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Complete! We Won First Place!
Born On:
12:49, 15 February 2010 (CST)
Last Updated:
13:41, 29 December 2011 (CDT)


This page is for the ML256 members who are participating in the Hackerspaces In Space (HSIS) competition. We have a Mailing List!

HSIS/Contest Information





Current Vehicle & Flight Specifications

Full Vehicle Flight Hardware Per Launch

Item Weight Cost to Team Market Cost Purpose
Plastic Bubble Wrap 2 ounces Free $1.50 worth from bulk Thermal Control
Styrofoam Sheet 3 ounces Free $2.00 worth from bulk Water Floatation & Thermal Control
Canon SD1000 (7.1 Megapixels) Digital Camera 5.1 ounces $55.00 Need Receipts to Prove Photography
SD Memory Card for Camera 0.25 ounces $10.00 Need Receipts to Prove Photography
GPS Radio Beacon 3 ounces Free Loan $40.00 to build Radio Beacon GPS Tracking from Bill Brown
1 24"x24" Garbage Bag Parachute 2 ounces Free $0.50 from bulk Recovery
600g Latex Weather Balloon 21.164377 ounces Free Loan $20.00 Ascent from Bill Brown
127.4 ft^3 Helium for Weather Balloons (75/25% Helium-Air) N/A $20.00 $20.00 for a direct fill from J&M Cylinder Ascent
Ziplock Plastic Bag 0.5 ounces Free $0.10 worth from bulk Waterproofing - May not be used for flight
Boost Mobile Motorola i455 Phone & Service Subscription 4.35 ounces $50.00 for phone, $20 for 3 months of service. N/A GPS Tracking - No longer used for flight
Supplemental Battery Pack (4 AA batteries) N/A N/A N/A Additional Power for GPS Tracking - No longer used for flight
Audio Beeper N/A N/A N/A Secondary Tracking - No longer used for flight
Flashing Lights N/A N/A N/A Secondary Tracking - No longer used for flight
Battery Pack N/A N/A N/A Power for Radio Beacon & Secondary Tracking - No longer used for flight
International Orange Streamer 2 ounces Free $0.10 from bulk Secondary Tracking - No longer used for flight
Totals Payload: 15.35 - 15.85 ounces, Full Vehicle: 36.51 - 37.01 ounces $85.00 $149.10
  • Configuration Notes:
    • Max Payload Weight: 1 lbs (limited by parachute rated for 1 lb)
    • The cooler and hot hands will be replaced with bubble wrap and solar thermal heating. This will lighten the payload weight.
    • The cell phone tracker and radio chirper beacon may be replaced with Bill Brown's GPS Radio Beacon.

Flight Plan of Full Vehicle

  • Launch Site: Parking Lot of J&M Cylinder Gases, 818 Highway 31 SW, Hartselle, AL (34.43, -86.94)
  • Landing site and flight profile and conditions dependent on launch day weather conditions.


  1. First Test Flight
  2. Second Test Flight
  3. Third Test Flight

Pre-Flight Checklist & Flight Procedure for Full Vehicle

  1. Find a flat surface (preferably tarmac) and clear of debris.
  2. Lay down tarp and weight and flatten, remove debris (remove your shoes if you are going to stand on the tarp.
  3. Remove all sharp objects from the area the balloon will be inflated in and on your person.
  4. Lay down the uninflated balloon and attach it to the anchoring weight. HANDLE BALLOON ONLY WITH GLOVED HANDS
  5. Inflate balloon to specified lifting force (dependent on payload weight).
  6. In the meanwhile, have someone predict the flight path based on current conditions and announce the landing site and its GPS coordinates.
  7. In the meanwhile prepare the payload and ground equipment. Install fresh batteries into all systems; tracking; GPS radio beacon, photography; digital camera. Check charge and working condition on radio tracking receiver and other tracking gear. Check internet connectivity on laptop to tracking website (http://spacenear.us/tracker/). Look for callsign 'wb8elk'.
  8. Turn on the systems and check functionality;
    1. GPS radio beacon broadcasting and tracking receiver receiving. Check tracking website (http://spacenear.us/tracker/) for data updates.
    2. Camera on, check that it is taking pictures, screen and flash manually off.
  9. Place camera and tracker in their packages and ensure they are secured. Ensure there is a label with our logo and 'who to call if found' contact info visible on outside.
  10. Attach payloads to flight line. There should be 8 feet of separation between packages.
  11. Tie flight line to balloon.
  12. The balloon ought to be inflated by now. Have two guys hold the balloon by flight line while the anchor weight is removed. Walk balloon and payloads to clear launch area.
  13. Ensure no obstacles nearby and launch; for safety, walk balloon up by flight line until the end of the flight line is off the ground, then release balloon.
  14. Travel to predicted landing site. In transit, track with what instruments you have available.
  15. Recover balloon and payload. Shut it down and recover data.


