Equipment Used‎ > ‎

Low-Cost Balloon Launches

Please see our telemetry low-cost research launch

One of our long term goals is to help interested teachers prepare to conduct their own balloon launches.  We have begun testing some low-cost telemetry options in the hopes of finding the ultimate low cost, reliable and readily usable launch platform.

The following is a list of equipment we are considering for launching low cost balloons, along with notes weighing the pros and cons of each item. This is a page used by the near-space balloon team for planning purposes, and is posted here for teachers and students to get an idea of what the equipment selection process involves. We are considering the initial purchase cost of the equipment, any annual fees associated with it, and the perceived risk/reliability of the product.


Equipment List:

GPS Tracking ($180-$320)

      SPOT Satellite tracker-$169.95, used on ebay for as low as $35.00

      Requires subscription service-149.99

      has altitude limit and will only transmit below ~30,000 ft

      APRS Tracker (

      Communicates with terrestrial HAM towers, gated to internet automatically: see us @

      Require HAM radio license to operate

      work well at high altitude, but lose contact with towers below ~3000 ft

Payload Box (~$30)

      disposable gloves

      foam insulation sheet 1” thick (Home Depot) or purchase foam cooler from grocery store (these are thinner and may not protect electronics as well)

      5 minute epoxy

      nylon string

      duct tape and electrical tape

      assorted zip ties (including 24”-36” length to wrap around box)

Payload (~$50)

      Cannon Camera: Powershot A2200 is a great starter (see backside)

      hand warmers (reusable crystallization type: “Ez-Heat-Reusable-Instant-Handwarmer” $5.85 on amazon)


Balloon/Launch Supplies (~$75-$200)


      PVC Fill nozzle (see our website for details on how this is used)

      parachute (5-10 ft from or home made (reliability and time should all be considered for this approach, though it is much cheaper)

      helium tank (330 ft3 size)

      radar reflector made from cardboard (

      wooden hoop  under parachute to help it fill (embroidery hoop from craft store)

      regulator (rent with the helium tank)

      Balloons ( or


Total Cost ~ $325 (for even cheaper option see $150 launch


A Note On Tracking Your Payload

The Spot trackers are quite expensive even if you purchase a used one, however they are the gold standard for satellite trackers. If you end up putting anything of value in your payload box then you can rest assured that the Spot will accurately locate it. The APRS trackers are a good compliment to the SPOT and allow you to track the entire flight, as well as transmit select bits of telemetry such as battery voltage or wind speed. They WILL lose contact below 3000 ft so it will be difficult to triangulate your payload with whatever the last recorded velocity. APRS trackers should not be used for primary tracking. High Altitude Science has a more detailed description of these tracking technologies and how they work:


The Camera

One of the most rewarding parts of near space ballooning is to capture the beautiful views as you travel through the atmosphere! When you begin to see the curvature of the earth, you know you made it. The easiest way to capture your flight is to use a GoPro. The low end model has sufficient battery life to last an entire flight. However, because the balloon will constantly be spinning in the wind, still pictures usually come out better. Certain Canon cameras can be programmed with CDHK firmware which allows you take pictures at regular intervals. Go to the wiki:  to see a list of compatible cameras and instructions on how to install CDHK.


The Payload Box

It’s important to be able to protect whatever you send up with the balloon. In order to create a payload box, you can purchase a sheet of 1” foam insulation from home depot. The dimensions are up to you, but a 7x7x7 box should be sufficient. Use epoxy (use gloves) to assemble the box. Don’t attach the top of your box yet! Next, measure the dimensions of cameras that will be used, and build a foam pocket to secure it. Finally cut a hole big enough for the lens to come out. Check your images to see if the sides of the box are visible in your images and trim your holes accordingly.


Launch Site

Choose the launch site based on safety, weather, and predicted landing site. Please review the FAA guidelines for unmanned balloons here: Of primary concern are manned aircraft. Do not launch near and airport and make sure to weigh your payload box (including everything you’re sending) is no more than 4 lbs. Make sure to check weather predictions and use one of the included flight predictors. Move your launch location so that the predicted landing is in an accessible, flat, open area (farms are perfect!). Launching in an open area so your balloon does not hit something and burst on its way up.





              Lay out the tarp to prepare your equipment. TURN ON THE SPOT OR EQUIVLANET GPS TRACKER. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. WITHOUT IT YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO RETRIEVE THE BALLOON. Attach it facing upwards with zipties to the top of the payload box. Keep it clean from debris that could pop the balloon. Lay out the payload chain once again, this time including the balloon. Make sure to wear gloves at all times when handling the balloon. Be gentle with the balloon and take care not to pinch or pull on it too hard. Assemble tank and regulator for filling. Fill balloon, stopping frequently to check whether it generates enough lift to carry the payload. Once it can easily lift the payload you are ready to launch.

Legacy Tracking Information:

Telemetry: Here is where things get interesting. The following is a list of a known telemetry devices by others, as well as links to who uses them.