Vega 1 Launch: Reflections and Trajectory Information

Recovery Photo

There’s no doubt about it, yesterday was a big day for the June Sky crew. For the first time since our inception we have had a wildly successful mission, the HAT program (High Altitude Testing). What follows is its story.

Our HAT Program began in November 2012 as we were struggling to find H202 suppliers. We knew the rocket would be delayed both because of that and the incoming cold weather and we need something to do over the winter. Hunter came up with the HAT Program, a weather balloon that would measure altitude and temperature as well as take HD footage of the sky to the edge of space. We created a Kickstarter, that, unfortunately fell short. The project then had to be funded out of our own pockets and adjustments had to be made. The GPS would be replaced with an iPhone, the GoPro with a Sony, and a 3d printed box with a Styrofoam cooler. After nearly 6 months of work we ended up with something that looked like this:

Top View
Side View 

   After a couple days of testing we were as ready as were ever going to be, and so, on June the 22nd, a day after summer solstice, we set out to launch our project into the June Sky.

The day began at 9 with Hunter and Rohan traveling to party city for the helium canister

The Team and Rodger, the Helium Canister

Then at 10 the full team started to pack the car and do some final testing and trajectory calculation and by 11:45 we were off to Willmington IL for launch. By 1:30, June Sky  had arrived at the launch site but not before encountering  the Gemini statue on the Historic Route 66, a good omen for the day to come.
Rocket Boy outside The Launching Pad

 As 2 o’clock rolled around, the car had been unpacked and everything was ready for balloon inflation and launch

 However, the FAA chapter in central Illinois had rarely dealt with a weather balloon launch, so it took Hunter almost an hour to receive approval for a launch.

Normal Day with the FAA

At three, the balloon filling, a slow and arduous process, began. A fast filling of the balloon often damages its silicon skin, causing premature popping, so a nozzle had to be attached to slow the flow rate to approximately 2 liters/second.

Rohan filing up the balloon

With the help of a family that had stopped to spectate, we attached the balloon to the packed module. Everything was set for launch, but the balloon and capsule combined were too dense to lift off. Quickly, in order to stay within the 20 minute FAA launch window, the team and our spectators/assistants filled up a second balloon and tied it to the first. Then, as shown below, the balloon was launched at 4:20 PM, Central Time, June 22nd 2013. It vanished promptly into the overcast June Sky.

We tracked the balloon for three minutes into the flight with Find My iPhone until the device lost coverage. We then camped out at the local McDonalds for approximately 50 minutes until we received a signal from the expected landing site on the southern outskirts of Joliet. Yet retrival would not be the easy track and pickup we predicted. The Find My iPhone signal led us from urban Joliet to the Horse Ranches of Homer Glen to the final landing site in a truck storage center next door to Midway Airport.
                     Trajectory of Find My iPhone Synchronization  points
When we found, it had been tied to a fence by the security guard at the truck storage center. He had stopped it from becoming tangled in the telephone wires above us, preventing valuable equipment from potentially being damaged. Without him the value of the recovered balloon would have been significantly reduced. Kudos!

Unfortunately, the only data we got out of the flight was the trajectory information, because of battery and camera malfunctions due to freezing temperatures and human stupidity. Lessons for next time? Don’t use lithium batteries, use a GoPro and of course, weigh the payload before launch! Expect a more detailed analysis of the limited amount of data we collected sometime later this week!

Joshua Derrick, Co-founder of June Sky and Chief Engineer
Hunter Hall, Co-founder of June Sky and Chief Scientist
Rohan Daruwala, Chief programmer
Helping the World to “Wake up and smell the science”, one project at a time