FAQs

How does it work?

Come up with an experiment that you would like to try. Send us your payload. You can either provide your own payload box, or we can provide one for you. We will attach your payload to a high altitude balloon and launch it to “the edge of space,” up in the stratosphere, typically to an altitude of 100,000 feet (30 km) or more. We include a GoPro camera on each flight and we will provide you with the video after the flight. We recover the payloads and return them to you (we’ll pay the postage). We will try to launch 5 or 6 payloads on each balloon. Six flights are planned this spring (April and May) and another six in the fall (September and October).

What are the payload guidelines?

We can provide you with a payload box. Our standard box is a (fairly) waterproof foam box with an internal dimension of 11cm (4 3/8″) cubed. If you have different needs, such as a different-sized box, a box that is open to the atmosphere, or whatever, let us know and we’ll see what we can do. Also, it is permissible to attach items (such as seed packets) to the outside of the box, as long as such items are secure.

Weight limitation: As a guideline, your payload, including the box, can be up to 500 grams (a little over a pound); however, we may approve some larger payloads if your experiment seems worthy. If you can manage to keep your payload lighter, that’s great, as lighter payloads allow us to reach a higher altitude!

Are there any other restrictions on payloads?

No live animals or volatile chemicals and nothing explosive or overly flammable. Nothing can be released from the payload in flight.  FCC rules prohibit sending any cell phone signal while aloft.

If you need the launch team to do anything with your payload (such as turn it on) please send instructions along with your payload.

What is the launch schedule?

Our available Spring launch dates are mostly April and May. Our available Fall launch dates are September and October. There is also a possibility of a launch or two during summer months. Between the end of October and up until early April it difficult to find a day that the payloads would land on dry US soil due to strong upper level winds.Check our launch schedule at umhab.org for potential and planned near-term launch dates, as well as landing predictions for the next week and historical predictions.

How does a launch work? How long is the flight?

Generally, we fill the balloon with enough gas for it to rise at about 1000′ per minute. The balloon will continue to rise at about a constant rate, expanding as it ascends into less dense air. By 100,000′ the balloon has expanded to about 27 feet in diameter. It then bursts and descends by parachute. Descent generally takes from 30 to 45 minutes. The whole flight therefore usually takes around 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Can we launch from our school?

We can launch from some individual schools where possible. Our schedule only allows for launches on Tuesdays, Thursdays and some weekends. To get maximum time for launch and recovery in a single day, we like to launch fairly early in the morning (e.g., 9:00 am). Also, surface winds are generally lighter earlier in the day. Upper level winds vary and are also a major factor. We can only launch from a particular location if the forecast winds at the time of launch predict a good landing spot (on land and hopefully in Maine). If we can’t launch from your school, you are still welcome to send students to help with and/or observe the launch. This travel is at your school’s expense, however.

Can we participate in the balloon chase and recovery?

If you can work it out with your school, you are more than welcome to join us on the chase and recovery of the payloads. You must cover all your own costs. Warning! This can involve hiking through thick woods, stomping through bogs, crossing streams, and other forms of adventure. Amazingly, sometimes it is pretty easy. Sometimes it is not! (But it is always great fun!)

Can we track the flight?

We will provide you with information to track the flight on-line as it happens.

Can I launch more than one payload?

We will operate on a first-come first-served basis. If you have several experiments you want to send up, we might be able to accommodate multiple payloads from a school on a flight and/or send a payload on multiple flights.

Are we guaranteed we will get our payload back in good shape?

We can make no guarantee that you will get your payload back and we will not reimburse any costs if it is lost or damaged. However, we will make every effort to recover the payloads. So far we have launched 86 high altitude balloons and we haven’t lost a single payload yet. It should be noted that quite a few payloads have landed in water, and waterproofing is up to you.

How much does it cost?

You pay for any materials you may need for your experiment. If you decide to attend the launch (if it is not at your school) and/or help with the recovery, you will cover your own expenses for that. We cover the rest!

What is the environment like up there?

The balloon will travel above the troposphere, through the tropopause and into the stratosphere. The environment at 100,000 feet is similar to that on the surface of Mars. On the way the temperature can drop to -60C, but because the box is heated by the sun, the temperature inside a closed box can stay much warmer (e.g., -15C). The air pressure drops below 0.15 psi (5 mbar), about 1/100th that on the earth’s surface. The solar radiation is pretty intense with no clouds and very little atmosphere to stop it.

Can we send the payloads up on a night launch?

This is not out of the question. If we have 5 or 6 payloads requiring a night launch, we’ll give it a go!

What help can you give us with our payloads?

We can give you our standard size payload box (see above) or if we can manage, we can help with a custom box (e.g., extra long). If requested, we can put a temperature logger in your box so you’ll know its temperature vs. time. We might be able to provide a camera that looks at your experiment and takes a picture every 10 seconds (or maybe even a GoPro camera). We might be able to come up with a small heater that keeps your payload warm inside. Of course, we can also provide you with a spreadsheet after the flight with GPS coordinates and outside temperature vs. time. Let us know if you have other needs and we’ll see what we can do!

What are some ideas for experiments?

Here are a few ideas for experiments.

Sounds great! How do I sign up?

Just fill out our form and we’ll contact you!

For further questions

Contact: Dr. Rick Eason, 207.581.2242