High Altitude Balloons

Building experimental payloads for high altitude balloons.

We send cameras, experiments, and other payloads to new heights.


The Initiative's balloon group launches weather balloons with various scientific and educational goals. The balloons often go above 80,000ft, opening up a new range of opportunities and perspectives. Balloons are tracked via satellite and radio GPS trackers, and several payloads can be launched at once.

Mission Goals

  • Successfully plan and launch the group's first weather balloon

  • Write and publish documentation for future launches by the club and others

  • Perform outreach activities to increase interest in STEM

  • Partner with research labs to make meaningful contributions to science

Related Skills

  • Physics and Chemistry: calculations to estimate the volume of gas

  • Earth Sciences: understanding the earth's winds to predict the balloon's path

  • Engineering: Building robust payloads and reliable electronics

  • Education: Creating lesson plans and outreach activities from experiments


  • Received funding from the Columbia College Student Council.

  • Received satellite tracker from the Columbia University Amateur Radio Club.

  • Successfully launched ROAREE-1 to 108000ft. and retrieved scientific data and media.

Mission Directors


Jess Bolar

SEAS 2025

Mechanical Engineering

[email protected]


Claire Cizdziel

SEAS 2025

Electrical Engineering

[email protected]


Jacob Boxerman

CC 2026

Computer Science

[email protected]

Recent News

Balloons Debrief posted in balloons

April 15, 2016

I’ve wanted to make this post for a while, but life and finals got in the way. I finally found the time to write this up, exactly a month after the balloon launch.

First of all, thank you to everyone that contributed to this mission. We couldn’t have done it without you all.

Flight Details

The balloon was launched on April 16th, 2016 just before 4pm EST near Prattsville, NY. We had initially planned for the launch to be before noon to make recovery easier, but delays and technical issues pushed the launch time back.

Over the course of almost three hours, the balloon rose at a rate of 5 m/s or ~16 ft/s, reaching a peak of 32948.88m or 108100ft at about 6pm EST.

The balloon landed in the backyard of a farm house around 6:44pm. It landed in the middle of a lawn right next to a road, resulting in a very easy recovery. We were very grateful for this, as by the time we reached the payload it had gotten dark. Landing in a more difficult location would have required recovery on a different day.

The maximum altitude of our balloon is rank 88 on arhab.org

Launch Notes

Having multiple possible launch locations was crucial - launch sites became unavailable due to weather and logistics changes.

We need a smaller tank for helium transportation. We had to rent a van to carry the large tank, which was an inefficient use of funds as it could only carry 2 people. Using two smaller tanks would allow us to carry them in an SUV, which can fit more people.

I thought the APRS GPS tracker (the radio one) wasn’t working because it wasn’t showing up on the website. However, I was able to verify with my Baofeng UV-5R and APRSdroid’s packet decoder that the radio was, in fact, working. I later determined that, because we were launching in the mountains, the radio signals weren’t getting to the nearest repeater. The balloon showed up on the website shortly after launch.

The ground winds were absolutely brutal for the launch. Considering it was the first launch for most of our crew, they handled it remarkably well. The winds finally died down towards the end, enough for us to get a clean launch.

Since we didn’t have a mass flow meter to measure the amount of helium (we were quoted $2500 for one from Alicat), we had to use a scale to determine the lift force. A cheap luggage scale/fish scale worked well enough to ensure we didn’t underfill the balloon, but by launch we had to wing it to catch the break in surface wind.

The SPOT GPS tracker we had worked for going up (under the altitude limit) and showed up a couple times during the descent but didn’t work for the landing. This is interesting, especially since it’s usually the radio that doesn’t survive the landing.

We accidentally taped over the ozone sensor poking out of the box - this is my fault for not familiarizing the crew with the equipment and payloads; I might have even taped over it myself. We still collected data, but I’m not sure how accurate or reliable it is.

We need to launch much earlier next time ensure we can recover before sunset. This will get better with more preparation and experience.

The GoPro battery ran out early (we had the cheapest model) so we only got footage up to ~70,000 ft. We’re looking into acquiring a better GoPro along with a battery backpack.


We will start going through the data more thoroughly now, especially with more time in the summer. We’ll post any results or findings here.

BWOG wrote an article about us! Read it here

We released our Youtube video of the launch, watch it here

The Columbia University Facebook page wrote a post about us, read it here

The Future

With a successful launch under our belt, we can look forward to doing more exciting and ambitious things!

We need to start looking for additional funding and future mission objectives. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to contact us through email or social media.

