Overview of the content

This lesson includes a overvew of everything related to final launch preparation, including schedule and timing of events pre- and post- flight; launch kits, and contingency planning

You will also learn about FAA regulations related to unmanned balloon flights.

Learning objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe the preparations for a multi-launch field campaign.
  • Describe the FAA regulations that relate to unmanned free balloons.
  • Detail how FAA regulations will be addressed for safe free balloon flights.


Contingency Planning

Final launch preparation: Packing

Preparing for the atmospheric science field campaign is an important part of completing the data collection successfully. It is important to ensure that the team brings along all of the critical supplies necessary to conduct the launch activities. A preliminary packing list is included below, and this details the many things that will be used throughout the field campaign. Most importantly, ensure that your team packs for the wide variety of weather that you may face depending on your location and season. It is important to consider the potential for precipitation (rain, snow, etc.) and temperature changes between day and night (sunscreen and lights). More remote locations will have additional considerations beyond the guidance provided here.

You can also download this list as a PDF (same content as below)

Radiosonde Launch Checklist  

  • Graw radiosondes and dereelers
  • Graw initialization cables (x3)
  • Computer w/ Graw software & charging cables (x3)
  • iPad/surface & cables (Lufft)
  • GSUs
  • Power inverter
  • Handheld GPS
  • Zip Ties (multiple for each launch)
  • String (for sonde connection)
  • First aid kit
  • Tools:
    • Crescent wrench (Large & Small; at least one for regulator)
    •  Scissors
    • Wire Cutters
    • Pliers
    • Tape Measure
  • Balloons
  • Parachutes
  • Gloves for balloon handling (x4+)
  • Tarp
  • Helium tanks
  • Regulator
  • Weights
  • Clipboard, pens/pencils
  • Fish scale
  • Lufft weather station and tripod
  • Masking tape
  • Duct Tape
  • Teflon Tape
  • Electrical Tape
  • Extension cords
  • Power strip
  • Eclipse glasses

Recommended Items:

  • Tent
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Lights/headlamps

Optional Items:

  • Binoculars
  • Compass
  • Kestrel
  • Batteries (AA, AAA, 9V)
  • Aviation radi0

Final launch preparation: Schedule

Below is a schedule for one week prior; 48 hours prior; before leaving (day of flight) and during flight.

This schedule may also be downloaded as a PDF.

  1. Week prior
  • Confirm launch site
  • Confirm FAA coordination
  • Order helium if necessary
  • Order rental cars for helium transport
  • If multiple flights, confirm frequency separation and timing schedule
  • View launch site if able (site survey)
  1. 48 hours prior
  • Pack all necessary materials and confirm radiosonde launch checklist is complete
  • Charge computers overnight the night before launch
  • Record balloon size

600 g

  • Record payload weight

101 g

  • Forecast flight path trajectory. Run WRF simulation and Reed prediction code
  • File a NOTAM if necessary
  • Inform ATCT in accordance with agency procedure before release time
  • If no ATCT, attempt to notify local Flight Service Station or airport’s tower
  • Charge all batteries (laptops, GS-U, Lufft, etc.)


  • Tie all parachutes, dereelers, and loops for balloon attachments.
    • 2 feet between top of parachute and the balloon
    • 1 foot between parachute to dereeler
  1. Before leaving (Day of launch)
  • Confirm batteries are charged
  • Confirm packing checklists are complete, field checklists and SOP are available to be at launch site
  1. Flight

                 General tips:

  • Set up the weather station (Lufft or Kestrel) as you arrive at the launch site and let it record data until termination of the final balloon is confirmed.
  • Make sure none of the boxes in the balloon burst/termination section of the options page are checked.
  • If unsure the radiosonde is receiving GPS, check the bottom board. There is a green LED that will flash if GPS is being received by the sonde.
  • Initial location conditions (latitude, longitude and altitude) are EXTREMELY important for the radiosonde to receive GPS. Make sure they are as accurate as possible. Consider using the Etrex to determine position.
  • If using the automatic termination method, use the following instructions
    • On the initialization screen click on the advanced option, go down and click on Switch off radiosonde.
    • Click on the box in the upper right-hand corner.
    • Choose your option of automatic termination and set the parameters at which you would like the launch to be terminated.
  • DO NOT launch without confirmation of data.
  • Have the radiosonde acclimating to the environment for at least 10 minutes prior to flight.
  • Before release, confirm radiosonde is within 2 °C, 10% RH, and 5 mbar of the surface reference values (Lufft, Kestrel, etc.)

FAA regulations for unmanned free balloons

View / download this content as a PDF (it is listed below in its entirety in HTML)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) creates and enforces the rules for the airspace overlying the United States. The regulations are location in the United States Federal Register in a document called the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The part of the CFR that deals with aviation is located in title 14 (Title 14 CFR). Title 14 is broken down into several parts. Part 101 is the section that deals with unmanned free balloons (as well as a few other things such as model rockets and kites). Therefore, when talking about balloon regulation you will use the CFR Title 14 part 101. The full regulation can be found here.  Unmanned free balloons are specifically addressed in subpart D of part 101. General Applicability for unmanned free balloons is discussed in subpart A of part 101.1(a)(4)(i-iv) including weight restrictions. Below we will examine the key things you need to know.


  • An unmanned free balloon may carry a single payload package that weighs up to six pounds
  • An unmanned free balloon may carry two or more payload packages that weigh up to 12 pounds.
  • An unmanned free balloon may carry a payload package that weighs up to four pounds and has a weight/size ratio of no more than three ounces per square inch on any surface of the package, determined by dividing the total weight in ounces of the payload package by the area in square inches of its smallest surface. (Recall that Pressure = Force/Area (P= F/A).  For a given force, such as weight, the smaller the area, the higher the pressure.) 
  • While waivers related to payload weight can be obtained through the FAA, no waivers will be obtained for payloads flown under the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP).


  • You cannot launch a balloon from an airport without permission. MSGC primarily operates from airports. We have agreements with the airport managers at each airport we launch from, we call the airport at least 24 hours before each launch, and we notify ATC (Air Traffic Control) of our launch location and time of launch at least 24 hours before launch. If launching from an airport, select a small airport without a control tower with very limited air traffic.
  • You need to be able to see 5 miles (visibility), have no more than 50% cloud cover at launch and across your entire flight path.
  • You cannot fly over a town or open-air group of people for the first 1,000 feet of (vertical) flight.
  • Your balloon and its payload cannot be a hazard to people if it should hit them.

Communicating science to peers and the public

This video by Dr. Justin Minder of the University of Albany, a member of our NEBP team, includes a case study of how his team communicated the results of their field campaign through public outreach and academic communication.

Communicating to the public and peers - by Dr. Justin Minder [YouTube video, 2:29, closed captioned]

Extended learning

The engineering lesson on FAA regulations includes information on how to file a NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) and a BOREALIS flight exercise


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