SA team sends helium balloon over 32km into the atmosphere

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Last weekend 60 teams from 18 countries on six continents took part in the Global Space Balloon Challenge, setting off helium-filled balloons into the atmosphere to see how far they can go.

While South Africa had five separate teams taking part in the international event, one team in particular managed to reach a really impressive altitude.

The BinarySpace team, based in Vanderbijlpark and lead by Tom Van den Bon, launched their balloon from an abandoned runway close to the small town of Kriel in Mpumalanga.

By using a 600g helium balloon, the team set themselves a goal of reaching 30 000 meters and the successful recovery of all equipment – and they managed to exceed it.

“We used a 600g weather balloon, a parachute and a polystyrene cooler box for our payload. Inside the payload we had a GoPro camera, a Trackuino APRS tracker that we built at the space, some batteries and a Mintyboost kit to supply some extra power to the GoPro. We also threw in a hand warmer to keep the electronics functioning at the very low temperatures, found at high altitudes,” van den Bon explained.

Building the system and letting the balloon fly was only half of the exercise, and the team had a few nerve wrecking moments when it lost contact with the balloon.

Expecting the balloon to pop at an altitude of around 30km, the team eagerly awaited for news that it was coming down.

“The updates became more consistent and we watched our screens as the balloon went higher and higher. At around an altitude of about 30000m we were waiting for an indication that it had burst and was coming down, yet it still went up to 31338m.”

At the height of the ascent, the balloon managed to reach a peak altitude of 32 507 meters “and then it started dropping… fast.”

Waiting for the balloon and its payload to tumble back to earth, Van Den Bon explained that “the next 40 minutes consisted of driving fast over dirt roads, changing direction a few times and some cursing (mostly because balloons don’t have to follow the roads).”

Because a GoPro camera was attached to the payload, the team was able to capture some amazing footage of the flight, which can be viewed below. If you would like to read a detailed account of the day’s event, click here to visit BinarySpace’s blog.

Charlie Fripp

Charlie Fripp

Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.