Stratoballoon – Launch, Flight, & Chase

Today had its fair share of ups and downs.

The launch of the balloon went off as well as can be expected.  The deployment steps I was most worried about – filling and securing the balloon, and stringing all of the components together – went just fine.

The liftoff similarly went very well.  We released the components one at a time to prevent any sudden jerks on the line, and then had a countdown when it came to the capsule itself.  The girls jointly released that piece.  We had very little wind, and a bright, clear sky when we released, so we were able to watch it ascend until it was just a pin-prick – about 2000 feet.  We even had a small audience to watch it go up!

Liftoff was 10:15am.

One set of grandparents immediately left to where it was predicted the capsule would come down in the hopes of seeing it when it did.  The rest of us stayed behind in Mendon to pack up, hit the rest rooms, and monitor the balloon’s progress.  We followed it clearly for the first 60,000 of its ascent, and then decided to try to follow it in the car.  We found that the eggbeater was able to pick the signal up even when it was in the back of our vehicle, so we were able to continue monitoring it in real time.

We saw it pass 80,000 feet.

Then we hit a series of communications from the capsule that got garbled, and we weren’t able to really determine the position or altitude.  When we finally got a good string of transmissions, we found it was now falling.  40,000 feet.  Then 35,000 feet.  Then it was 30,000. 

Now it became even more critical to determine the position.  Except that we were stilling having intermittent issues with that.  The last known good position we recorded was at just over 9,000 feet., close to the intersection of Campbell and S. Ray Quincy Roads, southeast of Coldwater, Michigan.


That was about 12:20pm.  This point right in the corridor was saying, but it still left a large area to search.

When we were confident that A) we weren’t going to receive any more signals, and B) enough time had passed that it should have landed, I called the FAA and the Kalamazoo Tower, and let them know.  That was at 12:45.

We stopped for lunch, and afterward spent a couple of hours driving around the few square miles of countryside looking in the fields and in the trees for anything orange.  After a couple of false positives (how many road cones does this state need, anyway?!?), we decided to call it a night and come home.


Our next step will be to evaluate the radio telemetry that we were able to capture from the capsule, and try to narrow our search area (high school trig, don’t fail me now!).  Once we have that, we’ll make another trip out to the area to look around.

We’re also considering contacting the local news stations and seeing if they’ll run a story about the project, and get people to be on the lookout for capsule.

To be continued…


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