Available Materials

  • GNX-5 (rebranded as Guidepoint) GSM(cellphone)/GPS tracking device
    • Ratmando has the data sheet and pinouts of the current micro controller for this device. He's looking into replacing the micro controller with something like an ATMEGA644
  • Ratmandu may have a camera
    • Brimstone found out that if we take a 1M picture every 10 seconds, that it will fill 7.5GB in 2.5 hours
    • We may be able to get cameras that work with CHDK at Unclaimed Baggage for less than retail cost.
  • Omegix can volunteer his Android G1: HSIS/G1
    • Asking HSIS team to come up with $80 that I'll hold on to until we retrieve my phone (and keep if we don't).
      • The Little Buddy or the Boost Mobile solution would be cheaper, and just as easy Omegix 15:23, 11 March 2010 (CST)
  • Opticron found his Boost Mobile Phone. This combined with a camera taking automated pictures and our electrical needs are met.
  • Cameras
    • Bender
      • 8MP, $85. Confirmed that it works with the special firmware
      • 7.1MP, $55. Confirmed that it works with the special firmware
    • Omegix
      • 4MP, free. Will need CompactFlash memory if we want to find out about the firmware
  • 1 Foam Cooler
  • Several Hot Hands
  • 50 lb SpiderWire line.
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • Weather Balloons
    • Have two, 800 gram weather balloon from Nova Lynx. Gives a payload capacity of 2.5 lbs to 91,000 feet. Other smaller balloons are possible; a 500 gram balloon will bring a 2.5 lbs payload to 80,000 feet and a 300 gram will bring 1.3 lbs to 68,000 feet. Given that a contest rules state '[b]alloon camera must take pictures of the curvature of the earth with black space backdrop', and the minimum altitude to see the curvature of the Earth and the sky darken is 60,000 feet, the 300 gram balloon may barely be able to make a scoring flight.
    • Bill Brown gave the recommendation that there are margins in the balloon specs that could get us higher altitudes/heavier payloads (about 5%). We would have to handle the balloons carefully during preparation to keep these margins (gloved hands to keep off dirt, dust and oil, no excessive stress).
  • Lifting Gas - Helium
    • Preaux has a hookup at J&M cylinder in Decatur, AL:
      • "ok i got [hydrogren] for $19.85 for the fill and the bottle rental @ $6.50 for a month" ~preaux
      • "k-bottle i think will be TOO much, as it hold 489 cubic feet of hydrogen" ~preaux
      • For three flights of one 800 gram weather balloon each (inflated diameter of 6.2 feet and volume of 127.4 ft^3 from here), we will need 400 cubic feet of lifting gas (at 1 atm and 25 degrees centigrade, standard temperature and pressure). Preauxphoto said he will look into getting us enough gas. --Spacefelix 15:19, 24 March 2010 (CDT)
    • Safety Note:
      • For Helium, it is an inert gas, so no special safety precautions are required for its transport and storage.
      • For storing gas under pressure in cylinders, certain safety standards must be met:
        • Bottles must be chained to a wall to prevent them from falling and breaking.
        • Proper ventilation to prevent injury or death in case of leaks.
        • Proper signage to indicate the potential hazards.
        • More info at Iowa State Lab Safety.

List of Potential Materials - Source & Pricing

Depending on design, we may not need many of these materials:

  • Lifting Gas - Helium or Hydrogen
    • Can be had from Air Liquide or our local Airgas shop: 191 Cochran Road Southwest, Huntsville, AL 35824-1105, (256) 772-5404‎
      • Helium K-bottle: $100
      • Hydrogen K-bottle: $54
      • K-bottle: $0.47 / day, $75 / year, or $325 to own
    • Safety Note:
      • For Helium, it is an inert gas, so no special safety precautions are required for its transport and storage. Hydrogen is flammable, so it must meet storage and transport safety standards for Argon gas (per Preauxphoto on 3/24/10). Omegix has also stated the people at Airgas said that there are no special safety requirements for transporting a K-bottle of hydrogen. Also, no more antics from the fire hooligans if we store hydrogen gas in the shop.
      • See more safety notes above on storing pressurized gas in cylinders.
    • On-Site Hydrogen Electrolysis = Cheap Hydrogen
      • Using a Hoffman Electrolysis Apparatus, it is possible to collect and pressurize hydrogen gas into the balloon by placing it over the tube of the cathode side of the device. The only danger would be static shock or balloon leaks/punctures that would release the hydrogen. A cheap way to make lifting gas at a low cost and avoid storage concerns.
  • Parachute (rocket model type) and streamers
    • Alternative is to build one from duct tape and garbage bags. Alternatively, one can heat seal multiple garbage bags or sheets of plastic material together using a heat sealer. Since they are the same material (either PETE or LDPE plastic sheet) as model rocket parachutes, we ought to be fine. Using this parachute calculator, we will need a 1152 in^2 square parachute to descend at a speed of 11 mph (maximum safe speed). This is the area given by two parachutes side-by-side using two halves of a 30 gallon garbage bag. --Spacefelix 15:19, 24 March 2010 (CDT)
  • String / Fishing Line
    • Will need 10 to 20 lb kite string.
  • Digital Camera: 5MP, preferably a Sony so we can use CHDK
  • 1 x Memory Card, 8GB
  • 1 x Memory Card, Cheap (size not important)
  • Atmega Processor
  • Free-spinning joints (like found in keychains) & Bungee cords
    • Can replace by making lanyards and lines sufficiently long to allow the payload, parachute and balloon turn independently of each other and give some damping and springing action by the lines' natural elasticity.
  • GPS
  • Batteries (3 x D Cell)
  • Radar Reflector (Is this something we will make, or purchase?)
    • Can be a simple cardboard rose (two perpendicular discs) covered in aluminum foil.
    • Since balloon is light enough to not be under FAA Part 101 rules, we will not need a radar reflector.
  • Shock Cushion for Bottom of payload
    • Given we are only allowed a maximum descent speed of 11 mph, this eliminates the need for padding. Drop testing of the foam cooler loaded to 2 lbs on a concrete floor from 6 ft up with two 24"x24" parachutes did not damage it.
  • Radio or Cell Phone
  • Bubble Wrap
  • International Orange Streamer

