Balloons 2016 Year in Review

9 Launches.
19 Balloons.
Countless hours of work sessions and launch prep.
1 World Record.

It’s been an exciting second year for the Balloons team.

We kicked off the beginning of fall quarter with new member onboarding launches. New members were split up into teams and given a variety of goals to aim for: some pertaining to ballooning basics, and other that the balloons team has yet to accomplish, yielding payloads that had a wide range of capabilities.

Onboarding launch: SSI-23, SSI-24, and SSI 25 prepare for launch!

The fast-paced, rudimentary projects allowed new members to gain valuable hands-on experience with the basics of high altitude ballooning, from avionics, to payload construction, to launch procedures.

Moving forward, the team focused on data collection and testing that would aid us in improving flight duration. One project group took on the issue of UV degradation of latex. The data we gathered allowed us to better characterize UV-A and UV-B dispersion by altitude, and some further steps were taken investigating the plausibility and effectiveness of coatings that would absorb and reflect UV light. Another group took on development of a solar-tracking apparatus that would reorient a solar panel array to face the direction of strongest sunlight and thus generate more consistent photocurrent.

Shortly after, we became intrigued with the idea of a modular payload platform – a way to standardize the balloon payload in a way that would facilitate launch prep and be advantageous down the line when flying research payloads.

Integral to the realization of this goal was Project SPACE: a project created last year dedicated to the mechanical modularization of the balloon payload. Inspired by last year’s Project SPACE Tesseract, we created HABHIVE. As a modular payload platform, HABHIVE is designed to expedite the payload construction process and facilitate the launching of new projects, including sensor packages, cameras, and so forth, with minimized mechanical production necessary prior to launches. The platform features interchangeable, customized walls that are switched out based upon the needs of different projects.

Equally as important to the modular payload is the electrical design. That being said, the development of customized avionics has also made tremendous strides this year. Our unique PCB design is a highly flexible, feature-rich platform for standard profile high altitude balloon flights. It is responsible for all the basic functionalities of a balloon payload, including thermal regulation, data-logging, and—in the near future—RF communications. The HABHIVE team and the avionics development division often work together and have cross membership to ensure a seamless integration between the two parts to create a unified whole.

SSI-39 – the first flight of HABHIVE V2 and standardized avionics PCB
Conceived in the winter of 2014, ValBal has been in development and testing for over a year and a half. ValBal, short for "Valve-Ballast" is a novel platform that utilizes a gas venting valve and a ballast dispenser to stabilize altitude. The payload was recently awarded first place in the “Best Design” category of the Global Space Balloon Challenge. Shortly thereafter, ValBal Mk5.1 flew for a distance of over 3,500 miles, spanning the entire North American continent, for over 70 hours, breaking a world record for longest duration flight of a latex balloon! You can read more about the record breaking flight here.

Lastly, our web-based mission control suite, habmc, through launch-to-launch development and iteration, has proven an outstanding asset to the team. The suite handles satellite communications, provides data visualization, and illustrates restricted airspaces to name just a few of its capabilities. Through habmc, all of SSI and hundreds of other on-lookers can track payloads during flights. Stay tuned and visit to track our future launches in the upcoming year!

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