Frequently Asked Questions
2. How long does a flight typically last?
3. How far from your launch site does your payload typically land?
4. Is launching a weather balloon environmentally friendly?
5. How do you know where your payload will land?
6. How do you find your payload after it lands?
7. Why not use a Styrofoam box as my weather balloon payload?
8. I'm a student who wants to launch one of your kits, but I don't have the necessary funds. Any suggestions?
9. Is the Eagle Flight Computer easy to use?
10. Where do I get helium?
11. I want to launch my own weather balloon. Where do I start?
12. What if my payload lands in a tree?
13. Do I need to insulate my payload from the cold temperatures of the upper atmosphere?
14. What are the recommended lengths of flight line used to tie the payload to the parachute and the parachute to the balloon?
15. What is the shelf life of your weather balloons?
16. What balloon size is right for me?
17. Do you need to wear gloves when handling a weather balloon?
18. What if my question is not in this FAQ list?
Yes, but only if you take the necessary precautions. Never launch a weather balloon in an area with congested air space and always coordinate your launch with the appropriate authorities. In the US that may include filing a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen). For our Canadian customers, it includes contacting Transport Canada and Navigation Canada. This important process informs air traffic controllers and pilots to be on the lookout for a weather balloon when flying in the same airspace as your weather balloon. It also gives them a way of contacting you if they need you to delay your launch or get an update on your weather balloon’s position. Filing a NOTAM is easy and only takes a few minutes. Our comprehensive flight manual that comes with every Eagle Kit will guide you through the entire process. Every week over 10,000 weather balloons are launched by meteorological organizations around the world. There are also an additional 10-20 amateur launches performed each week. To date there has never been a report of an airplane striking a weather balloon.
Flights typically last two to three hours. Flight time depends on how much helium you put in your balloon and the size of your parachute. The more helium you use, the faster your balloon will climb. It also means your balloon will burst at a lower altitude. Typical ascent times are one to two hours. A larger parachute will also increase your flight time by reducing your descent rate. Typical descent times are 30 minutes to one hour. To calculate your ascent time for a given size balloon and payload, use our balloon performance calculator.
The biggest factor on how far your payload will travel is the jet stream. There are four of them that constantly circle our globe from West to East at an altitude of roughly 18,000 m ~ 60,000 ft. Jet streams can typically reach speeds of over 120 km/h ~ 75 mph. If one of these jet streams happens to be directly over your launch site, your payload could travel up to 120 km ~ 75 miles. If the jet stream isn’t above your launch site, then your payload could land as little as 30 km ~ 20 miles from your launch site.
The helium gas used to launch weather balloons is an inert gas naturally found in our atmosphere and has no impact on our environment. Another concern is the balloon. Our weather balloons are manufactured from latex, a natural material which is made from tree sap and collected in a manner similar to maple syrup. Although your chance of not being able to recover one of our kits is small, just to be safe we use predominantly natural materials as the main structural members of our kit. High Altitude Science is serious about being a steward of our environment. We use natural materials whenever possible.
Twenty-four hours before you launch, look up the weather forecast on ground winds and the jet stream on your favorite weather website. Then, using a simple formula in our Eagle Flight Manual, you should be able to predict your landing site within 15 km ~ 10 miles. Some people like to use online weather balloon flight prediction software. We have found some of these sites to be unreliable and prefer our simple pencil and paper approach. If your payload is predicted to land near a lake, mountain, populated area, etc. just move your launch site.
The SPOT Trace is our fail-proof go-to tracking solution. It doesn’t require a license to operate and performs flawlessly with no need for a heat pack. The only drawback to the SPOT is that it doesn’t work above roughly 18,000 m ~ 60,000 ft. Above this altitude your payload enters what we call “blackout.” When using the SPOT Trace, it is important to remember that it must be facing the sky to uplink its coordinates to the satellite network. This is why our Eagle has a flat profile. If you use a cooler box to house your gear, it could flip on its side when it lands preventing the SPOT from connecting with the satellite network.
Styrofoam boxes are cheap but they have a major flaw. When we first started developing our weather balloon kits, we experimented with the “box” approach as a cheaper alternative to our Delta Flight Frame design. Unfortunately, our test flight payloads were disappearing without cause. It wasn’t until a farmer found one of our lost payloads and we were able to look at the flight video that we realized what was going wrong. Our Styrofoam boxes would bounce and land on their side when they hit the ground. This would prevent the GPS tracker from being able to reliably receive and transmit signals to the satellite network overhead. Sometimes you get lucky and your “box” gets suspended upright in a tree or does not roll onto its side (or upside down) when it lands, but we cannot justify taking this risk. Our goal is to make our kits 100% reliable regardless of where they fly and what terrain they land on.
