HALO SL-2 Latest News and Photos Page


SUNDAY, JUNE 28 -- SUNDAY AFTERNOON REPORT --- On Saturday, HAL5 member Bruce Cunningham and myself flew from Huntsville to New Orleans in his Cessna Cardinal to retrieve the balloon gondola.  The gondola had been picked up a week earlier by the crew of the ship "C. D. White", under the command of Captain Malon "Buddy" Dawsey.  According to manager George Flanigan of "E. N. Bisso and Sons", the crew detached the balloon remains from the gondola and brought the package to his office on Tuesday, June 23.  Either during that operation or during splashdown, the gondola video package (surrounded by white foam and red duct tape) was separated from the gondola can and is presumed lost.  Local amateur radio operator Robert Spahn (provided of the video still below) picked up the gondola from the company Saturday afternoon, and met with Bruce and I three hours later.  After removing the pole from the gondola can, we stowed the items and returned back to Huntsville.

The gondola pole consists of one 8-foot section of 1-inch diameter alumnimum pipe connected to a 2-foot section by a solid aluminum coupler.  This provides an overall pole length of 10 feet, enough to separate the rocket hanging from the top of the pole and the gondola uplink avionics module (the "can") at the bottom.  An eye ring was inserted into the upper pole 12 inches from the top to provide a place for the balloon tether to be tied to the gondola.  A 3-foot alumnimum brace was attached via "U" bolts to the lower pole to stiffen the area near the can.  A two-prong fork wrapped in rubber was attached to this brace to allow the rocket nozzle to rest near the pole and not swing out prior to launch.

The top 8-foot gondola pole, including the eye-ring, survived the launch incident completely unscathed.  There were absolutely no signs of warpage along its length or damage at the very top where the rocket pin was inserted.  The lower pole, however, was bent about 5-10 degrees about the "U" bolt, but the rest of the bracing appears to be intact.  On the rocket side, the solid alumnimum pin was bent also about 5-10 degrees, but the entire pin twisted 45-degrees on the thin-walled aluminum parachute can, severely warping the top of that can.  (The parachute can will have to be replaced.)

At this time, it is still unclear when the rocket pin twisted on the parachute can.  Until the gondola pole was recovered, the leading theory was that the rocket nozzle slipped off its fork when the gondola can temporarily got caught on the launcher.  The 114-pound rocket would have then immediately sought to return to a vertical position and had enough mass to twist its parachute can about the launch pin still in the gondola pole.  The rocket still could have been rebounded clear of the pole after the gondola video package finally freed itself of the launcher.  A photograph showing the rocket off angle of the gondola pole would certainly provide proof.  Another theory is that the pin twisted upon impact with the barge deck, but this seems harder to imagine.


THURSDAY, JUNE 25 -- THURSDAY EVENING REPORT --- At the lunchtime HAL5 meeting today, Bill Brown showed photographs he took of the SL-2 launch attempt.  Although he was snapping fast, his camera did not catch the rocket airborne.  One photograph shows the rocket still on the gondola pole just after the rocket (but not the gondola) cleared the launcher.  The next one shows the rocket apparently on the deck, but blocked from view by a member of the HALO team.  HAL5 is still waiting for other photographs to be processed.  Unfortunately, hand-held video taken during the launch was focusing on the balloon ascent and missed the rocket incident.

At this time, it is still unclear exactly what happened during the launch incident.  The wood launcher (made primarily from 4x4 beams) had been designed on the assumption that the balloon would arc over the launcher as it rose into the sky, similar to what was observed in Hampstead, North Carolina during Sky Launch 1.  The gondola can was placed in a shallow wood "glove" attached to a wood pivot mechanism.  The mechanism would allow the gondola to swing with the balloon as it sailed past, and be gently lifted from the "glove".  The gondola video package rested on the barge deck near the aft end of the barge, connected to the bottom of the can by four 10-foot ropes.  Once the gondola had cleared the launcher, the ropes would lift the video package as well.

