back to article LOHAN's flying truss: One orb or two?

The roll-out yesterday of our Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) fantastical flying truss prompted a flurry of comments from readers unimpressed with our twin-globe proposal. Click here for a bigger version of the LOHAN graphic To recap, our cunning plan for the Vulture 2 spaceplane launch platform involves a …


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  1. EddieD

    Simple solution

    LOHAN is an amazon warrior, so wondrous globe would be appropriate.

  2. Jamie Kitson


    Does the truss really need to be horizontal? It would be much easier to keep it at a steady angle if it was just hanging straight down from balloon(s). You can then adjust the angle of the things on it to the horizontal.

    1. VeganVegan

      Re: Vertical

      I like this idea:

      The pressing issue is the balloon(s) swelling so much that it / they block LOHA's path. Perhaps cutting the balloon tether & launch can be coordinated? Another idea is to intentionally bursting the balloon. Launch LOHAN during free fall, using girder-mounted aerodynamic surfaces or little drag chutes to stabilize its orientation. This is easiest if the girder is imagined as an arrow: add drag-inducing features to the top of the vertically hung girder, and a pointy tip at the other end

      1. sisk Silver badge

        Re: Re: Vertical

        Following that line of thought, perhaps it would be better to rig some sort of sensor to detect when the balloon bursts and light LOHANS fire at that exact moment. I don't know how practical that is, but if it's doable you kill two birds with one stone: you get maximum altitude and you get the balloon out of the way.

        1. taxman

          Re: Re: Re: Vertical

          The trouble about lauching when the balloon bursts is flying through a mass of debris that would probably tangle around the wings of the bird. They make a heck of a mess when they blow.

      2. Pat 4

        Re: Re: Vertical

        Cutting the line would be a much better option because blowing the balloon creates a risk that some of it's material will land on the truss itself and ruin the launch.

    2. Jamie Kitson

      Re: Vertical

      After writing this post I then found the original design article and realised that this has already been gone through, soz!

  3. Kevin Johnston

    OK, probably stupid but.....

    Does the rocket have to be suspended below the balloon?

    Had a vision of a totally ridiculous idea with three smaller balloons close-coupled on a small frame which had a central rod rising to the launch platform mounted above the balloons. the additional lift from the three would allow a weight below to keep the rod 'vertical' and if one balloon bursts early, having the balloons close-coupled above the centre of gravity for the weight/rod/platform will keep the orientation.

    Accelerometers or similar to spot if lift is lost when the first burst pops the other two.

    Gives a headline option for 'Fun-bag Three' (pleased to say that although I remember the band I don't remember any of their tracks).

    1. Ralph B

      Re: OK, probably stupid but.....

      Weather balloons get really huge at high-altitude which would probably cause problems if three were tethered close together.

      What about having the rocket sitting on hat-like platform on top of a single balloon and the relatively heavier avionics/cameras etc. hanging off the bottom of the balloon as a counter-weight?

      1. Kevin Johnston

        Re: Re: OK, probably stupid but.....

        I did think of a 'halo' truss but the change in size of the balloon would be even more catastrophic as at low altitude the balloon would bulge inside the halo plus there is the problem of keeping it in place at the top of the balloon.

        This was the thinking behind having a rod up past the balloons, may cause sympathetic detonation at burst but if you have calculated the gas volume correctly then you would be launching before that point (excepting a balloon failure of course).

        Did a lot of work with weather balloons when I was an apprentice radar engineer so I do understand how big they get (mahoosive springs to mind) but again by using three you would need much less gas per balloon improving your burst height.

        1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

          Data! we need data!Martin Gregorie

          Is there any reliable data on just how big one of the balloons can get? If not, are they so expensive that you couldn't slowly inflate one with air on the ground and track how big it gets before it bursts?

          It seems to me that this is essential data because the beam length needs to be at least twice the burst size of a balloon. Three times would be better if LOHAN is to have a good chance at a vertical launch without hitting one of the balloons.

        2. Ralph B

          Re: Re: Re: OK, probably stupid but.....

          Instead of a 'halo' truss, my "hat" rocket platform be attached to a circular net with long, thin strings radiating around the balloon to connect with the cable holding the avionics etc.

          The length of the strings would allow the balloon to freely expand. The weight of the avionics would provide the counter-weight to keep the net-mounted rocket platform to remain at the top of the balloon.

          So, in this order:



          circular net

          strings ballon strings

          strings strings



    2. Marco van Beek

      Re: OK, probably stupid but.....

      Just a thought. If you use three balloons, and assuming they are all the same size and tethered equally, there would probably be a gap between them that might be big enough to allow a vertical launch from a platform underneath.

