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    High Altitude Balloon Tutorial
    === Basics ===

    Your Goals of a Flight
    You aren't the first person to do this. Or the hundredth. There are dozens of teams around the world that launch all the time - and some still occasionally break world records. Don't expect to do anything amazing on your first few flights, though, as just getting it to work at all is itself a challenge.

    But don't let me kill your dreams =P

    Probably your #1 goal is to get pictures/video from space. So you get a camera. You probably want to recover everything after launch, so you'd need GPS and a transmitter/receiver setup. Perhaps you want to collect data, so you'd need sensors to collect it, a microcontroller to process it, and memory to store it. Add on a power distribution system for each of those devices. Will your batteries last the entire flight?

    Maybe you want to reach an altitude goal? Well, then you got to keep your weight down using fancy/expensive equipment. And fewer backup systems.

    Or maybe you want to do some science, measuring something that can only be done at high altitude with special sensors. How do you test the measurement system before the launch?

    And you don't want the freezing cold environment to destroy your device, right? Add on insulation, and maybe even electronic climate control. What happens if it lands in some guys' swimming pool or a lake? Add on a floatation device.

    Then you got to find a giant balloon, then tanks of Helium to fill it up. Oh, and don't forget that parachute! Is that parachute to small? Will it open up properly during atmospheric re-entry?

    Next you got those various government laws to follow so you don't risk arrest . . . or worse, your device getting sucked into the engine of a 747 killing all 300 on board.

    Finally there is logistics, such as how to keep the balloon from flying away as you're filling it up with Helium. And how to prevent your balloon flying over those restricted areas that will get the FBI and CIA knocking on your door (our flights are always near Washington DC, so there is restricted air space all over the place).

    Do you really want to drive ~300 miles on back roads chasing your balloon? Or would you rather monitor the weather and use simulators to plan for which days and which wind trajectories you'll only need to drive ~80 miles on an interstate?

    Doing this alone is very difficult and expensive, so you need to form a team. You can ask friends to help, or go to local clubs and get people interested, or try online meet-up groups.

    If your team size consists of multiple chase cars, how do you keep them all coordinated? What happens if there is no cell phone reception on those back roads? Is everyone on the same page, with specific assigned tasks? Did they all help pay, or are you stuck with the rather large bill?

    To me, just having a flawless flight is a hard to reach goal. There are many other goals you can have. Be clear on what your goals are, and don't over extend. If you have to pull all-nighters to make the launch date, you're likely to take short cuts and make potentially costly mistakes.

    This below video shows what it's like to launch and chase a balloon:

    Costs
    There are two costs to launching a balloon: recoverable, and non-recoverable.

    Recoverable costs are all the electronics equipment purchased (the radios, sensors, reusable batteries, packaging, etc.) The costs can vary quite a lot depending on how sophisticated you want to be, so here are only ball-park estimates to help you.

    • GPS + radio transmitter system, ~$250
    • microcontroller + sensor system, ~$300
    • cooler + parachute, ~$100
    • cheap yet decent camera, ~$100
    • misc tools, ~$100+

    *note that none of this includes the cost of backup systems

    With recoverable equipment, you only buy it once. You then don't need to repurchase them for the next flight. That is of course assuming the flight wasn't lost, and you don't want to upgrade systems after all those important lessons you've learned.

    Non-recoverable costs concern those things you need to repurchase for each flight.

    • gas for your car(s) to chase the balloon, $50+
    • the balloon, ~$100 to $600, depending on the altitude/weight
    • Helium, ~$100-$200, depending on balloon size and altitude desired

    Prices can vary widely depending on many different factors, so just use this as a rough guide. One major advantage of working in a team is costs are divided up amongst everyone. Invite people to see and help out with the launch and recovery. They might even offer to drive (covering your cost of gas), and lend a hand with the final launch/recovery.

    SpaceBlimp3 was estimated at $1700 worth of stuff purchased (both recoverable and non-recoverable expenses).


    image: me holding a space package just before launch


    image: perhaps the first Buddhist amulet in space





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