Balloon Kam Hunt

Getting Things Ready

   Help us find the Balloon Kam that went missing during its descent and recieve the heartfelt thanks from our group as well as a small reward for your efforts. The Balloon Kam was flown as part of the School Day at the K event this past May 17th. The balloon and payload were being tracked with GPS but the signal stopped at about 20,000 feet and without that signal or a visual sighting we were unable to recover the payload. The payload was carrying 3 hi-def cameras and science data loggers in addition to the GPS and a TV signal transmitter. We were broadcasting live video that was shown on the large jumbotron screen at Kauffman Stadium where the event was taking place.

GPS Signals During Flight

   The picture above showing us getting things ready gives an idea of the size of the payload package and more or less what the parachute looks like. The payload package is made of several disks of thick styrofoam material, while the parachute is 6 feet in diameter and is made of red and blue rip-stop nylon. The cameras are mounted on the side, top, and bottom, and the wire antenna is about 2 feet long. It’s all held together with duct tape, string, and other reinforcing material.

Balloon Release


   Once released the balloon followed a path that took it southeast from Kauffman Stadium toward my home in Lee’s Summit. We were following the balloon descent in cars while tracking it in real-time and were just passing through Lee’s Summit on Highway 50 when we lost the signal. We spent a lot of time driving around south of the area where we lost the signal, and also closer to the Quarry near Lee’s Summit and Lake Lotawana but were unable to spot anything from the road. We drove around the latter area because the winds that day were blowing from the southeast and it is possible that the payload did not make it to its calculated landing spot south of Lone Jack, MO. I even flew over the area with a local pilot in a small plane but was unable to spot anything.

Calculated Landing Spots

   Given the wooded areas surrounding the calculated landing sites it is possible that the payload, antennas, and parachute got caught in a tree. And after this much time the parachute colors may have faded.
Eye Altitude: 731 feet

Eye Altitude: 731 feet

Balloon Kam Search
   Here is where the search comes in. Google Earth has updated the imagery for this area with the images in higher resolution and are as recent as this past September 2 2012. This means it is possible that the parachute and payload may be spotted from scanning the Google Earth display. This screen capture shows the detail one can see from an altitude setting of around 700 feet. It is possible to zoom down even further before the image becomes too pixelated and still see detail.

Original Calculated Flight Path

   This graphic shows the original flight path as calculated the morning of the flight. The blue color indicates the ascent and the red color is the descent. The payload may have landed anywhere within the circles or somewhere along the descent path. Or it may be somewhere between this area and west toward the new possible landing spots. The winds were out of the southeast and blowing toward the west-northwest direction.
   To help in the search here is a link to a small file that may be downloaded and opened with Google Earth. It shows the possible landing locations after the flight path calculations were redone using different algorithms and weather data from the actual flight time as opposed to the weather data we used from the morning of the launch. If a location is suspected as a possible sighting use a ‘push-pin’ to mark its location. Then either save this as a Google Earth file and e-mail to me, or e-mail me the coordinates.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Look Who Dropped In!

   Yesterday Felix Baumgartner set several records as he ascended to an altitude of more than 128,000 feet (~24 miles, 40 Km) before stepping off into slightly more than 4 minutes of free fall. Unfortunately he missed breaking the free fall record, but only by about 10-15 seconds. He then landed safely and as he stepped back on the Earth he also stepped into the record books for the highest balloon flight, and highest free fall.
   As one who has flown a few balloons with cameras and data loggers to almost that altitude, and as closely as I was following this I somehow missed watching and recording the lift off and first few thousands of feet of ascent. So the slide show below picks up at about 10,000 feet and then follows the ascent and descent with pictures at what I felt were significant or interesting parts. The slides end with a view of the capsule, still at around 80,000 feet, descending with its own parachute. What is not shown is the balloon – which at some time will land somewhere!
   Watch for the balloon shape and size to change as the helium expands as air pressure decreases. Also the flight data is displayed at these intervals offering an opportunity for having students (if you are teaching) to tabulate and analyze the data. For example you can see where the ozone layer is, or the effects of passing through the jet stream.

   Click here to download my November Scope on the Skies column about Ascent, a high altitude balloon project I was involved with. In the column there also many resources listed that among other things, could help to guide someone interested in flying high altitude balloons.

Click on this link to download a 40 MB zipped file with all of the individual pictures and the video.

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   This video picks up as Felix opens the door and ends as he kneels momentarily just after a very smooth and controlled parachute landing. During the video you can see where he is tumbling out of control for several seconds; hear his comments about his facemask fogging up; when the parachute opens seconds before he would have broken the free fall record; and then his glide down to landing.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Wind Conditions Delay Balloon Flight

   The high altitude jump attempt by Felix Baumgartner has been postponed due to gusty winds that at times blew hard enough to push the balloon to the ground. These are some ‘screen grabs’ from the broadcast.
   Click here to go to the RedBull page at YouTube


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Get the NASA Bounce with HIAD

Do you have the right stuff to successfully return a space capsule safely to the ground from the International Space Station? NASA folks have just made available a game that may be played online or downloaded as an App for the handheld devices. Developed as part of the educational outreach for HIAD, (Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator), it is a game where the player works with new technology involving an inflatable heat shield designed to protect the re-entry vehicle. During the game, while advancing through the levels, the player not only learns how to steer and land but will also be making modifications to the inflatable shield as needed to complete the mission.

Click here to visit the HIAD web site for more information.
Click here to go directly to the game.