Human Resources

Bill Brown

Bill Brown (WB8ELK) has expressed interest in helping the project. He can provide balloons, lifting gas, a launch site (on a mountaintop near Hartselle), a ground station and some lightweight tracking payloads. All of it is for his company: High Altitude Research Corp. He invented the Near Space BalloonSat back in 1987. It was the first to take photos and videos in Near Space.

  • Recommendations
    • Tracking
      • Use his lightweight GPS and Ham Radio tracking payloads instead of the GPS cell phone method. He can provide us effective tracking methods that will fit our $150.00/vehicle build and launch cost.
      • Cell phone method has a 3 in 4 failure rate (from MIT's Team Icarus) since it cuts out at high altitudes and is unable to connect to multiple towers when descending from a high-altitude flight.
      • Balloon Trajectory Forecasts is only for long endurance flights. For our short hops, we should use Near Space Ventures.
    • Hardware
      • Hot Hands do not work at high altitudes as there is not enough oxygen in the local atmosphere to maintain their thermochemical reaction. Instead use solar thermal by wrapping payload in three layers of clear bubble wrap and launching during daytime.
      • Bought balloons for $20.00 each on eBay. Has receipt to prove it for costing.
    • Photography
      • Use the Canon PowerShot series hacked with CHDK (Canon Hacker Development Kit) software.
      • Fly the Flip video cam.
  • Media


Our member who has access to cheap lifting gas.


  • Rohan has worked on BalloonSat before
  • Steve Boyer and Sarah Johnstone have worked on BalloonSats before as well
  • The members of the Madison Alabama Space Expansion Forum (MASEF) are interested in learning about and helping out with the project.

All Interested Peoples

  • Spacefelix (HSIS Event Board Liason, POC, Project Manager)
  • BendersGame
  • Brimstone
  • Crashcart (requested no admin duties)
  • Omegix
  • Ratmandu
  • Richard from MASEF
  • Rohan
  • Your name here

Competition Judge for Makers Local 256

  • BrokenTrace


Launch Site & Flight Considerations

Launch Site

  • Looking at the local airspaces and to minimize the chances of us colliding with aircraft, the recommended launch site would be from New Market, AL (34.91, -86.43).
    • Looking at UAH Space Hardware Club's balloon launch, it seems this is not really that big of a concern since they launch directly under and fly through the C-Class airspace of Huntsville International Airport (HSV) and through E-class airspace of Redstone Army Airfield (HUA). I'm assuming this is because they do not fall under FAA Part 101 below or that they have a radio tracker.


  1. Carries a payload package that weighs more than four pounds and has a weight/size ratio of more than three ounces per square inch on any surface of the package, determined by dividing the total weight in ounces of the payload package by the area in square inches of its smallest surface;
  2. Carries a payload package that weighs more than six pounds;
  3. Carries a payload, of two or more packages, that weigh a total of more than 12 pounds; or
  4. Uses a rope or other device for suspension of the payload that requires an impact force of more than 50 pounds to separate the suspended payload from the balloon.

HAL5 Presentation Talking points

  • Introduce ourselves
  • Describe Makers Local 256
  • Describe the contest
    • Review rules
  • Describe how we're going to compete
    • If it's still at the shop, show that piece of paper we drew a diagram on
  • Rustle up support for the project:
    • People are welcome to join
    • Donations of money and gear are appreciated



Lessons Learned

  • Use your resources wisely, what is reported as a way to do it is not always the best way.
  • Spray paint has solvents that eat styrofoam, avoid applying directly to foam surfaces.


General Information

Balloon Trajectory




4/10/2010 Launch

  • UAH-1 / Payload: [1]
  • Ethan: [2]

Related Information