Category Archives: News

A long delayed update.

Apologies for the long delay in updates regarding BLEAT. Following the postponement of our end-of July launch due to adverse weather conditions, BLEAT has been on the backburner for a number of reasons. Firstly, acquiring updated launch permission from the CAA (the Civil Aviation Authority) has been rather difficult this time around as we were so uncertain regarding the date of the next launch. The CAA has unfortunately been incredibly slow and unhelpful in processing our requests for updated launch windows, and as at this stage yet to contact me about the window we requested in August!

Furthermore, several of our team had other fieldwork and conference commitments to attend to. Our budget was also emptied at the end of July (the end of the financial year) as per the conditions of continued funding by the School of Environmental Sciences, so we will have to apply for further money to meet travel costs in the future.

However, I hope to dedicate more attention to getting our next launch off the ground by the end of the year and hope to provide more and regular updates in the interim.



Launch Postponed

BLEAT’s second flight, scheduled for launch tomorrow morning, has been postponed due to unsettled weather and localised thunderstorms over the launch site. Owing the the south-westerly winds there is also a significant risk of the payload landing in the Wash (an estuary on the northwest coast of East Anglia) or the North Sea beyond.


The Cambridge University Spaceflight Landing Predictor estimates that the box will land in the North Sea

We hope to reschedule the launch for early next week. Follow our twitter feed or keep an eye on the website for further updates.

Launch 001 build images

Some of the images documenting the build so far are up on the images page.

BLEAT’s second launch scheduled for 24th July

BLEAT’s second mission, provisionally dubbed Notos after the Greek god of the Westerly winds, will be launched from Ely in Cambridgeshire on Wednesday the 24th of July.

The payload will consist of a GoPro camera, radiosonde, android phone and GSM/GPS tracking device, and we hope to attain a similar altitude to the last launch – around 30 kilometres. Also on board will be our first astronauts: algae! Biologists in ENV are interested in how the extreme UV environment of the mid-stratosphere (above the ozone layer) will affect the viability of the sample.

Keep an eye on the website and Twitter feed (@UEABLEAT) for more updates!

Launch 001 planned for July 2013

BLEAT has been given approval and a budget from the UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences in order to undertake another launch, designated Launch 001.

The provisional launch window is from the 24th to the 31st of July, weather dependant.

The hardware in the payload on this occasion will consist of a GoPro Hero3 HD camera, GSM tracking device, radiosonde and android phone. Also hitching a ride into the intense UV environment of the mid stratosphere will be some microbes courtesy of Stefanie Lutz of the University of Leeds. More details of BLEAT’s first microbial astronauts will be provided in a future update.

Work is continuing on preparing our Raspberry Pi microcomputer for live image transmission from the balloon, but it is more likely that it will fly on the next mission scheduled for the end of September.

Further updates will follow as they become available.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more information.


BLEAT Update

A meeting was held last week to make plans for the next BLEAT launch.

Undoubtedly, our biggest hurdle will be securing funding for this launch. UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences (ENV) and Interdisciplinary Research Society jointly bankrolled our last launch, and ENV will be the first port of call for financial assistance this time around, but initial discussions with members of faculty seem to suggest a more difficult funding environment this year.

Our launch window will hopefully be May to June. It’s warmer, brighter and the jet stream is less intense than in December, hopefully allowing for an easier launch and recovery effort.

Launch hardware:

As the payload of Launch 000 remains unclaimed in a field in Hertfordshire somewhere, we’ll need a complete rebuild of the launch platform.

Sam is going to construct a more bespoke box to reduce weight and wasted space.

  • HD Camera
  • GPS/GSM Tracking Device – sends latitude & longitude to an accuracy of 5 meters via text message to any mobile phone on request.
  • Cheap/used Android phone – using a tracking app to log landing location, possible dual-purpose as additional camera.
  • Raspberry Pi – with a bit of skilled electrical engineering, as shown here, we may be able to use the Pi to transmit live images back to Earth via webcam.
  • Radiosonde
  • A science package of some sort. Algae/phytoplankton/seed viability tests were mentioned a few times, and seems to be a good low-cost option.

Outreach activities:

Outreach and coverage of this launch will be integral to ensuring a strong case for financial support. Some ideas covered at the meet were:

  • (Somehow) aligning the launch with UEA’s 50th Anniversary. Attaining 50km is unlikely, but 50hPa (approximately 21 km) could be done.
  • Mascot competition for primary school-aged children organised through STEM programme.
  • UEA PGR Showcase at the Forum may be a good opportunity to increase public awareness of the project.
  • Space food – including marshmallows or ‘space dust’ sweets would add a novelty element.

We’ll endeavour to keep our blog and twitter feed updated throughout the build.

Mission Diary: Launch 0

From the blog of Chief Engineer Royle.

So on Saturday (01/12/2012) the first mission of UEA BLEAT (the University of East Anglia Balloon Launch and Exploration Team) was carried out.

0500hours: 6hours to high altitude balloon launch

The day started at 5am when Commander Rushby, Admiral von Glasow, Captain Mills and myself (Chief Engineer Royle) loaded up the launch convoy from the University of East Anglia’s Environmental Sciences department. It was dark, bitterly cold and I hadn’t been to sleep yet having arrived at the department straight from a party that was still going when I left after 4. Commander Rushby, on the other hand, had spent the night sleeping under his desk in the office, although somehow we were both surprisingly cheerful and optimistic about the day ahead.


