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How The Wind Blows

The Votes Are In

The results of the Doodle poll are in… We’ll be launching on Saturday December 15th. The usual procedures are in place. See you all at 8am on the 15th. To make travel arrangements I will need to have a confirmation of whether you’ll be able to attend this flight by no later than Saturday, December 8th. There will be a sign up sheet in the lab or if you will not be in between now and then, you can email me your RSVP.

National Weather Service Visit

A few of us will be heading down to Lincoln, Illinois this Thursday for a visit to the National Weather Service facility to get a firsthand view of their HAB sounding procedure. They are one of nearly 100 NWS facilities across the USA that launch sounding balloons every 12 hours to capture data about our atmosphere. They use this data to help build a model of atmospheric conditions across the world. With recent helium shortages, we wanted to explore the possibility of using hydrogen as a lift gas. The NWS has been doing it safely for years. So, why not learn from the pros.

One of the most interesting facts about the atmospheric sounding program the NWS participates in is that it is part of a world wide effort. At about 45 minutes before 0h UTC and 12h UTC (5am and 5pm CST here in Illinois) every day about 800 stations around the world simultaneously launch Radiosondes into the stratosphere. These devices collect data on temperature, pressure, wind speed and humidity. They all share their data to help build a worldwide snapshot of our atmosphere. Next time the clock hits 5pm (12h UTC), think of 800 HABs sailing through the stratosphere collecting data to help us better understand our world. Pretty cool.

Speaking Of Hydrogen

Thanks to a link from Monroe King of Team Prometheus on the aRocket message boards, I leaned of a valuable resource for learning about hydrogen safety. Monroe posted a link to a Department Of Energy online course for certification for safe hydrogen handling. I’ve already plowed through the first 2 modules and can say it is a very informative and a well done program. If your interested, you can take a look at the course here.

BTW, Team Prometheus is an effort to create a launch platform using rockoons capable of launching nanosats into orbit. It’s quite a challenge but you have to give them credit for dreaming big.

If you want to see an interesting test of the ignition of a typical HAB using hydrogen, check out this YouTube video thanks to some intrepid folks at Portland State University. Motto: They blow up stuff so we don’t have to. One thing I learned from my DOE hydrogen safety training: The majority of the conflagration you witness in this video is from the balloon latex burning not the hydrogen. The hydrogen combustion can be seen in the first moment after ignition. Just like the Hindenburg, hydrogen was not so much the issue, the flammable housing (in the case of the Hindenburg it was the skin of cloth coated in the equivalent of rocket fuel) created the devastating fire. Oh, the huge manatee!


Permanent link to this article: https://farhorizonsproject.com/blog/how-the-wind-blows/


  1. Rob Wagner

    I think you mean hydrogen not helium, since helium is inert and does not burn. And yes there is a theory about the Hindenburg and the fact the skin was painted with “rocket fuel”, an aluminum compound similar to the Space Shuttle boosters. Highly flammable stuff. Interesting thing though, hydrogen can self ignite and therefore is tricky stuff in and of itself, but we have been using it safely in many applications

    1. kwalczak

      Yep, I had a hydrogen/helium mix slip there – now corrected. Thanks for the good eye on that.

      Undoubtably there are issues with any combustible material. Even a rapid expansion of pressurized hydrogen can create enough kinetic energy to cause an ignition. It all comes down to proper safe handling. Millions of times a day the public handles concentrated flammable materials when they fill up their cars. My point is hydrogen often gets an unproportionally bad reputation because of the Hindenburg.