Thanks, Jake Lee

Counting Down for Balloons posted in balloons

April 15, 2016

We’re launching our balloon tomorrow! We’ll be launching at 10AM from Prattsville, NY.

You can track the balloon here.

A quick run-down of the mission:

  • We’re launching a 1600g balloon with multiple payloads:
    • An APRS Radio GPS tracker
    • A SPOT Satellite GPS tracker
    • A 10DOF (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, temperature, pressure) sensor logger and GPS logger package
    • A Ozone sensor logger
    • A GoPro with a Roaree (Columbia University’s mascot) plushie as the subject
    • A Radar Reflector
  • Goals:
    • Get weather balloon experience
    • Detect the ozone layer
    • See if we can get anything interesting from the 10DOF sensors
    • Set a precedence for more ambitious and significant flights in the future
    • Get some sweet, sweet footage from 100,000 ft

We’re looking forward to a great launch!

Follow us on twitter to see live updates. There is a button at the bottom of the website.

p.s. The rockets team is launching tomorrow too!


End of March Update posted in balloons

March 28, 2016

A few updates for the end of March:

  • We have received our equipment from CCSC! Thank you to CCSC for supporting us all the way through.
  • Our currently planned launch dates are April 9th and the 16th. The launch is an all-day event. There are a limited number of spots on the trip, so please let the team know if you plan on attending the launch and chase.
  • We have finalized our launch location to Poughkeepsie, NY. The balloon should land somewhere in Connecticut.
  • We are moving forward full steam in preparation for launch. Please stay updated on Slack for the latest updates.

Thanks, -Jake

Workshop with the DDC posted in balloons

March 28, 2016

Today, we had the pleasure of running a workshop with the Double Discovery Center. Titled, “Exploring the Atmosphere with Extreme Balloons”, the one hour workshop sought to talk about the importance of the ozone layer to life on Earth, the applications of high-altitude weather balloons, and combined the two subjects in an interactive experiment design discussion.

We really enjoyed doing the workshop, and we would like to thank the DDC for hosting us. We hope that we will be able to come back after our launch in mid-April and share some science and fun from our project.

Any other organizations that are interested in hosting a similar workshop can contact us at our contact page.

The resources used in the workshop, including the presentation and the accompanying notes, are available on the balloons mission page.

Developments posted in balloons

March 04, 2016

We’re making some steady progress.

We’ve managed to acquire helium thanks to Jordi! Thank you Jordi!

We finished maintenance on our old electronic equipment. We will begin work on the 10DOF sensor from Marco (thanks!) and the ozone sensor whenever it comes in.

This Saturday (so, tomorrow) we will be working on the GoPro mount as well as the 10DOF sensor.

We’ve also updated CCSC on our details and such, so we should be getting some of our equipment soon!

We’re on the final stretch, hopefully we can get almost everything ready to go by the end of this month. No, we WILL get everything ready to go by the end of this month.


New Semester posted in balloons

January 27, 2016

With the start of the new semester, we’re welcoming new members to the mission. Here’s how you can get involved, from least to most participation.

  1. Check this website often. We try to post news here quite often.
  2. Join the mailing list for Columbia Space, so you can keep up with general body meetings and different events. There’s a sign-up form on the bottom of the front page of this website.
  3. Join our Slack channel. This is where almost 99% of our communcation takes place. It moves fast too, so check back every day. Once you join our mailing list, you’ll get an invite to our Slack group. You can join the “balloons” channel from there.
  4. Join our Google Drive Folder. All of our documents, notes and resources get posted on Drive and Slack. Both of these are crucial if you want to participate actively.
  5. Attend mission-specific meetings. We’ll be choosing the days/times for these at the General Body meeting.
  6. Join a sub-project group. Whether it’s payload preparation or physics calculations, you’ll be contributing directly to the success of this project.

Thanks everyone for the interest, we’re trying to launch by early April. With your support, we can make this a reality.

-Jake Lee, Balloons Flight Director

Balloon Payloads posted in balloons

January 08, 2016

With the completion of our GoPro crowdfunding campaign, we have now acquired all of our payloads!

Here’s a quick look at what we have left to do:

  • Set up payloads to make sure they work
  • Determine launch logistics
  • Send some more emails and stuff
  • Purchase more materials through our CCSC grant

-Jake Lee, Balloons Flight Director

Balloon Sponsorship posted in balloons

December 29, 2015

Our sponsor, W2AEE Columbia University Amateur Radio Club, has submitted the order for a SPOT Trace so we can better track our payload! Many thanks to Eugene Lee for organizing our partnership with W2AEE!

-Eugene Lee