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The Great Oz Eclipse of November 2012  
by Joe Cali

Eclipser 1 - Stratospheric Balloon Project
Photographing the eclipse from 25000 metres altitude

Third Contact. The eclipse is over at the 25000 m altitude of Eclipser1 but the eclipse
is still in progress on the ground below where the lunar umbra is clearly visible. The dark
 lunar disk was lost in the flare and has been added here with Photoshop for artistic effect.

In 2011, a team of Romanians led by science journalist, astrophotographer and solar eclipse chaser Catalin Beldea  spent 15 months building an instrument capsule capable of working at 20,000 - 30,000 metres (65,000-100,000 feet) altitude. Early in 2012, I joined the group to provide local logistical support for the launch.  

Conditions include : -
The Romanian development team conducted test flights in Romania in October 2011 to 35km and August 2012 to 29km.

The footage of our stratospheric balloon eclipse flight, Eclipser1, launched by a 
joint Romanian-Australian team which successfully captured footage of the eclipse from 25000m (82000ft) altitude has been released and can be viewed here.
I recommend you set quality to HD1080 and watch on a big screen but take a travel calm pill first. It's very blair witch - quite the wild ride.

After the eclipse, it continued to rise to a maximum altitude of 36900m (121000ft) which we believe is the third highest flight recorded in Australian airspace.

We will be publishing an article in Sky and telescope during 2013 after which we'll provide more detail here.  

Notes on the video :

You can see the Moon's umbra approach from the west before the eclipse starts. The umbra is clearly visible out to sea for some time after the end of totality. The balloon continues its ascent to 36800m then bursts. At burst altitude the temperature is about -80C and pressure <1% of sea level so when the latex balloon bursts, shards of brittle rubber go flying in all directions with almost no air to slow them down.

You see the capsule tumbling as it free-falls for 19000m. Then at 18000m altitude a parachute deploys and it comes back to earth. Of course, the chute got snagged 20m up in a tree posing one final hurdle for the recovery team.

Here is the link to the balloons APRS tracking. This was broadcast live during the flight and used by Air Services Australia to track the position in addition to the periodic call ins at each 10000 foot level.


The Eclipser1 project was conducted by the Romanian Space Agency ROSA, YO3KSR amateur club and one in Cairns and supported by Duracell.

We would also like to gratefully acknowledge Professor Michael Bird and his staff at James Cook University, Cairns for assistance provided to us during the lead up to launch.

Second Contact

Totality from 25000 m.  The cloud that crueled many observers can be seen along the coastline.

There was a large team of technical specialists who developed, tested and deployed the payload. Each person played a critical role in the launch.

The project was conceived and lead by Catalin Beldea.

The payload was developed and tested in Romania with two test flights conducted in late 2011 and on Aug 4th, 2012.

The team responsible for this was composed of :
Catalin Beldea        project leader
Adrian Florescu      radio tracking specialist
Florin Mingireanu   Aerospace engineer with particular expertise in high altitude ballooning
Marc Ulieriu           Editor-in-Chief of Stiinta & Tehnica - a Romanian Science Magazine and principal sponsor of the event. 

Photo © Catalin Beldea   Filling the balloon at Kimba.

Later others became involved for specific tasks relating to the eclipse flight.

Joe Cali                   Legislative compliance, protocols,  approvals and liaison with CASA and Air Services Australia Air traffic control in Cairns and Brisbane.  Logistics support.
Samantha Scafe      Radio tracking specialist
Howard Small        Radio tracking specialist

One of the sponsors - the Romanian science magazine, Stiinta & Tehnica will be publishing the first article in their December, 2012 issue.  We are looking at other options for English language science magazine.  

The footage can be viewed on YouTube here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=W_9eYcGIT88

Photo © Catalin Beldea     Cape York from 37000 metres

1.  Much to our disappointment, after designing and testing the tracking system, Adrian was denied a visa and could not come.  He did however provide technical support from Romania during the days leading up to the flight.

2.  The balloon was launched from east of Kimba well into the outback, at about 5:23 AM on Nov 14th 2012

3.  After 70 minutes, the balloon entered the umbral cone and recorded a stunning video in full HD from 25km altitude (in the stratosphere) which we think is probably a first.

4.  After 108 minutes of flight, the balloon reached almost 36900 m altitude and it s the third highest flight in Australian airspace.

5.  Thanks to the great efforts of Howard Small and Sam Scafe, the capsule was tracked and located within one hour after landing some 17km to the east of our launching spot. The balloon landed in a tree 20m above the ground.

6.  Due to some problems at the launch we were forced to put away the battery and the sensors for collecting atmospheric data, one photo camera and one video camera. The remaining HD video-camera and photo-camera (the lightest of the initial 4 of them) worked just fine.

7.   I (Joe Cali) was not at the launch or recovery.  I had to finalize the legal paperwork with air services Australia from Cairns on the last day while the team was moving equipment out to the launch site.  Legals aside, I had substantial commitments with other arrangements I had made for observers on the coast and unfortunately could not travel to the launch and recovery. The launch and recovery was conducted by Catalin, Florin, Marc, Sam and Howard assisted remotely by Adrian and some other ham radio operators in Cairns, members of the Cairns Amateur Radio Club whose names I don't know.


Umbra over Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria.      
The capsule camera is looking west away from the sun. 
The photo shows the trailing end of the umbral shadow 

In the video you see the shadow approach rapidly but retreat slowly. This is because the balloon has a horizon distance of 600km in each direction.

As the shadow approached the west coast of Cape York on centerline shadow velocities were :
Part of Shadow    Velocity(km/hr)
Leading edge          20808
Middle                    19980
Trailing Edge         18900

As it passed over site 3A near Maitland downs  
Part of Shadow    Velocity(km/hr)
Leading edge        14800
Middle                  14300
Trailing Edge        13750

As it crossed the east coast of Cape York near Port Douglas   
Part of Shadow    Velocity(km/hr)
Leading edge        13500
Middle                  13200
Trailing Edge        12600

The shadow continues to be visible some 300km out to sea for some time after totality finished at the balloons location and altitude.

 We are incredibly excited about the results.

From a personal standpoint this had been an amazing project to be involved in and I thank Catalin for inviting me to join in and all team members for their professionalism.  This was by no means a simple operation to mount and were it not for the professionalism, expertise and experience of the entire team and their care and attention to detail, the Australian authorities would not have given us permission to fly.

At the time of totality was still rising at an altitude of 25000 metres (82000 ft).  HD video and high res stills were captured by two onboard cameras pointing in opposite directions at the approaching shadow and at the eclipsed sun.  After the eclipse the balloon continued to rise. Because the balloon was under filled, it had more expansion capacity.  As a result it continued to rise to an altitude of 36800m before bursting. The altitude it reached is the third highest ever stratospheric flight made in Australia.

Joe Cali

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Home Page ..............Index of other eclipse reports
Personal logs
1.  Introduction, Preparations and tour structure
2.  The final eight weeks before the eclipse
3.  Eclipse Week  

Observation / Activity Reports
4. Stratospheric Balloon flight
5. Observations from Trinity Beach and Port Douglas
6. Inland Escape - Mareeba - Mt Molloy

7. Inland Escape Maitland Downs - Cow Manure Paddock - Site 3A
8. Inland Escape Maitland Downs - Road Camp - Site 3B
9. Escape flight to the Gulf of Carpentaria