After the success and mixed results from the first launch, I was eager to attempt it again. In order to mitigate any problems I had purchased a spare weather balloon and other extra supplies (plus the rental tank had over half the inflation gas still left inside). This meant that the major barriers for a second attempt had already been eliminated. So the very next weekend we again gathered in a field ready to send a weather balloon into the stratosphere.
Due to the weather pattern differing greatly from our first launch, the second launch originated from a field many miles north of the first location. The goal of the new site being instead of driving a lot to retrieve the balloon after we let it go, drive upfront and have the balloon land as close to home as possible. Also, after seeing how long it took for retrieve the payload (despite landing right next to a road) we decided to start earlier in the day to give us extra cushioning against nightfall.
Things went a bit smoother the second time, as you would expect. We both set up our equipment and launched in half the time as the week before. Given the success of the initial project I decided to risk sending up a better camera and also my Garmin handheld GPS to capture higher resolution photos and to try and record a more accurate flight path. Nevertheless, one of the oversights of each launch was that we never measured the amount of lift each balloon was giving us. We did test with a water jug that weighed the same as the payload but it would have been nice to have a concrete number to refer to later. It is also a metric would have been a useful given our next observation. As soon as we let the second balloon go it was quite clear that our ascent rate was much slower than first balloon.
This was concerning as I had measured our cell phone total battery life to be around 3 hour and 15 minutes; a number that I arrived at after testing it several times. Recording HD video using the cell phone and simultaneously transmitting data both decrease battery life significantly over a phone that is just in standby mode. Despite my concern I still felt we still had a good chance at retrieval given the first flight only lasted 2 hours.
That optimism faded as the clock ticked on past 3 hours.
As the elapsed flight time approached 4 hours everyone resigned themselves to the fact we had lost the balloon. Without the cellphone transmitting the location to us there would be no way to locate and retrieve the package. I still held out a small fragment of hope that someone would come across our project at some point and call me but there is no guarantee if or when that would happen. Feeling downcast, everyone packed up and headed home.
I knew it was mostly pointless but I decided to drive around a bit, visually searching our predicted landing zone. After a short while I could see that this kind of search was futile and decided to head home as well. At that moment the guy riding shotgun in my jeep thought to check the tracker site again. He did this just as the balloon updated its GPS position!
As soon as we noticed that we had tracking, we called everyone up with the great news and drove another half hour to the landing site. It had again overshot the prediction, as well as also again landing right next to a road.
I was the first to arrive at the coordinates and discovered that several people witnessed our parachute descending and called the police. When we drove up the cop was taking with the “country folks”, probably discussing what the hell jumped out of the sky right into a tree on their property. Thankfully the homeowner and the officer were both really cool. After we explained what was going on the officer even helped us get the payload out from of the top of the tree. Our retrieval was cordoned off by a police car with flashing lights and the guy who owned the tree fashioned a retrieval tool with a heavy spool and string!
Photos from SkyTiger II
The Cloud Cake that hitched a ride in the payload survived the entire trip too!