Upon liftoff, the balloon did not arc over the launcher, but instead shot straight up above its release point.  The main reason for this was that the barge was sailing with the wind to provide near-zero relative wind.  In the pre-launch excitement, adequate time was not given to the tugboat captain to bring the barge back up to a "launch speed" and create an artificial aft-blowing wind of 4-5 knots.  Instead of being pivoted about the launcher, the gondola and rocket were instead dragged along the launcher rest bar.  The rest bar was a vertical 4x4 wood beam attached by guide wires on its sides to the base of the launcher.  At the top of the rest bar was a curved horizontal piece to allow the rocket to rest there (at a 20-degree angle off vertical) during oxidizer filling prior to balloon launch.  Witness recall seeing the rocket fins hit against the horizontal piece, as well as the flat top of the cylindrical gondola can.

A photograph taken by Bill Brown clearly shows the rocket just above the launcher and the gondola apparently stuck on the launcher by the flat top of its can.  Witnesses say that everything happened fast and remember seeing the gondola video package also catch on the launcher, either on the horizontal piece or between the vertical beam and a guide wire.  The gondola can could thus not have been stuck very long.  In Bill's next photograph though, the rocket is already on the deck of the barge.  If the rocket was still attached to the pole when the gondola video package got caught, it is possible that the entire rockoon train stretched and then bounced back when the package finally released.  It is possible that this motion was enough to dislodge the rocket from the gondola pole.  More photographic evidence is still required.


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24 -- WEDNESDAY EVENING REPORT --- Earlier this evening, HAL5 held a post-mission-attempt briefing on the SL-2 mission at the Huntsville Public Library.  We presented an overview of the mission as it was supposed to happen, and described the various parts of the rocket and gondola.  We also went over our best estimates of what happened and reviewed the damage to the rocket.

Damage to the rocket was greater than originally estimated.  From the top down, the rocket has a crack in the nosecone (no problem for our launch altitude), bent antennas on the payload can (already fixed), a warped parachute can section (needs replacing, minor job), a warped plumbing can section (needs replacing, average job), possible broken plumbing (still needs testing, may need replacing, average job), a dent at the top of the oxidizer tank (still needs testing, MAJOR job if needs replacing), a broken fin (needs replacing, average job), and a snapped-off expansion nozzle (minor job if it just needs to be rewelded).

All in all, this damage will not prevent the rocket from flying again.  The only big unknown is the oxidizer tank, which would be a major operation to rebuild.  Vance Houston from NASA MSFC has told us that he was satisifed with the balloon portion of the launch attempt and is now ready to move on to other things. His office does not have the money to loan us use of the NASA barge again for another launch attempt.

This means we have to file with the FAA (which will take some time to get the new requirements and prepare all the paperwork).  It may also mean that we may have to purchase liability insurance, which could be a stake through the heart of Project HALO.  Our first look into this years ago resulted in the lowest quoted premium for a $1 million dollar policy of $32,000 -- three times what we hope to fly this mission for!  (This is why we accepted NASA's offer to use their barge as a balloon launch platform.)  If a $10 million dollar policy is required, the premium could be as high as $300,000 --- which would put an end to amateur space rocketry.  We will keep you posted as we learn more about what is required.


TUESDAY, JUNE 23 -- TUESDAY AFTERNOON REPORT --- According to Bill Brown, all indications are that the balloon behaved as expected.  After the balloon launched without the rocket, he told his fellow HALO teammates on the NASA barge that the balloon would pop and not become a derelict.  The balloon had been filled to provide a lift force of 190 pounds on the 140 pound rockoon below, a net "free lift" of 50 pounds.  When the rocket fell from the gondola pole, the remaining balloon payload was only the 30 pound gondola, yielding a balloon net "free lift" of 160 pounds.  The balloon thus climbed three times faster than planned and shot past the intended rocket launch altitude of 100,000 feet.  The helium continued to expand as the balloon continued to rise, past the point of completely filling the balloon envelope.  The pressure relief valve could not expell this much excess helium fast enough and thus the balloon popped.


Balloon ascent photoCaptured video frame from recorded video signal from balloon gondola (courtesy Bob Spahn, WD5BJW)

Based on apparent balloon size and shape, balloon is still ascending and is probably between 50 and 70 thousand feet in altitude.

Video signal was very poor due to antenna being nearly destroyed during launch incident.