5am: Ready to go, once Commander Rushby finishes his breakfast

0530hours: 5hours and 30minutes to launch

The launch convoy of Admiral von Glasow (the only person trained to transport pressurised gases) in the Helium Transport Vehicle and the other 3 of us in the Mobile Command Centre (Captain Mills’s ancient camper van) headed off by 5:30 towards the launch site in Burton-Upon -Trent. Most of my journey was spent napping on the sofa in the back of the van but from what I did see we appeared to get there without a hitch – aside from the very poor decision to eat disgusting microwaved petrol station sausage butties for breakfast.


1000hours: 1hour to launch

We arrived at the launch site, Shobnall Leisure Centre, and, after Commander Rushby had made final pre-flight checks with all the relevant authorities, made final preparations for launch. Inflating the balloon – after having to borrow a bigger spanner from the very helpful staff at the centre as the one we had brought didn’t fit around the gas regulator – starting up the cameras, adding yet more duct tape to secure the payload and tying all the components of the 20m long high altitude payload launch and recovery system (balloon, parachute, ‘spacebox’ capsule, radiosonde tracking system) together.


Inflating the balloon by the launch convoy, Mobile Command Centre on left
Me with the balloon

1100hours: 0hour, liftoff

Successful launch from the middle of a football field, watched on by confused dog walkers and runners – although none more surprised than us that it worked perfectly. As we watched the balloon climb rapidly (at around 8m/s) and disappear into the sky, the tracking system kicked in and, once the radio receiver was taped to the roof and the mobile command centre was set up in the back of the van, we were ready to go.


Commander Rushby and Admiral von Glasow readying the launch
And it’s away

1130hours: 0hours 30minutes flight time

We sped down the M11 tracking the balloon in real time, passing the sporadically gained balloon’s elevation, azimuth and distance-from-launch-site data on to Science Officer Chylik at Mission Control. Here this data was converted to latitude and longitude data and constantly updating predictions were made about the balloon’s flight path and landing area. As all we had to go on was the pressure and temperature data to guesstimate heights we just headed SW and carried on  relaying the data as it came in.


1200hours: 1hour 00minutes flight time

After a rather relaxed morning and a pub lunch somewhere near Harlow, the Chase Team (driven by Captain Gooch, led by Tactical Officer Surl and completed by Ensigns Huezé, Davies and van der Weil) set off fearlessly in hot pursuit of the balloon which had been predicted to come down between Welwyn Garden City and Cheshunt.


The Chase Team having a very taxing morning (photo by L. Surl)

1243hours: 1hour 43minutes flight time

As I sat in the back of the speeding (not literally) Mobile Command Centre, intensely staring at the computer tracking readouts, the pressure and temperature data which had both gradually been falling and had reached around 13hPa and -67°C respectively suddenly started increasing; burst had occurred at approximately 28,210m over Northhampton. The slow rate of increase suggested that the parachute had deployed successfully and this was confirmed when the radiosonde started to report actual altitude data showing a perfect descent rate of 4m/s. Science Officer Chylik came into his own at this point, constantly updating predictions while we parked up at Watford Gap services to increase radio signal accuracy.

Admiral Professor von Glasow attempting to boost signal accuracy


Mobile Command Centre in action trying to pinpoint the balloon’s last known loacation

1315hours: 2hours 15minutes flight time

Unfortunately we lost radio contact around 0115hours at approximately 2500m altitude and so the landing predictions were somewhere within a rather large ellipse around Oaklands Forest, Hertfordshire. The Chase Team were rapidly deployed to search this area and Mobile Command sped down the motorway to assist.


Chase Team in action


1350hours: 0hours 40minutes after losing contact; 2hours to sunset

The chase team arrived in the predicted landing area and proceeded to search on foot, splitting into 2 search parties to cover ground more quickly.


1500hours: 1hour 10minutes after losing contact; 50minutes to sunset

Mobile Command also reached the search area, searched the dense woodland below the balloon’s last known location and tried to recruit as many passing dog walkers as possible to keep an eye out for it. Even though we knew the odds were greatly against us finding anything in this terrain we continued tirelessly until it got too dark to see around 1600hours and were finally forced to concede defeat. Headed to the local pub to meet up with the Chase Team, having to rely on someone finding the box for us and the contact details on the side having survived the trip.


2000hours: 6hours 10minutes after losing contact; been awake for 37hours

Finally arrived back at ground control for commiseration drinks and pizza, while we did not recover the box on the day all is not yet lost and Hertfordshire’s local police and media have been notified in case anyone reports seeing anything strange in the sky or actually finds it. Also, this was still a very successful shakedown flight showing us that the payload delivery, high altitude tracking and landing system worked very effectively and that for future missions we need to develop a way of tracking the box’s ground position – most likely by investing in a cheap Android mobile phone with an app that can relay its co-ordinates by text message.

Likely landing area:

Full live tweet coverage of the launch and recovery attempt can be found at @UEABLEAT and will also be covered in next week’s issue of Concrete, all photographs I took on the day are here.

Launch Day!

Much excitement at BLEAT HQ as today, 1st December 2012, is launch day! We’ll here post later about the success or otherwise of the escapade, but you can follow live updates from the launch team, chase team and mission control on twitter @UEABLEAT.


BLEAT says hello!

Hi! We’re just getting our new website in gear ready for our first launch. If you want some info about BLEAT, please check out our factsheet.