Bel Partner
Science

Safely Launching a Weather Balloon

March 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Written by: Sky-Probe

Weather balloons can be a fun science project, or a serious experiment. People launch all sorts of things into the stratosphere. You can use a weather balloon to launch a product into space, creating a YouTube video in the process. You can also study atmospheric conditions, to determine weather patterns or run other experiments. Launching a balloon safely requires adherence to several FAA restrictions, and careful planning. Here is how you can safely launch yours.

Air Traffic Concerns

By itself, a balloon is almost no danger to anything that may be flying around above you. Still, it’s important to make sure that your balloon complies with FAA standards. You have a limit to the weight in your payload, but you can accomplish this in different ways. You might have five pounds worth of items, like a small camera or something heavier. If this object collided with a plain, you could have a serious problem. You can mount a lighter camera to your payload, or try to disperse your load in other ways.

Supplies

At the very least, you need a balloon that is big enough to hold the gasses you need to reach the height you want. You also need to decide between helium, which is safer, and hydrogen that is highly flammable. If you choose hydrogen, you should have someone with you that is familiar in handling the gas. You can also add a payload, complete with support arms to balance a camera or a gps datalogger.

Famous Incidents

There are several humorous and fascinating incidents related to people not properly planning for a launch. Don’t be like the people in these examples. Carefully manage your payload weight, and plan for the balloon’s trajectory and landing site.

UK

In the UK, the national weather service has had to pay out close to $40,000 in claims against them. The reason? Payloads are too heavy when they fall from the sky, causing minor damage to cars and windows on the way down.

US

One incident in the US actually saw a small child climb into a weather balloon. The so called balloon boy stunt ended up being a PR move from the father. Not a smart way to promote a product or an idea. Try launching something you aren’t worried about losing if you decide to experiment.

Area 51

A weather balloon is one of the explanations deemed “most plausible” for describing the incident at Area 51. Whether you believe the theory or not, it’s important that you clearly mark your weather balloon and keep a close eye on the landing site and the path the balloon is travelling.

Final Thoughts

Science experiments can be fun, but you have to be careful if you plan to launch a weather balloon. There is room for errors in judgment on the payload, the launch trajectory, and the materials used. Don’t end up as a famous example of what not to do. Carefully review your launch plans, and enjoy the spectacle safely.