MONDAY, JUNE 22 -- MONDAY EVENING REPORT --- Bill Brown and Greg Allison drove home from the barge via Gulfport to meet with recovery boat Captain Dean Scarborough, then stopped in Mobile to meet with Danny Carpenter of the Gulf Coast Amateur TV Society (GCATS).  GCATS provided a team of 10 people to handle communications at the Press Site, on the recovery boat, and on the search plane.  Once the entire HALO team can get together in Huntsville, a meeting will be held to sort out all the facts and to start work on the post-mission press release.


SUNDAY, JUNE 21 -- AFTERNOON REPORT --- Recovery boat Captain Dean Scarborough of the ship "Sandollar", has reported that a crew transport ship, the "C.D. White", recovered the gondola from the water on Saturday.  Arrangements are being made to return the gondola to the HALO team in Huntsville, Alabama.


SUNDAY, JUNE 21 -- MORNING REPORT --- Barge team members Gene Young and John Jones returned to the Mobile motel to collect Gladys Young (with the Press Site team).  According to Gene and John, the balloon was visible from the barge throughout its flight, and "winked-out" when it popped somewhere above 100,000 feet.  The gondola landed in the vicinity of the barge, but the barge could not be maneuvered to retrieve it.  A nearby ship was being asked to pick it up.

According to Gene and John, the rocket fell onto the deck and the payload and parachute section popped off and slide down the deck a few feet, probably due to the spring-loaded parachute release mechanism.  Despite a few scraps and some bent antennas, the payload section continued to transmit good quality video and data throughout the incident.  According to Gene, it behaved like a Timex watch: "It took a licking and kept on ticking!"  Based on this report, it appears that the rocket can be repaired fairly easily and be made ready to fly again.

On Saturday evening, according to Gene and John, the barge captain caught a large fish and treated the HALO team to a barbecue fish dinner.  The barge returned to its home port at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility at 6 AM on Sunday.  The HALO team transferred hardware and equipment from the barge to trucks and cars and headed back for Huntsville.


SATURDAY, JUNE 20 -- LATE AFTERNOON REPORT --- Reason for the poor gondola video was because the gondola antenna was involved in either the same incident that dislodged the rocket, or a separate one.  According to a new report from Bill Brown (WB8ELK), the antenna was very nearly destroyed and the barge saw no better transmissions than the rest of us.  He was surprised that we saw anything at all.


SATURDAY, JUNE 20 -- AFTERNOON REPORT --- According to the earlier report from Bill Brown (WB8ELK), the balloon popped at a high altitude, probably over 100,000 feet, and the gondola parachuted back to Earth and splashed down in the vicinity of the barge.  The barge was circling the package and attempting to recover it.

(earlier comment deleted)

Based on the tone of Bill's voice in his report, it appears that no one was injured in the launch incident and the rocket was properly safed.  Since the batteries to ignite the rocket were on the gondola can, flying away with the balloon, there was no chance that the rocket could have accidently ignited.

The main danger in this situation was the oxidizer tank with 48 pounds of compressed nitrous-oxide at 700 psi.  Had the tank cracked on impact (and every indication from Bill implied there was NO such cracking and NO leakage), the nitrous-oxide would have leaked out and expanded in a very visible white vapor with a very audible hissing noise.  Nitrous-oxide is non-toxic and non-corrosive (which is why we, and thousands of dentists, use it).  The danger associated with it, like any compressed gas, is the super-cold of the gas as it expands (which can cause frostbite) and its ability to displace air.  Both of these are very localized to the immediate vicinity of the vapor jet (about 3 feet).

After a group discussion at the Press Site, we agreed that what we had hoped was the rocket was probably a reflection from the sun (high above the balloon) reflecting off the gondola pole and attachment hardware.  During the flight, some viewers had said that it did not appear that the rocket was on board, but given the snowy transmission, we did not want to publicized our fears if they proved unwarranted.


1:18 PM CDT --- NEWS FROM THE BARGE.  Embarrassing, but not disaster!  According to Bill Brown (WB8ELK), the balloon tether snagged on the rocket (possibly on one of the hook-shaped antennas) and lifted it off the launch guide pole, dropping it about 5 feet onto the barge deck.  The oxidizer tank and payload section survived the impact, but one fin was damaged by the impact.  According to Bill, the rocket looks repairable.  It never touched the water, and no equipment was lost.


