What goes up….could be very exciting. Introducing: HURR-B

Hurricane Balloon Logo

Hurricane Balloon Logo (click for larger version)

Ever wonder what the inside of the eye of a hurricane looks like? Think of those birds we often hear about that get trapped inside the eye, flying around in the (relatively) calm air. If all goes well, we will get a fantastic look at one the strangest weather phenomenon on the planet.

I wish to introduce you to our newest, most ambitious project to date. Say hello to HURR-B (pronounced Herbie). It’s a weather balloon that we will send to the edge of space from inside the eye of a hurricane. It will eventually burst and the payload will drift safely back to earth via the parachute.

The payload will contain data loggers to collect GPS data of the balloon’s ascent, drift and eventual descent back to the ground. We’ll also arm it with four GoPro HD cameras, each looking in a different direction for a spectacular view of the inner workings of a hurricane’s eye.

The idea came from colleague Tim Millar last year as we were testing our RC plane in Texas. I mentioned to Tim that it would be awesome to fly the plane around inside the eye of a hurricane and how cool that video would be. He said without pause, “What about a weather balloon?” We immediately began looking in to what it would take to build, test and deploy a weather balloon and its payload in to the eye of a hurricane.

What do we hope to learn from such a project? It’s all about learning the answers to questions such as these….

  • What will happen when the balloon is released? Will it go straight up or will it get sucked in to the eye wall and destroyed?
  • If it does clear the eye and reach the top of the hurricane, where will it go then? Will it get caught in the outflow and then take off in a clockwise direction?
  • What will we see? What will the four cameras capture? What if this really works and we get the balloon to 80,000 feet or higher and look down on the hurricane from 40,000 feet above it? I can only imagine what that view must look like. There is no better camera, in my opinion, than the GoPro, they are perfect for this project.

Then there is the science. So little is known about the eye of a hurricane, especially at landfall. We have the gift of the Hurricane Hunter planes which fly in and out of the eyes of hurricanes all the time. But they are moving fast, really fast and are moving horizontally. The balloon will move vertically from the surface to as high as 90,000 feet!

We will utilize advanced GPS tracking and logging technology to not only keep track of where the balloon is on Google Maps, but also to study the travel patterns of the balloon. Remember when you asked why you needed math in school and what good it would do you in the real world? Well, this is one of those times. Using the GPS data, we can determine through calculations and even computer modeling how fast the balloon moved, where it traveled and then deduce how fast the wind was blowing at the top of the hurricane. It’s all math! In fact, we are going to GIVE the GPS data to anyone who wants it after the fact. We would love for any university or high school science dept for that matter to analyze the GPS data and learn from it. We do not know what will happen if the balloon makes it to the top of the hurricane. That’s why we’re doing it, to find out.

Funding

The project obviously costs money. To help raise the funds needed to succeed, we are offering a unique opportunity for anyone who is willing and able to help. You know how EPCOT and Magic Kingdom have those bricks or tiles that you can buy to put your family name or photo on it for a certain amount of money? That general idea is what we’re going to do to raise the money needed for our project. For $100, you can sign your name on a plastic plate that will then be glued to the payload and sent in to the eye of a hurricane and then the edge of space. This will be your actual signature, your name. In fact, you can do this for a son, daughter, aunt, uncle, favorite teacher, who ever! The catch is that only 50 such plates are available. The first 50 people who wish to help fund the project will get their name added to the payload. In addition, you’ll also receive a special, one of a kind t-shirt with the HURR-B logo on it. The color will be ash gray, any size. T-shirts will only be given to those who support the project, they’re not for sale anywhere else. And finally, contributors will receive a signed copy of the DVD that we produce of the entire project from start to finish. That leads me to the next part….

Documentary

We will document every step of the project via video and photos. It could take years to finally pull this off. It could be this summer and on the very first attempt. What ever the time frame, we plan to produce a documentary about the project which will be entered in to film festivals and shown around the country once completed. I think it would be incredible to sit back and watch as it all unfolds with the obvious finale being the actual footage, in stunning HD, of the balloon’s journey up the eye of a hurricane and then high above, to the edge of space. I cannot wait to score the music to that!

Learning Opportunity

I want this project to also serve as a learning opportunity for school kids. Part of the funding raised will be used to travel the Southeast to show the balloon and the payload to school kids. Even when it’s all over, it would be great to show young minds the actual payload that went to the edge of space and back via the eye of a hurricane. I believe it will inspire students to innovate and reach for lofty goals themselves. After all, it was my 8th grade science teacher who sparked my interest in weather and hurricanes. If your school would like to have us visit at some point, please let me know and we’ll do what we can to arrange it, funds permitting.

Test Date

We are planning to test the balloon sometime in early May. We will travel to Texas and work with a good friend and supporter of our efforts, Kerry Mallory. His HAM radio knowledge will aid in tracking the balloon once it pops and the parachute deploys. We need to test all of this at least once and the open land of the Texas Panhandle will work very nicely for that. We will stream the test live on our Ustream channel and will post the video from the GoPro cams on Ustream as well. The date is not set quite yet, but we’ll know soon. Hopefully, you will follow along live as we travel to Texas for this important testing phase. Once we know it all works in good weather, we wait….

Deployment

Once we get to the hurricane season, it’s a matter of timing. When we think there is a chance that a hurricane, as long as it has a distinct eye in visible satellite images, we’ll go for it. The plan is to launch from the moment the wind calms down enough after the eye wall passes us. We obviously want to be along the part of the eye where the entire, widest part will pass over us, giving the balloon the best chance of making it up and out of the eye. That is the #1 goal, to get the balloon past the eye and then to the edge of space. However, if we do not succeed, we’ll keep trying. We know the balloon will rise and rise fast. If it gets drawn in to the eye wall and pops, so be it. We can learn a lot from that. Failure is an option in this case. To fail is to learn. We keep going until we pull it off, whether it’s in 2012 or it takes five years. Even if we succeed on the first try, I would want to keep deploying balloons in future hurricanes with more advanced payloads. This will be the fist step in that process.

Even if the landfall is at night, we launch. There is a lot that can be learned just from the GPS data. And, we might get lucky and have a landfall just prior to sunrise. Imagine what the GoPro cams will see at 50,000 or 80,000 feet as the sun rises over the Earth’s eastern limb, slowly illuminating the hurricane with a warm glow. There’s only one way to get that shot, we launch!

Future Blogs/Updates

I will have a new page online for this project on Monday. I’ll post pics, updates, video clips, etc. on that page with articles linking to that page here on the main blog. I want our visitors to be with us every step of the way. Get involved, post your thoughts and ideas. If you wish to contribute to our funding, let me know. This is an exciting and potentially extraordinary project. It will be very challenging but has a chance of yielding some phenomenal data and video. We have a great team and many wonderful supporters who can help to make this project happen. With a little luck added in, I think HURR-B will fly and fly high! Stay tuned….

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