Project HALO (High-Altitude Lift-Off): SL-1

Third Attempt: Pre-Attempt HAL5 Press Release (Text Version - Historical)

May 7, 1997

Primary Contact: Greg Allison
HAL5 Project HALO Program Manager
(Evening Phone: 205-859-5538)

Secondary Contact: Ronnie Lajoie
HAL5 Project HALO Logistics Coordinator
(Day Phone: 205-461-3064)

NSS Headquarters Contact: Karen Rugg
National Space Society, Washington, DC
(Day Phone: 202-543-1900)


Where: Hampstead, North Carolina (20 mi. north of Wilmington)
Alternate Site (if winds change): Shallotte, North Carolina
When: Saturday, May 10 -- Rain/Wind date: May 11
When: Balloon Launch at local SUNRISE (about 6:15 AM EST)
When: Rocket Launch at 9:00 AM EST (2 and 1/2 hours later)

On the morning of Saturday, May 10, a small group of space enthusiasts will try again to make space history by sending the first amateur rocket into space -- and the first hybrid rocket into space ever. Press and visitors are welcome to attend. The first attempt on Saturday, March 22 was scrubbed due to an electronics problem (since corrected) and increasing winds.

The Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5), a chapter of the grassroots National Space Society (NSS), has spent the past two years developing and testing components for a "rockoon". A rockoon is a rocket that is launched from a high altitude balloon. The rockoon approach allows a small rocket to obtain a very high altitude because there is little air to slow it down during launch. Rockoons were first flown by James Van Allen in the 1950's as part of a joint Navy/university project, but were abandoned when sufficiently large ground-based sounding rockets became available.

HAL5 has updated the rockoon concept using 1990's amateur rocketry and electronics technology. HAL5's goal is to make space more affordable for students, amateurs, experimenters, and researchers. The HAL5 program, started in July of 1994, is called Project HALO, for High Altitude Lift-Off.

The HALO rocket utilizes hybrid propulsion, whereby an inert solid fuel is kept safely away from a liquid oxidizer until the rocket is ignited. The solid fuel used for the HALO rocket is pure asphalt, the same material used on streets and roofs. The liquid oxidizer used for the rocket is nitrous-oxide, the same "laughing gas" used by dentists. After constructing a small rocket motor test facility in early 1995, HAL5 has since performed over 50 static firings of its hybrid rocket motors. HAL5 successfully launched a test hybrid rocket from the ground in Manchester, Tennessee in April of 1996.

The garage-built HALO hybrid rocket, to be launched from off the coast of southeast North Carolina (the state where amateur flight was invented), will become the first of its kind to ever make it into space -- if it successfully exceeds an altitude of 50 nautical miles (300,000 feet). The highest hybrid flight to date was flown on January 8, when a NASA-industry team sent a nitrous-oxide and HTPB-rubber hybrid sounding rocket from the ground to 119,780 feet.

This attempt will use a larger high-altitude helium balloon made of clear polyethylene plastic over 100 feet long, but thinner than a sandwich bag (only 0.35 mils thick). At the launch altitude of near 105,000 feet, the balloon, which has a volumetric capacity of 141,000 cubic-feet, will expand to 65 feet in diameter.

Floating in the frigid stratosphere, the balloon will be brittle enough to "pop" when the HALO rocket safely shoots through it. HAL5 successfully launched a smaller 19,000 cu.ft. capacity plastic balloon from Huntsville, Alabama in September of 1996. HAL5 also has successfully sent six smaller latex rubber balloons to the edge of space, which have carried both rocket test parts, electronics, and student experiments.

The Project HALO rockoon, if the rocket successfully launches from the balloon gondola, will become the first amateur rockoon mission to succeed. Previous rockoon attempts involved solid rockets, which failed to ignite at altitude. Lessons learned from those attempts have been incorporated into Project HALO.

Thanks to May's lighter upper altitude winds, the balloon will be launched near the coast, from a site in Hampstead, North Carolina (about 20 miles north of Wilmington). May winds will carry the balloon east as it rises to 105,000 feet. The command to launch the rocket will be sent only once the balloon is safely over open ocean and the rocket is pointed away from land.

The balloon gondola will carry an amateur television (ATV) camera to record the launch live and transmit the color video back to earth. The frequency is 434.00 MHz, which corresponds to Cable Ready TV channel 59. The rocket also carries an ATV camera, a smaller B&W model.

Altitude verification for the rocket will be primarily based on signals from an onboard GPS receiver. Backup will come from the B&W camera, which is oriented so that the curvature of the Earth can be viewed, recorded, and later measured to estimate the altitude.

Site setup will begin on Friday afternoon. Press interviews may be conducted during this time. Launch operations will begin at 3:00 AM. Tighter security will be enforced until the balloon is launched (or mission scrubbed). The balloon must launch by 6:30 AM, to obtain the calmest winds and to satisfy FAA requirements. The rocket launch will occur 2 and 1/2 hours after the balloon launch (about 9:00 AM). A press briefing will be held after the balloon launch, and another after the rocket launch. If May 10 is windy or rainy, the launch attempt will be postponed until Sunday, May 11.

For more details (including directions, hotels, restrictions, and requirements), please see the following HALO web site at:

This information can also be requested by sending an E-mail message to "" or by calling one of the contacts listed. Revised Press Kits will be available at the balloon launch site, and will be uploaded to the Web site as soon as possible.