The following story I’m about to explain is not only based on true events, but it could quite possibly be the best and most exciting weather balloon flight EVER to have taken place….
Left: South coast of England and France.
Right: Our payload floating….

….It was the morning of the launch. Ed and I woke at 7.30am and headed North towards the launch site in Cambridge. We had double checked the charge in the cameras, the weather was looking great and there were smiles all the way to the launch pad.

Previously, a few days before, we had heard that there were other launches planned for the day one of which Steve of Random Aerospace was doing and so, to make it easier, another high altitude ballooning enthusiast, Anthony Stirk, would kindly let us tandem our payload with his on his giant 1600g balloon. Anthony was a top bloke with all the equipment and a fantastic looking payload.
Read his write up on the events here.

At the launch site, we parked up and deciphered an appropriate place for launch. We all set up and Anthony streamed the launch live on Ustream with 127 people tuning in to watch! Things were going great and we were all helping each other out making final adjustments to payloads and filling balloons with helium.

Working on the payloads.

Our balloon was the last to leave the launch site. We pressed record. Gaffer taped and secured the lid. Then hoped for the best as we released it on its voyage towards Space.

Releasing the balloon.

We did not use our unique modification of the gymbal device as, due to strong winds in the upper atmosphere, it could have been dangerous to have it moving about….however, we did use our other unique mod, which I will reveal as a 360 degree panoramic lens! Footage coming soon….
Anthony’s payload consisted of a tracker and a Canon A560 taking pictures at intervals of 10 seconds.

We packed up and headed towards the predicted landing spot and as it was close to Steve’s predicted landing spot, we went to find his payload first. And managed a quick and easy recovery….unlike things to come!
Within the fist half an hour, we realised that Anthony’s tracker wasn’t corresponding with ours in the expected manner. It was not giving us location reports due possibly a damaged wire into the antenna.
We decided to try and track it as it came down using Yagi’s. For those who don’t know (me included), a ‘Yagi’ is a special style of antenna: One active element (that’s the one with the black bump on the picture) a reflecting element (reflector) behind it and a lot of directing elements (directors) in front – a relatively small but highly directional antenna. The stronger the signal, the more accurate the direction.

Using the Yagi to find a signal.

It was now about 4pm, our payload should have landed and Anthony’s tracker still had not managed to fix itself. We tried to triangulate our payload using other Yagi’s but we just couldn’t pin the location down. We were getting stronger and stronger until….the signal broke off leaving us with the sound of static. This sound was closely connected to the feeling of despair and hopelessness.
We all sat in the car wondering what had happened and, as it was getting late, decided to abandon our attempt of finding the payload. We had lost it and had nothing we could do to maintain any hope.
We headed back to a pub and had a much needed meal and whilst at the pub, I decided to take a look at the TMSB tracker to see what it was reporting. Previously, it had not reported any locations after many attempts to get a reply from it.
This time however, we got a response. Although nothing we had expected.
We had a location for some co-ordinates, roughly 3 miles of the coast in the North sea.

We all dismissed this completely as sometimes GSM modules take a while to reset themselves after being so high and then falling back to Earth.
But they kept coming. We kept getting locations in the North sea and a slight drift of movement. It was  interesting.
We headed home anyway and agreed to try it again in the morning.
If it was working, we’d give it a shot….if not, that was it. We would not see TMSB again.

8am that morning I was already awake and couldn’t resist but send a command earlier than we decided too.
The next few seconds dragged on and on as I waited for a report. Then I saw what I can only describe as one of the most beautiful pop-up windows ever!!
It had received my command and had sent a location report back. ( – I love you).
Sure enough, it was in the North sea, within a few miles from where it was located the night before at the pub.
I got on the phone to Anthony and he then talked to Steve, who tried to track down a boat that could help us retrieve the payload.
At this time I wanted to keep getting location updates so we knew exactly where it was all the time. Much like a film however, I only had 1 location command left….we had to use it wisely.

The predicted flight path….and the actual flight path!

Steve, being the hero he is, managed to find a boat from a tour company and they kindly agreed to retrieve our payload. I sent out the one last location report and got some co-ordinates, which they tracked down.
We waited.
Suddenly, the tracker burst into life! It started reporting it’s position every 5 seconds like I told it to when we first launched the balloon.
I was glued to the computer screen, which was telling me that the tracker was moving towards the coast at around 34mph! This is where I started pinching myself. This was surely a dream.

‘No Worries’ – The boat that retrieved the payload.

Steve called and told me he was on his way to collect it but it had to go through customs first.
‘Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be fine, there’s nothing in there that looks dodgy….’ I said.

It was then that I realised we had secured two clear packets of mustard and cress seeds within the payload as part of an experiment provided by Simon Strong for help funding our project.
I should have known that there was plenty more we had to go through before we even got our hands on the payload again….

The mustard/cress seeds within the payload.

Luckily however, they decided it was fine to give the payloads back and Steve rung me up and I fell in love with the words that came out of his mouth.

‘Hi Josh, I’ve got the payload and I’d advise being able to open it and check the components.’
Of course, the first thing I wanted was to drain the sea water and clean it gently with some normal water to rid it of the salt.
Steve opened it.
‘It’s actually dry! A few wet bits here and there but it looks in good condition.’

At this point in time, I’m sitting in my car at a petrol station on the motorway. I told everyone I would wait at home for confirmation that Steve had the payloads before travelling, but I didn’t. I was not bothered at the fact that I would have driven around the whole of the M25 by the end of that day.

3 hours later, I met Steve in Felixstowe and he handed me the payload with all the components.
The first thing I wanted to do was get the footage but I had to snap back to reality and realise this payload had been stuck in the North sea, overnight for a good 15 hours….

The payload that survived the sea!

I drove the long journey back home and got a phone call from Steve. He had taken Anthony’s SD card out and seen if it still had any data on….
….no less than 2800 photos of data.
Shocked, he uploaded them and saw some breath taking images. Take a look at these:

The Thames, South coast of England and France.
Just before the landing….

Anthony is going to go through the photos and trying to create a time lapse from them for all to see. In the meantime, you can find more photos of the day here.

Happy enough that we even got some images from Anthony’s camera, I got back home and sat by the computer.
I inserted each camera in and waited.
All. 3. Cameras. Worked.
I had over 4 hours of sensational footage, which I’m in the process of condensing and using to make a video.
Unfortunately, my cameras ran out of film before the balloon burst but this tells us something interesting….

The balloon rose to well over 100, 000 feet.
In fact, we make a rough estimate that it made it to around 118, 000 feet and the curvature of the Earth and the darkness of Space were as clear as the sky….below us.

Taylor Made Space Balloon was successful!

Many thanks to everyone involved in whatever way possible from assisting us with the launch to reading this blog….
Click here for the video and international news coverage!

A snapshot from our video footage. Note our moon on display!

13 Responses

  1. Congratulations!
    Cool pictures and good write-up.
    Waiting for the video… 🙂

    Just a minor thing: A 'Yagi' is just the special style of antenna: One active element (that's the one with the black bump on the picture) a reflecting element (reflector) behind it and a lot of directing elements (directors) in front – a relatively small but highly directional antenna.

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