Taking a quick break from the serious and seriously well thought out, let's offer a nod to Alex Jarvis who admits to "many hours photoshopping" to present this explosive concept to the world:
Here's the idea: "The premise of this would be you reach launch altitude and fire the rocket and the helium balloon bursts at the same time / fraction of a second later (using a small explosive charge...). The rocket then shoots up and past where the balloon was... Guess there may be a chance to get tangled with the remains of the balloon, but I have a cunning idea for that too. Fill the balloon with hydrogen so when you pop it there will be no remains left due to the awesome explosion you will get. So no launch booms, counterweights etc are required, mount LOHAN underneath and fire through the balloon wreckage! Foolproof launch plan, nothing could go wrong, what is my prize?"
Since you ask, your prize is exactly the same as that on its way to Ross Hartnell, who provided the pic below. Specifically, it's a warning letter from the Civil Aviation Authority warning the pair of you to stay away from rocket motors or face the consequences...
Right, onwards. Pretty much all of the above is based on using a single, bog standard balloon.
But what about the toroidal alternative? Eddie, it's over to you: "I get the impression that the launch boom would need to be very strong to support the weight of the ship, and be perfectly balanced with the counter-weight. However I believe there may be a see-saw action involved with the launch boom and counter-weight, when the ship takes off. My idea saves on the use of the launch boom and counter-weight, saving on weight and provides the opportunity of a vertical launch.
"The basic idea is to make the helium balloon a ring, much like a doughnut, with cables going from four (or three to save weight) ringed attachments. The payload will be centred in the middle of the hole (a very large on) approx 10 – 15 metres below. This will allow the structure to remain stable throughout the process.
"The ship will be launched from this point (through the hole in the ring). This allows the ship to launch vertically missing the balloon minus any see-saw actions or instability, provided the helium ring is large enough with a wide hole to allow the ship through with plenty of wiggle room there should be no problems, a device could be fitted to the ring to allow it to make a controlled decent shortly after launch.
"This method will save the weight of the launch boom and counter-weight, needing only the payload (marked as PL in images), the ship and the weight of the balloon plus cables.
"I feel that this may be a little complicated with finding the materials needed (the balloon mainly) and working out all the volumes and harness methods."
Eddie adds: "An alternative suggestion if a single balloon is preferred is to make the balloon flat and build a launch platform on top, a payload supported below the balloon will help maintain stability."
Mark Goldie also likes a bit of torus action, but with counterweights to keep it stable:
if your going to go with the triple orb launcher it should be named "Eccentrica Galumbits"
That is all
If the crowd was predominantly made up of Wile E Coyote and his family, then yes.
Too much is never enough...
I can't help but agree with lawndart (hangie pilot, perhaps?) in believing any idea of aerodynamic steering is pointless at that sort of altitude. Since the aim is to get the rocket aimed generally upwards as soon as things start happening in the balloon bursting department, it seems to me you have only two real options:
1) have it pointing in the right direction to start with, or
2) vectored thrust.
Good luck writing the flight control software for (2) - starting with an unknown position, attitude, and vector, and not very long to sort it all out before you lose all the thin-air friction advantage that the balloon's altitude gives you.
I'm not happy with triplet balloons, but even less happy with long carefully balanced struts, rails, and pointers: no-one seems to have remembered the good Doctor Newton and his 'equal and opposite reaction'. A passing fad, no doubt, but I can't help feeling that rocket going rapidly forwards is going to result in a certain amount of balloon going backwards - at the very least, it's going to tip in the reaction and that's going to cause the end of a launch ramp to tilt down. And that's ignoring the issue of a guide/release mechanism that is both light and able to force a direction change of better than sixty degrees without sticking.
Which leaves me with the launching upright approach. This has the advantage that it's gravity stabilised, assuming the mass of the payload is suspended somehow below the balloon(s).
What I would propose is not a three- but a six-balloon system. The balloons would be constrained in a light mesh into an annular shape - a poor-man's doughnut balloon.
This has the advantage that the balloons will automatically assume a hexagonal shape - with a space in the middle the size of the balloons, very suitable for a lightweight horizontal platform to be used for a vertical launch. It also has the advantage that a single balloon bursting doesn't shift the balance too much; the platform will still be vaguely horizontal and the hole won't fill.
BOTE calculations indicate that a 10 metre diameter balloon has a volume of about 105 cubic metres; a four metre balloon just over one sixth of that - very convenient. With six four metre balloons you have a four meter platform from which to launch vertically.
The question becomes then one of *when* to launch: ideally just before the first balloon pops. Presumably there is some sort of specification as to differential pressure for the balloons at bursting point; perhaps some sort of pressure sensor, and trigger just before the expected bursting point? Or, if the rocket motor can be ignited quickly enough, wait for the burst (a gyro will tell you you're tipping over) and then go.
You might want to arrange some automated bursting after launch; the balloon will of course rise faster once the load of the rocket is removed and might even catch up with it in the short term.
p.s. No hydrogen involved!