1:10 PM CDT --- Gondola video was briefly snowy, and then faded away again.  Carrier signal has also faded away.  Still no video or data signal from the rocket.  Balloon should be about 65,000 feet in the air (assuming 11:36 AM launch).


1:10 PM CDT --- Gondola video was briefly snowy, and then faded away again.  Carrier signal has also faded away.  Still no video or data signal from the rocket.  Balloon should be about 65,000 feet in the air (assuming 11:36 AM launch).


12:50 PM CDT --- Gondola video signal has faded out from Press Site.  Still no video or data signal from the rocket.  Balloon should be about 52,000 feet in the air (assuming 11:36 AM launch).


12:36 PM CDT --- Gondola video signal is becoming clear.  The balloon is clearly visible, with the gondola avionics package and the rocket hanging below.  Still no video or data signal from the rocket.  Balloon should be about 42,000 feet in the air (assuming 11:36 AM launch).


12:20 PM CDT --- Gondola video signal is getting better, but still snowy.  Still no video or data signal from the rocket.  Balloon should be about 31,000 feet in the air (assuming 11:36 AM launch).


12:05 PM CDT --- Gondola video signal is still in and out.  Still no video or data signal from the rocket.  Balloon should be about 21,000 feet in the air (assuming 11:36 AM launch).


11:55 AM CDT --- Signal is still in and out.  We definitely believe the balloon has been launched.  If it launched at 11:36 AM CDT, then it should be about 14,000 feet in the air (assuming an ascent rate of 700 feet/min).


11:45 AM CDT --- SOMETHING IS DEFINITELY HAPPENING!! Gondola video is coming in and out as a faint signal.  We believe the balloon has been launched.


11:36 AM CDT --- SOMETHING IS HAPPENING!! Gondola video came in as a faint signal and appeared to show the balloon above it (the camera is pointing up).  It is possible that the weak signal is actually coming from the barge prior to launch and is being blocked by the horizon and the trees.  STAY TUNED!


11:32 AM CDT --- Still standing by for balloon launch.
No news from the barge (hopefully no news is GOOD news).
The Press Site has Dan Cusick from the Mobile Register
and Chris Hatch and Lloyd Heard from NBC 15 of Mobile.
Earlier, we had Angela from CBS channel 5 of Mobile doing live updates for their morning show.


11:02 AM CDT --- Still standing by for balloon launch.
Gondola color video frequency is 434.00 MHz AM ATV -- (Cable Ready TV Channel 59)
Rocket color video frequency -- 1255 MHz FM ATV
Rocket APRS GPS Packet Data -- 441.050 MHz FM

10:50 AM CDT --- Still standing by for balloon launch.

10:42 AM CDT --- Standing by for balloon launch -- again.

REASON FOR DELAY -- Barge encountered a squall early this morning with winds of 30 to 40 knots.  No major damage to hardware, but some equipment was temporarily put away for safety reasons, delaying the start of balloon operations.


8:07 AM CDT --- NEWS FROM THE BARGE --- Bill Brown (WB8ELK), on the barge, has reported that there will be a 2-1/2 hour delay, due to weather last night.  Balloon launch is now scheduled for between 10:30 AM CDT and 11:00 CDT.  Rocket launch will occur about 2-1/2 hours later, between 1:00 PM and 1:30 PM


7:38 AM CDT --- Still standing by for balloon launch.  We are as eager as you are to see some video!


7:24 AM CDT --- Standing by for balloon launch.  Waiting to receive video transmission from the rocket and balloon gondola.  Because of the distance from the Press site to the barge, we cannot see video from the barge itself.  We will get the signal once the balloon has cleared the horizon.


7:13 AM CDT --- Standing by for balloon launch.  All systems are go!


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This page is maintained by Ronnie Lajoie.  Send queries and suggestions via E-Mail to: HAL5@nsschapters.org

This file was last modified on Saturday, 15-Apr-2017 13:19:47 EDT