  4. DragonLord

    Would it be feasible to have some sort of mobile weight attached to a 2 way mercury switch such that when one side of the truss goes up the weight will travel up a rail of some description to the end that has the most lift, thus counteracting the lift (assuming it gets far enough before the weight is vertical)

  5. wiggers

    How about...

    O O

    | \ / |

    | \ / |

    | X |

    | / \ |

    | / \ |



    Might lose something in formatting, but essentially connect both ends of the truss to both balloons. If one starts to rise faster than the other it will take more of the weight and slow down, keeping them in balance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How about...

      Or keep the new arrangement, and connect two balloons above the swivel instead of one.

      Would make a better looking "set" IMHO, and - ehem... - that extra lift must be necessary or something right?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How about...

      This is what I would vote for with the advantage that even if one burst it should stay relatively level.

  6. b166er

    Can't you drape a net/strop over the balloon and balance a vertical launch platform on one side, with the visual apparatus and recovery system on the other side?

    If the tails of the net/strop are rigid and balanced, that should ensure a vertical launch trajectory shouldn't it.

    1. b166er

      LOHAN's saddlebags, if you will.

  7. Tom7

    Two possible solutions

    1. Sling a weight from two lines connected to each end of the truss. If one end starts to rise above the other, the weight will transfer to the line hanging from that end and rebalance it. Downside: extra weight.

    2. Four balloons on a triangular truss structure. Tie one to each corner and a fourth in the middle that is connected to all three corners. Again, any imbalance will cause the central balloon to take more weight from the other two corners and rebalance it. This gives you three mid-truss points with no balloons above them.

  8. Tom 38 Silver badge

    IANAE*, but couldn't you do this with an array of balloons held together in a ring. The platform is suspended below the ring, and shoots the plan through the ring.

  9. dotdavid
    Paris Hilton


    Probably won't work, but is there any way of just having one balloon and making the bursting of the balloon trigger the launch somehow? I guess lots of balloon guts would get in the way a bit, and it adds a bit of complexity, but to my untrained eye it looks feasible.

    Paris because wasn't something similar done for PARIS, based on altitude?

    1. Code Monkey

      Re: Maybe

      IIRC the PARIS release mechanism froze and the bursting of the balloon freed it. A happy accident.

  10. AndrueC Silver badge

    The truss doesn't look horizontal in that graphic to me :)

  11. Daniel 1

    One balloon, two balloons... It barely matters how many, they'd have swollen to the point where they filled 80-90% of the available sky above the rig, anyway, as far as I can see, and you're only going to get a ridiculous little spurt of extra altitudefrom any engine you use, compared to what the balloons have already provided.

    Better to consolidate all your LOHANs into one, easy to manage, package.

    1. M Gale

      Ridiculous spurt.

      I I recall correctly, the SPB team have decided that the wimpy little E class thing they were testing is far below the power levels required, and could well be going for M class and above. Those things don't provide a ridiculous little spurt. More like a ridiculously powerful kick in the pants and several thousand feet of altitude in about five seconds from ground level. From 80,000 feet with little atmosphere in the way, who knows how high it'll go?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ridiculous spurt.

        is there a reasonable you tube video demoing one of these M class to get a visual idea of thrust the launch platform will need to withstand ?

        im thinking about actually using gravity to start forward momentum off at the top of a half circle track tripping the M class main engine start at the dead centre and exiting the track at a 45 or greater vertical angle like the scifi film i forget the name of right now LOL, simple and effective and you might as well use what's available to you at the great hight for free to reach flight stability speed ASAP rather than waste it.

        1. M Gale

          Re: Re: Ridiculous spurt.



          Though I really hope a Q class is feasible:

  12. Elthrin

    Just move the Vulture 2

    How big do these balloons actually get?

    Launching from the end of the truss, rather than the middle should allow for a steeper climb.

    Locating the Avionics, cameras etc further towards the other end of the truss would balance everything out and give a better view of the launch.

    Having the launch vector parallel to the truss may also reduce any change in launch azimuth caused by the platform swinging away at ignition.

  13. thomas k.

    easy solution?

    How about, instead of a single truss, a + shaped one (with the launch pad in the center where the bars cross) suspended below a donut-shaped balloon?

    Should provide some great headlines, as well - the rocket shot upward through the enormous hole, or some such.

  14. Albert.G

    Self balancing strings


    If you attach a string from each balloon, entering 1/3 into the truss and attached to the battery, when one balloon starts going higher than the other, the string will pull the weigth to its side, keeping the system balanced. If needed, weight displacement can be amplified with a lever.










    Note : The · symbol just means empty space

    1. wiggers

      Re: Self balancing strings

      Ah, now why didn't I think of using dots!

  15. Bill Neal

    ...soon as we can get our hands on some helium.

    How difficult is it over there?

    In 'merica all we have to do is go to walmart. $20 for a tank the size of a standard 30lb refrigerant jug.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: ...soon as we can get our hands on some helium.

