of atmosphere.
Time to mobilise – with about 30mins until landing it was time to head closer to the predicted landing site and see if we could get a visual when it came through the cloud layer. I’ve only ever been able to get a visual on 1 payload descending before and that was one of Will Duckworth’s a few months back, it’s very tricky to get in the right place as landing predictions often change around within a mile or so due to varying wind speeds at different altitudes. After scouring Google maps, we decided on a location that was just off a main road – what the satellite view did not show was a huge ditch filled with water! Put it this way.. I was fortunate the car survived the escapade. Unfortunately the landing prediction changed at the last minute to a location about 700m away, despite scanning the skies in search of a box falling by parachute we were unable to see it.
Confirmation came through over the radio that it had landed and after a short drive and about 10mins walking through farmer’s fields HABE 5 was recovered!
The payload had no damage apart from the straw antennas bent and the balloon burst cleanly leaving only a small amount left. When we recovered it the camera was still taking photos! At this point over 1000 photos had been taken – I was surprised the batteries were still going strong. We collected up the remnants then headed back to the car. First thing, get the SD card out the camera to see the photos! It took a while to scroll through the many 100s of photos but wow – as the altitude increased the photos just got better. One of my favourites below (taken at 33km in altitude over central England):
A selection of the best photos can be found in my Flickr set. The gobandit video camera also captured some good footage however it fogged up considerably at higher altitudes due to moisture trapped in the lens casing. I will fly the gobandit again this time with an antifog accessory that gobandit are sending me. The footage captured near the ground however was very clear – all in all a great product, it’s not everyday that you send one up to near space!
A final note – I’ve been surprised just how worldwide the coverage of HABE 5 has gone! Many people have got in touch either via email or twitter - thank you all for your great comments, it has been really good to hear from people all around the World. If you haven’t got in touch – feel free to, I’ll try and respond as fast as possible!
Stay tuned for future launches coming soon… (best way to keep up to date is follow my Twitter: @adamcudworth)