Overview of the content

This lesson covers the existence of many atmopheric weather models; the use of winds aloft to predict balloon path; prediction uncertainties; and how to pick a launch site based on landing predictions.
Additionally, you will learn the basics of radio communications; methods of tracking balloon in flight (APRS, cell phone, spot, Iridium); and how to plan redundancy and backups.

Learning objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
  • access detailed weather predictions
  • use HabHub or equivalent model to predict a balloon flight trajectory
  • recognize the importance and value of radio communications
  • demonstrate at least one balloon flight path prediction tool.

Background information

The amount of weather data (past, present, and future) available online is mind-boggling - knowing how to extract useful information is key.
Also, radio communications are everywhere: cell phones, wifi, Alexa, car radio, car keys, TV, internet, hotspots, satellite communications, etc.
The Contingencies Plannning video in Lesson 15: Launch Conclusion will also be useful.


Weather and Trajectory Predictions

Wind slide

Weather and Trajectory Predictions - this 10-slide presentation is by Dr. Mary Bowden and Chaitanya Garg
University of Maryland Aerospace Engineering.

It is essential to check the weather forecast and the trajectory predictions while planning a balloon launch

  • Launching in high winds can be very difficult and hazardous
  • Rain can damage payloads, short out electrical systems, and will add a considerable amount of weight to balloon
  • Fog and low overcast will obstruct visibility

Reviewing trajectory predictions will provide the information needed to

  • Pick a good launch site
  • Avoid restricted airspace
  • Predict an approximate landing zone

This presentation will give you the tools to do both.

> Download this slide deck from our NEBP Google drive as a PDF orPowerpoint

Tracking High Altitude Weather Balloons

weather slide

Tracking High-Altitude Weather Balloons -- a presentation of 26 slides by Michael Kalin, University of Maryland Aerospace Engineering

This presentation explores two important types of balloon tracking information:

  1. Real time telemetry
    • Tells you information (position, altitude, temperature, battery voltage, etc.) about the balloon/payloads while they are in the air
  2. Landing site location
    • Tells you where the payloads have landed

Some types of tracking systems can give you both, some can only give one or the other

If real time telemetry is lost, it can be backed up with on board data logging

Landing site location, on the other hand, is essential for recovering payloads

> Download this slide deck from our NEBP Google drive as a PDF or Powerpoint deck

Prediction software

video screenshot

In this short video, James Flaten (University of Minnesota) and Mike Walach (Montana State University) describe the software packages that can be used to predict the path of balloon flights. [5:05, YouTube, closed captioned]

The Choosing a Launch Site video from a prior lesson also includes information about using prediction software.

Discussion questions for class

  • What forms of radio communications do you use in your everyday life?

Class activity

Pull up various weather models on the computer and walk through the data available (winds at different altitudes, precipitation, cloud cover, near-term and extended forecasts, etc.)

Homework / Extended Learning

Pull up a weather model every day for the next week and track how well predictions match reality. Be prepared to share your findings with your class or team.

checkbox Don't forget to track today's progress in your portfolio

Will you take a few minutes to give us some feedback on this lesson? Thank you!

Course home page // Next lesson >>