      I'm right out in the sticks, and the nearest supply of helium is pretty well the Sun.

      1. bertino

        One of these might be useful...

        Have a circular base section. Attach 3 balloons tethered to this base. Have the electronics in the base too for balance. Fix the bottom thick end of the pole to the circular base. The pole will then poke out above the balloons, stick launch module on top of pole, job done, vertical launch. There are then 2 questions.

        1) Will weight of pole at around 800g be too much?

        2) is 9.5 metres long enough, how large do the balloons get at altitude?

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re: ...soon as we can get our hands on some helium.

        best line yet.

      3. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Re: ...soon as we can get our hands on some helium.

        Wow, that is a long way out in the sticks.

        Here on planet Earth, all the Wal-Marts in the US are closer to any point on the surface that I might find myself at than the Sun is......

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re: ...soon as we can get our hands on some helium.

        while i remember, dont forget to order some cheap chemical heat packs for the electronic packing as they may need it to keep functioning up there, BTW you didnt said just how big the uni guys are making the rocket glider or if you hope and plan to get above the world record for beating the record for Unmanned gas balloon 53.0 km (173,900 ft)

        to launch the LOHAN) flight.

  16. TRT Silver badge


    hang an octohedron by its top apex to the balloon tether and launch through one wall of that. Hang the recovery parachute from the bottom apex and put the logging equipment in the bottom half of the octohedron. Forget about launching vertically! With all that tossing, who's to say what's vertical anyway?

  17. Jan 0

    Wrong balloon?

    Why not use a balloon that doesn't explode?

    Either have a pressure relief valve, or use a large, partly filled, inelastic balloon filled with just enough helium to reach a target height. An aluminised mylar balloon should do nicely, but you'll need to glue the seams (you can weld plain mylar, but it will lose helium faster).

  18. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

    IANAHABE* but how reliably can the moment of ballon burst be detected and reacted to? Or can the balloon be popped on demand?

    I Am Not A High Altitude Baloon Engineer.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not release the balloon just before ignition?

    The balloon will be out of the way pretty much as soon as the weight of the launch platform is released.

    If you can get the timing correct, the launch platform will still be pointing the right way (up), otherwise design a launch platform that falls with the rocket pointing up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why not release the balloon just before ignition?

      Sort-of this. one baloon pops, the truss swings down vertical. the plane swivels on the truss so it points upwards, pop the other baloon and launch along the length of it? LOHAN orbs burst, slides along truss, ejects into space.

  20. david 63

    How do JPA do it?

    They seem to get good launches with 2 ballons.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: How do JPA do it?

      Just what I was going to say. So, ask them.

      Worst thing that can happen: they won't tell you.

      1. ryanp

        Re: Re: How do JPA do it?

        I was thinking just along these lines, but instead of asking you can watch it:

        Of course their rig looks a little more complicated.

  21. Alfie
    Paris Hilton

    don't know about the horizontal issue, but...

    ...why would the two balloons need to be on long tethers that could twist around each other?

    I assume that the plan is to make the girder long enough to leave a big enough space to shoot the vulture between them (ooh, err, missus!); then all you need to do is make sure the tether lines are less than the length of the girder (or maybe less) and the two balloons shouldn't get tangled.

    As for the horizontal issue, I'm going with Albert G's self balancing strings dragging the gubbins around to balance it out. That and using a spring balance when filling the balloons with helium to get an approximate match on lift generated by each one before launch.

    < So simple even Paris could manage it.

  22. NoneSuch

    You can remove a good portion of either end of the triangular support and mount the string from the balloon near the two cameras. The upside down V of the string as shown in the diagram would be well clear of the LOS for the camera lens and you would save a few inches of material at either end. Everything else outside of the cameras could be removed easily as it does not seem to serve any purpose beyond being a mount point for the string.

  23. VeganVegan

    Swivel mount

    How about mounting LOHAN, not directly on the girder, but on a rail hung off of a swivel mount, so that LOHAN will point up vertically, regardless of whether the main girder is horizontal or not. Have to make sure that the swivel doesn't freeze up, perhaps by using kel-f surfaces, and loose tolerances (bolt size << hole size). If you want to guard against the other axis tilting, you can put in a double swivel mount...

  24. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    A long piece of fishing line.

    Nylon: Strength=78000000N/m^2, density=1150Kg/m^3. Gravity = 9.8N/Kg.

    Mass of Nylon = (Mass of payload) * (length) * 9.8 * 1150 / 78000000

    A 10Kg payload on a 100metre line costs 145g. Reliable real life figures are about double theoretical values, so 300g of fishing line for 9.7Kg of payload.

    Zylon, Spectra and Kevlar are all better materials if you can get them:


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