The Squirrels go Back To Space

The Squirrels support the Back To Space organization’s 1st HAB project.

On Saturday Aug 10th, 2019 I had the privilege to assist the Back to Space organization launch their first High Altitude Balloon. Back to Space is an organization that is promoting space related STEM education. They currently have 22 very talented “Ambassadors” participating in the program. Of the 22, the launch was attended by 12 ambassadors.

I was asked to help because they needed a Ham Radio licensee for their onboard TV transmitter. I was also able to assist them with HAB topics as well. Given limited notice and my available time, I gave them some coaching as best I could.  Mike KA9CQL also generously volunteered his time as well.

The design of the balloon and payload was driven by the Ambassadors with only some minimal coaching from the Squirrels. Had we met earlier in the project we would have made a few different suggestions for improved tracking but given what they had to work with their design was good.

At 9:29AM the balloon took off from Temecula, California and landed in the Mojave Preserve just south of Baker California.  Because the balloon went so far out and there was unusual traffic on the road to Baker, the recovery team arrived too late in the day to make a successful recovery, despite having the landing location clearly identified. It is my understanding another recovery attempt will take place soon and I expect they will be able to recover the payload with its cameras and SD card data.


The most exciting part of the flight was the live motion video from the balloon that was received as far out as the desert over Palm Springs before the signal was lost.  The payload used a Spot tracker which is designed for hiking applications. As such is only reports position every ten minutes and has an altitude limit, above which is does not report. The last reported position we had while video was still received was 45 miles down range. The video reception lasted longer than this and a rough guess is that we had signal out to around 60+ miles.

All in all this was a great experience for all of us!

The flight achieved the core mission goals that Squirrel Engineering embraces:

Have fun!

Clearly, we all had a great time. There is something special watching a balloon take flight and the thrill of the chase. It was fun to meet the ambassadors and learn about their personal career goals in the aerospace field. They are a very bright group and I am sure will do well in their careers to come.

Learn Stuff!

Both ambassadors and us Experienced balloon enthusiasts learned stuff. The Ambassadors learned a lot about what it takes to build & fly a HAB. They also learned about what ham radio can do and how it might be used on their next projects.  But at the same time, they taught us experienced Squirrels that live motion video is practical for a small HAB platform. Sometimes fresh “eyes” see things that more experienced eye doesn’t see.


The mission of Back to Space and Squirrel Engineering is to promote STEM education. By sharing our experiences, we have accomplished this goal. The Back To Space team collected a  lot of raw media, images & video,  and is expected to produce a number of videos soon. These videos will also educate and inspire others to explore High Altitude Ballooning. When these videos are published I will post links on the Squirrel Engineering Facebook page.

73s De Don KJ6FO







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