High Altitude Ballooning

High Altitude Balloons are generally uncrewed balloons, usually filled with helium or hydrogen, that are released into the stratosphere, generally attaining between 18 and 37 km above sea level. High Altitude Balloons are known to have attained altitudes of close to 53 km (32.9 mi; 173,900 ft).

High Altitude Balloons have been used extensively by meteorological organizations around the world as weather balloons for purposes of obtaining measurements of key environmental variables i.e. wind speeds, temperature, humidity, pressure, etc. This data is used to model weather conditions and provide weather predictions. Meteorological organizations tend to launch such weather balloons at-least once a day from various locations across their countries for purposes of data collection. Here’s in Melbourne the BoM or Bureau of Meteorology launches weather balloons twice a day, every day.

The most common type of high-altitude balloons these days are high-altitude weather balloons. Other purposes include use as a platform for experiments in the upper atmosphere. Modern high-altitude balloons are designed to carry complex payloads which could include electronic equipment such as radio transmitters, cameras, or satellite navigation systems, including GPS receivers.

These balloons are launched into what is termed “near space”, defined as the area of Earth’s atmosphere between the Armstrong limit i.e. 18–19 km (11–12 mi) above sea level), where pressure falls to the point that a human being cannot survive without a pressurized suit, and the Kármán line i.e.100 km (62 mi) above sea level), where astrodynamics must take over from aerodynamics in order to maintain flight.

Due to the low cost of GPS and communications equipment, high-altitude ballooning has become quite a popular hobby. Organizations such as UKHAS (UK High Altitude Society) have been launching high-altitude balloons for a while and have been assisting other amateur groups worldwide with development of similar payloads.

This page includes links to relevant High Altitude Balloon resources –

  1. A beginners guide to High Altitude Ballooning – UKHAS
  2. Dave Akerman on High Altitude Ballooning
  3. Project HORUS by AREG
  4. Amateur HAB tracking at Sondehub.org
  5. Flight path prediction
  6. Tracking weather balloons (radiosonde’s) launched by meteorological organizations
  7. Steve Randall’s videos on High Altitude Ballooning
  8. Calculator – Balloon burst estimator (See bottom of the page)
  9. Calculator – Parachute descent calculator (See bottom of the page)

Here’s some relevant links if you are looking to purchase HAB electronics, balloons or hardware.

  1. High Altitude Weather Balloon supplies – Random Engineering UK – Balloon, Parachute, etc.
  2. High Altitude Weather Balloon electronics – Uputronics UK – GPS, sensors, radios, etc.
  3. RTL SDR – For tracking HAB payload (Re-programmed Radiosondes) or BoM Radiosondes
  4. Tram Discone antenna (broadband reception) – Mounted at your residence
  5. Diamond CR 77 Quarter Wave Ground plane antenna – Mounting on the vehicle roof
  6. Diamond MR5A – Magnetic mount for the CR 77 that goes on the roof of your car
  7. Raspberry Pi 4B (not lower than a Pi 3B+) – Required to run auto_rx (BoM Radiosonde tracking) or horusdemodlib (to track HAB payloads based on re-programmed BoM Radiosonde’s)
  8. Waterproof case – Required to store the RTLSDR, Raspberry Pi, USB Power bank, etc. within the boot of the car
  9. Touch screen display – Makes it easier to start, stop the Raspberry Pi when outdoors
  10. Mobile hotspot – Hotspot that the Raspberry Pi can use to connect to the internet or just use your cell phone
  11. USB Powerbank (20,000 mAh or higher) – To power your Raspberry Pi, RTLSDR, etc.

At EMDRC (Eastern & Mountain District Radio Club) we are running our own High Altitude Balloon initiative. Check out the EMDRC High Altitude Balloon page on the website for further details.

  1. Fundamentals of High Altitude Ballooning (Video tutorials & presentations)
  2. Engineering Recommendation & Design Decisions
  3. EMDRC HAB Website
  4. Receiving Data from Re-programmed Vaisala RS41 Radiosondes (EMDRC HAB Payload)
  5. Receiving and tracking Radiosondes launched by Meteorological organizations

Software you need to track and retrieve High Altitude Balloons (including weather balloons).

  1. Project HORUS auto_rx – Track radiosonde’s / weather balloons using an RTL-SDR and a Raspberry Pi
  2. Project HORUS Chasemapper – Plot your position on a map relative to the balloon using a Raspberry Pi and GPS
  3. Project Horus horusdemodlib – Plot a reprogrammed radiosonde used as a payload for Amateur High Altitude Balloons
  4. Project HORUS Horusgui – Windows software to track a reprogrammed radiosonde used as a payload for Amateur High Altitude Balloons

Get started with your own HAB journey. Drop us a line at trevor at hack2 dot live.