How to Pack

Packing a balloon payload is part engineering and part art. Your goal is to cram as many bits into as little size and weight as possible, while still making sure everything is snug and secure.

Foam Box Payload Container


We prefer to engineer our payloads around foam mailing boxes like these.



These are pretty pricey to buy brand-new, but can often be found in trash and recycle piles in the hallways of most biomedical research facilities. Ideal boxes are small and 1/2" to 1" thick. Just use common sense, caution, and Lysol.

Of course, a camera sitting in a foam box is no fun unless there is a hole for the lens. You can use a hot knife to cut lens holes in the sides of the foam box and then line up the cameras and phones to give unobstructed views.


To secure everything inside the payload box, we use custom-cut foam blocks to cross-brace, and then we tape everything down with either packing tape or double-sided foam mounting tape. Your payload should be secure enough that nothing moves even if shaken vigorously.



Phones


See our tracker section for more details. In each payload we include at least one phone running our tracker app. We've learned that it's best for the tracker phone to be on its own power supply.



Phones we're happy with:
Phones we're bench-testing:
Phones we're not thrilled with:
  • ZTE Z992 - GPS was flaky
  • iRulu U1S - GPS worked okay, camera was terrible for the price

Photo Cameras


We love having nice cameras in our payloads, but we totally understand if you're hesitant to send $500 worth of equipment off to a place where it might never be recovered again.



Cameras / lenses we're happy with:
Cameras / lenses we're bench-testing:

Video Cameras


Few things are more awesome than a balloon launch video. Action cameras such as the GoPro are the only way to go.



One thing to note — the wide angle lenses of most action cameras are surprisingly wide, which means you're carving out a rather wide cone in the foam to make sure the lens has an unobstructed view.



Action cams we're happy with:
Action cams we're bench-testing:
Action cams we're not thrilled with:
  • GoPro Hero 4 Black — the only reason to pay extra for this camera is for 4K 30FPS recording — unfortunately the camera can't record for more than a couple minutes in that mode without overheating and shutting down, making it useless for balloon purposes.

Batteries


Most of the electronics in your payload normally run off rechargeable LiPo batteries rated for either 3.6V or 7.2V. Unfortunately, these batteries stop working at high altitudes / low temperatures, causing the devices to lose power and stop working. This is the #1 reason most other amateur weather ballooners have lost contact with payloads.

We strongly recommend removing the LiPo battery packs for all electronic devices, and replacing them with packs of non-rechargeable AA-sized Energizer Ultimate Lithium L91 batteries wired in series.



A 3.6V LiPo can generally be replaced directly by three AA lithium batteries wired in series — we use 3xAA battery holders like these



A 7.2V LiPo can be replaced by six AA lithium batteries wired in series and run through a switching voltage regulator set to 8V like this one.


Some devices, if insulated well, will generate enough heat to keep the original rechargeable LiPos operational for the entire duration of the flight — GoPros inside their waterproof cases are pretty good about this. But we still prefer switching batteries just to be safe.

3 comments:

  1. Hello, I'm kinda new to this so pardon the dumb questions. I have a Go Pro Hero 4 Black. I was just in the early stages of planning on flying my first balloon. I was wondering, if I hook up the three batteries like you showed here, do you know how long the batteries will last if I'm recording in 1080? if you can email me at: soupycannon@gmail.com
    id appreciate any help you can offer.

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  2. Hi Roberto - 3 of the Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA batteries wired into a GoPro Hero 4 recording at 1080P 120FPS should last roughly 3 hours.

    The battery life figures quoted by GoPro (https://gopro.com/support/articles/hero4-camera-battery-life) have been very accurate in our experiences. Those numbers are based on the built-in 1160mAh battery. The 3x Ultimate Lithium AA battery pack is equivalent to a 3000mAh battery, so you'll get roughly (3000 mAh / 1160 mAh) * 70min = 3hr

    I recommend using up a spare set of batteries just doing a test of your payload all packed up but sitting on a table or something - that way you can confirm the battery life, make sure your SD card is big enough (see https://gopro.com/support/articles/hero4-black-recording-time-in-each-video-setting), and make sure that nothing overheats. We never had a problem with the GoPro Hero 3+ Black at 4K 15fps, but we had our GoPro Hero 4 Blacks overheat and shutdown within a couple minutes at 4K 30fps. I have no idea how they would perform at 1080P 120FPS, but I'd imagine they'd be fine at 1080P 30FPS or 60FPS.

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