Get your community involved. Talk to friends, family, teachers, co-workers, people at church, clubs, and businesses. If everyone contributes a few dollars, you will be able to afford one of our Eagle Kits in no time. Be creative in your advertising campaign and do not get discouraged if contributions start out small. The more excited you are about starting your own space program and the more your campaign grows, the more people will be willing to contribute.
Just insert the micro SD card and add batteries. Once you recover your payload, remove the micro SD card and slide it into your SD card adapter. Download the file into Microsoft Excel and you’re ready to plot temperature, pressure, altitude, wind speed, flight path, etc. The Eagle Flight Computer comes with a manual that will guide you through the steps if you’re not familiar with using Microsoft Excel.
Most party supply stores such as Party City or iParty carry helium bottles. To learn more read our Helium Tutorial.
The safest thing to do in this situation is to have a certified tree climber retrieve your payload. Their fee is typically $50. Once on site, they can have your payload on the ground in less than 20 minutes. To find the local tree climber, call the nearest fire department. They work with tree climbers on a regular basis. Sometimes tree climbers offer to get your payload down for free. If they do, be sure to give them a good tip and thank them.
In most cases insulation is not necessary. Our Eagle Pro Weather Balloon Kit has no insulation and has never experienced negative effects from low temperatures. It is important to understand that low temperatures do not damage well designed electronics. However, cold temperatures do reduce the effectiveness of most batteries. A battery is simply a chemical reaction that produces electricity. As with most chemical reactions, the reaction rate slows as temperatures drop. A battery that has the capacity to power your electronics at room temperature could be inadequate at below freezing temperatures. The best solution to this problem is to only use batteries that are rated for cold temperatures. For this reason, High Altitude Science only recommends using Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries to power your flight computer and satellite tracker.
We recommend using two identical 5 m / 15 ft lengths of stratospheric flight line. One length is tied between the balloon and the apex of the parachute. The other length is tied between the parachute risers and ball bearing swivel on the payload harness. The total distance between the balloon and payload is therefore 10 m / 30 ft with the parachute suspended in tension halfway between the balloon and payload. Once the balloon bursts, the tension on the parachute apex is released allowing the parachute to flare open. This is a fail-proof setup for eliminating parachute tangles which will allow your payload to return safely to earth.
We recommend that our weather balloons are used within one year of your purchase. However, our customers have used our weather balloons after three years of storage with no noticeable degradation in performance. It is very important that you store your weather balloon in its original packaging at room temperature in a dry, dark place. Our weather balloons are made from latex which will slowly degrade in light, especially direct sunlight.
For your first launch we recommend starting with a smaller balloon size such as our 350 g or 600 g weather balloons as they are easier to inflate and tie off. They also require less helium to inflate which reduces the cost of your first mission. For more experienced flyers, our larger size balloons such as our 1200 g or 1500 g weather balloons are a great option. Given the same size payload, our 1500 g weather balloon will burst at a higher altitude than our 350 g weather balloon. To estimate how high our balloons will fly with a given size payload, take a look at our Weather Balloon Performance Calculator tutorial. It will also help you calculate how much helium you need.
A common misconception is that a larger balloon will carry your payload further from the launch site as it will fly higher and thus longer and further. This is rarely the case since there is typically very little wind in the Stratosphere. Once the balloon climbs past the jet stream, it travels at a much slower speed. In some cases, there may even be a light wind above the jet stream that blows in the opposite direction, which may bring your payload closer to the launch site.
There's a popular theory that natural oils on your hands will contaminate the balloon. We've launched missions with and without gloves. We have never noticed a difference in balloon performance in either case. Working with gloves is awkward and uncomfortable, but it also looks more professional. If you're launching a balloon for a client or in front of a lot of spectators, wear the gloves. If it's just you and a small research team and you don't believe the "oily hands" theory, keep them off.
To learn more, read our online tutorials. If you still can’t find an answer to your question, go to our Contact Us page to send us a message. If you purchase one of our weather balloon kits, you’ll also get our full-color comprehensive Eagle Flight Manual that covers just about everything related to flying a weather balloon mission.