Does Astropod actually go to space?
The region of Space closest to Earth is called Near Space and it starts at around 19,000 metres. This is the altitude where the atmospheric pressure drops so low that water boils at human body temperature, and a human being cannot survive without a pressurised suit. This pressure is known as the Armstrong Limit and marks the boundary to Near Space. The exact altitude varies due to atmospheric conditions.
How high will Astropod go?
About 25,000 metres.
The ultimate altitude is dependent on a number of unpredictable environmental conditions. However, we’ve balanced the weight of the equipment, the size of the balloon and the amount of gas used to provide as consistent a result as possible and extensively tested the kits to ensure they perform to our expectations.
How long is the flight?
About 2.5 hours from release to landing.
The balloon will rise at a steady rate of 3.5 metres per second for about 90 minutes. Once it bursts, it will fall over a third of the way back down in less than 10 minutes! At this point, the air resistance will slowly increase. By the time it lands, about 1 hour after bursting, it will be moving at 3 metres per second.
Where will it land? How far will I have to travel to recover my Astropod?
Between 20 and 80 miles, depending on the day.
The path your Astropod will take is determined by stratospheric wind patterns. On any given day, the flight path can be calculated to within 97% accuracy, but it can change quite a bit from day to day. However, it is very rare to see an Astropod flight travelling more than 100 miles. This is why we recommend setting aside a window of dates rather than aiming for a single day - you can choose the day with the best launching conditions. To get some examples of this and run your own predictions, visit the predictor page.
How can I make the travel distance shorter?
Use an additional gas cylinder (available here).
Astropod's ascent rate is determined by the difference between the weight of the flight system and the amount of lift generated by lighter-than-air Helium gas. Increasing the amount of gas will cause the Astropod to rise quicker, meaning it will have less time to travel horizontally.
If you use an additional gas cylinder, use the following numbers to run your flight path predictions:
Ascent rate: 5.2
Burst altitude: 22000
Descent rate: 3
Do I need permission to launch my Astropod?
Yes. But don’t worry, we’ve made it as easy as possible.
The Civil Aviation Authority regulate access to airspace in the United Kingdom. Any aircraft, including the Astropod, must be operated with their permission, to avoid different air users causing each other problems.
We've arranged ten sites across the UK which the Civil Aviation Authority have pre-approved for launch. When you request delivery of your gas, you'll let us know which site you intend to use and when you plan to launch. We'll sort out all the rest so you don't have to.
Can anyone do this?
Any responsible adult.
We've designed these kits to be as simple as possible to use. If you can operate a smartphone and have access to a computer, you will be able to use Astropod.
That said, Astropod is a hobbyist kit, not a toy. The balloon will be filled with helium gas, which is an asphyxiant and is supplied in pressurised cylinders. This kit is intended for use by adults and is not suitable for children under the age of 8. Children aged 8+ may participate in the launch process but must be supervised at all times.
Do I need to buy anything else?
Yes, the gas must be purchased seperately.
Packaging the gas with the kit would dramatically increase the price throughout the supply chain and would present many safety challenges.
Every Astropod kit includes a voucher offering 20% off your first gas purchase - at this price, we just cover our costs to keep your spend as low as possible.
The flight path predictor mentions the time in UTC - what's that?
The flight path predictor uses Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC. UTC is the same as Greenwhich Meridian Time (GMT), and one hour behind British Summer Time (BST). An hour's difference usually doesn’t change the flight path too much - if it differs wildly, it’s probably not a great day to launch. If in doubt, you can look up the time in UTC here.
Is Astropod safe?
As long as the Astropod is used according to our instructions, this kit is completely safe to you, other people on the ground and other aircraft in the sky.
The Astropod with all components is light enough that it will do no damage on landing even if the parachute does not slow the descent. The components are all non-toxic (we don't recommend eating any components, but doing so won't kill you) and when operated with a Notice To Airmen issued by the Civil Aviation Authority, it will pose no threat to other air users.
The helium gas provided with Astropod is an axphyxiant. Inhaling helium can deprive your brain of oxygen, causing light-headedness, unconsciousness, permanent brain damage and even death. It should be kept out of reach of children under 8 and launch team members under 18 should be supervised at all times by a responsible adult.
Is Astropod reusable?
At the peak of the flight, the balloon will burst and the gas will escape. Aside from the balloon and the gas however, every component can be reused. In the near future we will be selling a 'relaunch' bundle including a replacement balloon and more gas.
Can I use my own camera? Can I add a personal item to Astropod?
To make the Astropod as simple to use as possible, we have designed the pod and the flight computer to fit perfectly together. In addition, the weight of the kit has been calculated to a very high degree of accuracy so that the payload will rise at the correct rate.
Adding additional weight to your Astropod will affect the rate at which the payload rises, which will undermine the accuracy of the flight path predictions and may cause your payload to travel substantially further.
Can I use Astropod if it's raining/snowing/windy?
Yes, but we recommend you launch on sunny day with little or no wind.
Bad weather will not stop the Astropod from flying. However, in wet conditions, there is a chance that moisture will accumulate on the lens, affecting the visual result of the flight. Also, filling the balloon will be significantly harder in any more than a gentle breeze.
Can I use Astropod outside the UK?
Not without a bit of work!
Every country has different airspace regulations and restrictions. We cannot advise on whether countries outside the UK will give permission for you to launch. Also, the flight computer uses a SIM card for location services. This SIM is tied to UK phone networks and a local alternative would be needed in another country.
If I lose my Astropod, can I get a refund?
When correctly used, Astropod is recoverable. We have tested all the components many times and maintain a 100% recovery rate. We have confidence in the equipment and in the flight computer software, however Near Space ballooning is an inherently risky business. We cannot be considered responsible if you lose your payload, even if you follow all the instructions to the best of your ability.
Why do I need to set up a new Google account on the flight computer?
Where's My Droid uses your flight computer's texting capabilities to contact you. Since January 2019, Google has removed all third party applications from the Play Store which can send and receive texts.
We install a special version of Where's My Droid directly on the flight computer without going through the Google Play Store. However, if you've already installed Where's My Droid through the Google Play Store on a Google Account, this special version of Where's My Droid will be overwritten, disabling the text capabilities.
As such, you need to create a new Google account if and only if you've previously installed Where's My Droid on a different device though the Google Play Store.
For simplicity's sake, we recommend all Astropod users create a new account, because if you've already set up the flight computer on an existing account, it's quite difficult to switch Google accounts and reinstall Where's My Droid.