The Ahab Search Continues!

The Ahab Search Continues!


AHAB, the high altitude balloon that we launched with 5 cameras attached to it, has remained missing since launch.. It made it to 109,000 feet, but the batteries all died on the way down. Last month Todd, Veronica, and James went looking for it! You can see all their pictures and videos (1 and 2) from their adventure. (You may know these folks from Maker Faire. They had the Redneck Pool Heater.)

If this is the first time you’ve heard about this, catch up on the story!

Building a high altitude balloon. – Link
Launching a high altitude balloon. – Link
For those that have a digital subscription to Make: you can check out the article in the current magazine. – Link

Here’s their report.

Sorry to say we didn’t have any luck on our hunt for AHAB but the weather was perfect.

We went to ground zero of all points A-D and then circled the hill sides and small valleys in a 1 mile square round the points. The terrain is much hillier then what you can read from Google Earth Maps and the sagebrush goes from knee high to shoulder high so finding AHAB in that would mean you would have to almost step on it. We found an old bulldozer that must have been used as farm equipment 50 years ago. It was yellow (mostly rust yellow) and we couldn’t see that until we where within 50 feet so it’s not a good area to find something small. Also, same of the flat areas were planted with crops that where knee high so we couldn’t search in those areas other then the target GPS spots in the crops, we did check them but we had to be very careful not to damage the crop.

We then went to ground zero of Emrys Hall’s projection but nothing there either. We searched about a 1 mile by 2 mile rectangle around Emrys GPS point with no luck other then a party balloon that managed to land way out there.

I also calculated my own target LZ using the flight data. It was in the dead center between point D and the cutaway coordinates. We could not search this area because it was all planted crops. If it’s there I guess the combine will find it and eat it this fall during harvest unless we get lucky and the farmer sees it first.

I took lots of photos, camera movies and way points which I will load to my photo site when I get done with my east cost vacation driving down the 101 and back to Mesa, AZ.

We all tons of fun searching for AHAB always believing it would be just over the next rise. We never gave up hope even on the way home we where still going over decent rates, wind speeds to figure if were had been in the optimum locations. Can’t buy fun like that anymore; thank a ton for sharing your adventure with all the readers of Make Magazine!

Todd Harrison, Mesa AZ
Veronica Harrison, Mesa AZ
James Ziska, Walla Walla, WA

Thanks for giving it your best shot! For those following along, Emrys Hall did a bunch of number crunching to give them another place to look. Read on after the jump to see that info!Hey,

I have a lot of experience with finding balloons and predicting where they will come down because I normally launch a balloon every other week back in Boulder. I trust the prediction spreadsheet I use very much. You can see from the graphs I attached that the areas you have been searching might not be far enough to the north. I think, with a lot of luck, these new predictions should help locate the cameras!

I use very similar parachutes on my instruments. I picked a flight that had similar descent rates and used those descent rates in the model. I also used the wind data from your flight which I downloaded from your website. Great job posting all of that info with the pictures of where you searched. I think it will pay off.

Here is where I would start:
Lat: 47.8762
Long: -119.78975

I did some guess work to come up with this point so I wouldn’t give up if it is not right there. After looking at the maps, I wonder if it floated long enough to land in the river to the north of where I predicted. That would be terrible. I really don’t think that happened, but you never know.
For future flights I would highly recommend using a valve on the balloon so that the package comes down nice and slow and it makes the recovery mission much easier because you can see the balloon float down in most cases. I will attach some pictures of the valve we use. It is just a piece of 3″ thin walled PVC pipe with a plumbers cap on top. The gray valve is just a conduit connector that electricians use. All those parts are under $2 each I think. The string in the X over the brown “nicrom” wire cutter is just cheap string we get from the excess pay-out reels we buy in bulk. Any old string would do I am sure. The nicrom wire is very short and stands off the piece of phenolic on two small posts. I have part numbers for all these things if you are interested in building something like this in the future. We basically short a 3.0V lithium C cell battery across the 0.25Ohms on the nicrom at a certain pressure (we shot for 12mb or 30km on our flights). I will attach a picture of the micro controlled pressure activated cutter board we built as well. You can buy all the parts from digikey I think for cheap and the pres sensor from a guy we get them from. They work awesome. A micro with a timer would work also, but this is a little better because you can’t always calculate the rise rate accurately enough to do it all by time.
Best of luck,


18 thoughts on “The Ahab Search Continues!

  1. weirdguy says:

    When I read that it might be in crops that you cannot get to, my first thought was to make a tethered camera balloon and float it over!

  2. Guairdean says:

    Sorry to hear that you couldn’t find it. Next time, contact your local Ham Radio club. Most clubs have people interested in “Fox Hunting” and they’ll help build a transmitter to go into the payload. They also have the direction finding equipment to pinpoint its location.

  3. RTourn says:

    You may find volunteers for a grid by grid search, if I was closer I would help. I hope you guys find it, if not I hope try again. Good luck.

  4. ArmChairQB says:

    Next Time anyone goes out — you may want to place Lost& Found Signs with additional Contact info. on Sticks/ wire.. might help?

  5. RobotHacker says:

    When a friend of mine took me out to launch high power rockets, I was thinking that a camera at the top of an extension pole would help for searching tall grass/plants. Something like a simple security camera and a pocket TV.

  6. jswilson64 says:

    HP Rocketeers also use recovery beepers – loud piezo beepers set up so that they don’t start beeping until the ‘chute deploys.

    Could work one of these into the next balloon, and/or a radio beacon that doesn’t activate until descent begins, to save batteries.

  7. Thanh says:

    Sorry that you guys lost the AHAB. Hope someone found it and returned soon.
    Maybe you need another balloon or a RC plane/helicopter flying high and look down to search for it.

  8. Thanh says:

    Sorry that you guys lost the AHAB. Hope someone finds it and returns it soon.

    Maybe you need another balloon or a RC plane/helicopter flying high and look down at the location where you think it may be there to search for it. (If you ever go search again)

  9. zof says:

    Hand out fliers to the local farmers and farmworkers and post like a $50-$100 reward on it, someone may have happened onto it and threw it in a shed not knowing what it is.

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