Doongara put to the test


Smith and Williamson have been kind enough to give us one of their new Doongara cut down boards for testing. The Doongara Balloon Cut-Down Device is a small self-contained thermal line cutter that utilizes redundant burn-wires to sever synthetic line commonly used on high-altitude weather balloon flights. The device has an on-board barometric pressure sensor and timer to determine when to sever the line based on user-programmable settings. This is what we found when we tried it out:

Set Up and programming

 With no experience in Arduino, we found the Arduino IDE software, Doongara’s computer interface, easy to install and use.  The current version of the software was compatible with the Windows 7 netbook that we use to interface a range of HAB gadgets we have. Once inside the IDE software, the current settings of the Doongara are displayed and refreshed onscreen once they are changed. The settings on the burn triggers are easily changed . Once the flight is complete then you can use the same terminal to display the logged data. All in all the interface is very user friendly at beginner level.

Rigging: With an example of the rigging complete on one of the Doongaras we borrowed, rigging up a fresh one was easy. If we were starting from scratch then following the photographs in the manual would be less easy. Thankfully, Smith and Williamson have posted several ‘how to’ videos on their web site.

Test 1: We had the chance to test the timer trigger on the Doongara by pairing up with a science project from Oundle school on 7th December. The school was doing an experiment  into the impact of solar radiation on bacteria growth and we were given the chance to locate the Doongara at the interface of the parachute and upper tether. The test was a success, with the balloon being cut away 130 minutes after balloon launch; as programmed.


We have no way of knowing how much balloon was cut away and the cut away process had no visible impact on descent speeds. The timer function seems useful for cutting down the balloon after burst or triggering detachment of parts of the payload during a planned ascent.

Test 2. Next we wanted to test the pressure activated cut down function. On 12th December we were able to place the Doongara on a HAB flight made by Leicester University students.

Doongara attached to orange payload box


Doongara attached to orange payload box

The Doongara was set to activate at 50mbar pressure. The Doongara log file indicated that the nichrome wire heated at 50mbar as planned. There is a calibration table in the Doongara manual and this was estimated to be at about 20,000m. We crudely mapped the Doongara data to the radio tracker telemetry and estimate that the 50mbar altitude was 20,400m. This is very close to the manual estimate.


On the whole the pressure trigger is a useful alternative to the timer trigger as long as the calibration of pressure to altitude is as good as the test.

We have more testing to do with the Doongara, so this article is to be continued.

Attention high altitude balloonists – beware the cows!

During 2 high altitude balloon projects this autumn, I’ve been reminded of a little considered hazard to HAB: cows. During work for Phillip Morris and Nationwide I have had payloads land in fields with dairy cows. On both occasions the cows came over to examine the payload. On both occasions the cows were sufficiently interested in the payloads to roll them over, taste them, and urinate on them. The cows lost interest after some time, but not before then payloads were bitten into and licked. In future I will be mindful to factor this into payload design; ensuring that there is nothing to harm and animal that may come into contact with the payloads.

Near Space Photography sponsors Royal Meteorological Society competition


Near Space Photography is sponsoring a competition to promote the investigation of the atmosphere. The Royal Meteorological Society has invited 11-16 students to design and build a science experiment to be carried through the atmosphere by a weather balloon.  Themes for the competition could include Earth observation, the atmosphere, Natural forces, cold temperatures, pressure or UV. Students could use a Raspberry Pi, or similar, to design and build their own tracker and/ or sensor package.
All entries must be submitted to the Head of Education at the Royal Meteorological Society by 17th February 2017.
The entry judged best by a panel of judges will be invited to build and launch their experiment.

High Altitude Ballooning with thermochromatic paints


This summer we had the pleasure to work with Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts  (FCA) in Northamptonshire. Amongst other things, FCA work with young students from the Northampton and Corby area to develop study skills through art, within the setting of Fermynwoods country park. In July 2016 FCA worked with two sets of students to explore space through art. helped the students launch high altitude balloons with their work on board. The students sculptures were coloured with thermochromatic paints sourced from Pigments were chosen to change colour between the ambient ground level temperature of around 15 degrees Celsius and minus 10 Degrees Celsius. In both flights colour change was observed within the first 15 minutes of flight as the payload passed through layers of cloud. The use of the pigments added a spectacular effect to the students work and engaged them in the properties of the paint.

Video of the colour change in thermochromatic paint during FCAP’s second flight.

Space – the final payment frontier

We have been working with Nationwide and their partners on an advertising campaign called Space – the final payment frontier. Today, Nationwide launch the campaign and we are proud to show off the footage we did for them. A special thanks to Martin Warner and Alex Kuzmin for making this happen.


The project has received press coverage here:


This is how Clover configured their payment tablet:



Third time lucky : Roger the teddy bear makes it to space


This summer, helped the children at Benhall Infants School send their school mascot, Roger the teddy bear, into space. But it was not easy and took 3 attempts. The first attempt in June ended in failure. We tried to launch the bear during a break in showers. We were all set for launch but the heavens opened again, the bear got wet and heavy. The wait gain meant the payload was too heavy to ascend so we stripped out some kit to lighten the load and launched. Unfortunately the rain did not stop and further showers made the bear heavier than his launch weight. So he just floated back down to Earth.

Unbeaten by this failure, we send Roger on a full flight into near space in July; courtesy of a flight for Fermyn Woods Arts Centre. But due to limitations of weight, we could not properly photograph Roger.

Roger finally got to star in his own balloon flight in August when we were able to run his own flight to near space. Well done Roger. Third time lucky! Roger will be featured on our sister web site,


Major Tom is lost in space


Last Sunday, 26th June, Near Space Photography and teamed up with Wisdom Design to celebrate action man’s 50th birthday, by launching him towards space in an original 1966 Mercury capsule and space suit from that age.


major tom

The project was funded by a successful kickstarter campaign which rewarded backers with custom designed and made dog tags, action man costumes, and capsules with custom painwork.


There were a few delays in the launch but we were finally cleared for lift-off at 16:30 on 26th June. Tracking went well (click here for more flight details) and it landed in just outside the village of Creaton in Northamptonshire… or at least we thought it did.

After following the SPOT location reports we entered a field on the edge of Creaton but could not see the parachute or capsule. After some considerable searching we found the trackers and the arm that they had been attached to. But no camera, no capsule, and no parachute. After talking to local residents we launched into a local and regional publicity campaign to find Major Tom.

Action Man missing after venture into space


Update on 2nd June.

The publicity campaign paid off. A farmer from the nearby community of Brixworth found the camera. He ran the video and discovered the theme of the project and after a little internet searching called me to let me know about his discovery.

camera found

camera and trackers

Flight path of trackers (red) and landing site of camera (yellow)