How to get our weather balloon floating again? How to get it taking pictures?
October 21, 2009 12:00 PM   Subscribe

How to repair a weather balloon, in the context of aerial photography? How to do aerial photography at all?

dmd and I recently thought we might try some aerial photography.

We thought we would use a weather balloon, one which was big enough to carry the payload of a Canon PowerShot camera.

Our ambition led us to purchase this weather balloon. It is made of latex. Hopes (and voices) borne high on helium, we launched the balloon on a windy day, in the high desert of central Arizona, a setting which (O! woe) led to the balloon's quick extinction. Shortly, the balloon was pushed by downdrafts into a bush of catclaw acacia. Catclaw acacia is named for its small, sharp, catching THORNS which resemble the claws of a cat. Reader, it popped.

I don't want to give up the investment of this balloon, or give up our vision of high-flying photography. My question is, is there a way to patch a hole in latex?

Would a leather or vinyl patch kit, or tire puncture kit, or some sort of plastic bond, work for this, do you think? Do you think using some Fix-A-Flat might work, if it was released into the balloon while it was inflated in some makeshift way to its full airborne size? I imagine this might stiffen the balloon and put a limit on how high it could go, but it would be good enough for me, as a salvaging situation.

And, do you have any tips for launching weather balloons, or for aerial photography in general?

Consider proximity of cactus and thorns when launching, is my best tip.
posted by Tufa to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What time of day did you launch at? I remember something like this (World's Toughest Fixes dealing with winds for constructing a tower in the desert, I think) and they usually go for just before sunrise, or shortly thereafter, due to the heat created by the sun producing the winds that knocked it around. I can't remember where I saw this but it seems like things were ok within an hour after sunup. After that it's hit and miss all day.
posted by jwells at 12:28 PM on October 21, 2009

Best answer: Oh, and for the repair, don't forget about bicycle tire repair kits for the inner tube. You might actually try calling a bike shop to see if they can help.
posted by jwells at 12:34 PM on October 21, 2009

Best answer: If you have punctures and not tears you can use liquid (uncured) latex. You can get a nice sized jug for a few bucks at an art supply store.

It's really fun to use and play with and should heal your balloon over and over again.

Have fun!
posted by snsranch at 12:38 PM on October 21, 2009

Best answer: These MIT students promise to soon post a step-by-step guide to how got a camera into near space on a $150 budget. They recommend using this handy balloon trajectory forecast to figure out where your balloon might land.

You might also consider investing in a good pigeon. They don't pop as easily.
posted by indeterminacy at 2:21 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Interesting, diverse ideas. Thank you!

For future (tethered) balloon launchers, I just wanted to add that if you go above 500 feet, you'll need to contact the FAA about your plans. Further details here. At least we got that right, eh, dmd?
posted by Tufa at 3:55 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've launched official weather balloons, but unfortunately when they pop, we don't bother fixing them, as we have a limited about of time to get the launch off and the balloons have to get up to 25 miles or higher in elevation. The liquid latex or tire patches are worth a try though.

As for tips on launching, jwells is right that in general mornings are better than the afternoons as far as winds and updrafts/downdrafts go. The stronger the winds are when you launch, the more helium you need to overcome that and get it off the ground safely. If you can figure out the wind direction and which way the balloon will be carried, you can try and make sure that area is as clear of ground obstacles as possible.

Sorry that's not much help.
posted by weathergal at 5:19 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No, that's very helpful! Here's what dmd had to say, on reflection:

I think I've learned enough just from reading about this stuff in the
last couple months to answer the question.

(1) The balloon we bought was too big. The cheaper balloon would have
been enough.

(2) No, you can't patch latex.

(3) Surface winds need to be below 15 kts or so.

(4) The length of the line from balloon to payload is critical. Ours
was FAR too short. Longer line = damped oscillations of payload.

(5) Tethered just doesn't really work except on a *perfectly* calm day.

posted by Tufa at 11:05 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

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