FS#1 – A word from the accounting department – The cost of FS#1

Flying Squirrel#1 Flight payload
Flying Squirrel#1 Flight payload

One of the goals of the Flying Squirrel mission was to keep the project “affordable” so that a STEM education program or individual can afford to conduct similar missions. The arbitrary chosen goal was to keep the cost per flight under $50.00 USD.

The spreadsheet below shows what the FS#1 flight costs were. Spoiler alert, the cost was $44.13.  Some of the costs in the sheet are hard to measure with precision, so estimates were used. For example, I am not able to measure the exact volume of Helium gas we used for the launch. I think I estimated on the high side to allow for error.  Most of the part costs, are priced from my Amazon Prime Account, shipping to California. All the costs shown in the spreadsheet include shipping costs, if they were incurred.  Use these costs as a “ball park” figure.  I used Amazon for most of the part pricing, however they are by no means the cheapest supplier. eBay is often a cheaper source. Shop around and you can get your prices lower than indicated here.

The good news is the goal of under $50.00 was met with some margin to spare.

Can you build a single balloon and launch for under $50.00? No, unless you already have some supplies on hand.  Many of the parts used had to be purchased in quantities larger than needed for one balloon mission. For example, I needed three toroids for the low pass filter, but I had to purchase 10 per order. So, I have enough for three missions and one left over. My costs above are the cost of what I used, not what I had to buy.

There are also costs associated with the mission that can be amortized over multiple missions and I did not include them in the cost of the mission. The most expensive item was the Helium Tank, regulator & Helium that I purchased. The cost was approximately $200 for the tank & regulator. I was able to get the Helium gas for $65, but that will supply several missions. I was able to get a significant discount through a friend that had an account with our local industrial gas supplier. You may be able to lessen this cost by renting or perhaps borrowing a tank of gas from a welder.

Is Helium actually Helium?

Paradoxically, Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, yet it is much rarer here on Earth. Like the natural gas and oil, which Helium is refined from, Helium is a non-renewable resource.

As a result, Helium is expensive relative to other elemental gases. Beyond scientific and industrial uses, Helium is used for party balloons due to its safety as compared with other lighter than air gasses.  (Hydrogen is flammable/explosive and should not be used as a balloon gas) Balloon decorations only need enough lift for the balloon itself and the string/ribbon attached to the balloon. To save on cost, party store suppliers use Helium gas that is diluted with much cheaper Nitrogen & Carbon Dioxide gas. This affords enough lift for the balloon and string but lacks the same lifting power of pure Helium gas, sold at industrial gas suppliers.

Be aware that the typical party balloon gas tanks (often pink in color) unless clearly specified otherwise, are not likely to be pure Helium. Check with your supplier to know what concentration of Helium you are buying. Industrial/welding Helium gas is around 99% pure.

A party balloon Helium/Nitrogen mix can be used for high altitude balloon flights, but you will have to account for the differences in lifting ability.

Also, if like me, you live in a big city environment, you will have some significant fuel costs driving to a remote & safe launch location and chasing the balloon.

The bottom line is, your costs will vary quite a bit and will depend a lot on your situation and ability to shop around for the best pricing. Building more balloons will lessen the cost per launch as you amortize the launch equipment costs. “Your mileage will vary”.

Onward to Flying Squirrel Mission #2….

Excel Spreadsheet FS1 Costs

73 de KJ6FO Don

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