Sunday, October 03, 2010

All In A Day

With the forecast for a beautiful day, that has been in short supply lately, I backed off the driveway, and headed out with my first stop for a coffee to go. I checked the time as I drove north on Barlow Trail towards Country Hills Blvd, where I would head east on the 564. I was headed to Beiseker where I planned on checking out the Airdrie Balloon Experiment (in conjunction with the BEAR group from Edmonton) that was due to launch at 8:30 am from the Beiseker airport located just east of Beiseker. This particular flight was part of a school science project being headed by Brian Jackson-VE6JBJ who teaches at a Airdrie school.
This Amateur Radio High Altitude Balloon being launched from the Beiseker airport, would consist of a helium balloon, a recovery parachute, and payload, that is about 17m in length. Such a stack can fly to over 100,000ft (33 kilometers) in altitude. The balloon expands as the stack rises and will eventually burst. The payload then parachutes to earth and is tracked with GPS data sent via telemetry on amateur radio.

The drive east towards highway #9 was not without its challenges, as I ran in to construction on the 564, that consisted of re-paving of the road surface. Upon reaching highway #9, I turned and headed north just as the sun came up over the horizon. The morning was stunningly beautiful, with layers of ground fog, painting the landscape with a wonderful pastel of vivid colors. Fortunately, I had left early enough to make the occasional stop where captures were made of stunning vistas. I had just rounded a bend in the highway, when a row of trees beckoned me. The trees having lost their leaves, were standing naked, but shrouded by the mist, and back-lit by the beautiful early morning sunshine. I felt my heart dancing in my chest, as I pulled my truck over and stopped. Worried that I would lose this wonderful light, I quickly grabbed my camera, and I framed the trees, using my camera as a way of expressing what I was feeling, surrounded by beauty. After shooting several images, I found upon looking at the LCD on the back of my camera, that I had been able to capture some of the feelings that swirled within me.

Soon, I arrived at the Beiseker airport where a surprisingly large group were gathered to witness the balloon launch. I was pleased to greet the various hams that I communicate with on my radios, but go for long stretches between times as to when we set eyes on one another. I met up with Barry-VE6SBS who was down from Edmonton with James-VE6SRV, as well as Tony-VA6TNY who are all part of the BEAR (Balloon Experiments with Amateur Radio) group.
They had all come down from Edmonton to lend their expertise to the Brian-VE6JBJ, who was busy rushing about, with the help of his students, taking care of last minute preparations of equipment.

Before to long they had the stack good to go, and with cameras rolling, the balloon and its flight components were released. Cheers were heard all around as the balloon quickly climbed for altitude into the early morning October sky. Soon vehicles were making preparation to leave the launch area, and begin the chase across eastern Alberta, as the balloon was beaconing and the course was being monitored on the screens of the various radios mounted within the chase vehicles. The balloon and its payload quickly set off on a course of east-southeast, and the beacon being received on my Kenwood TM-D710A was loud and clear on the speaker, with beacons for VE6ATV-12 being heard every 15 seconds.
I should mention for those of you not familiar with amateur radio, that a APRS tracking device is essential to track and recover balloon payloads such as this one. The tracker included in the payload hanging below the balloon on this flight, was beaconing pertinent information, important to the ground-support-team. Included in the information that was being received by our radios, as well as any computers logged in to, was the speed, course, and altitude of the balloon. This information is refreshed whenever VE6ATV-12 beaconed. The two prominent APRS radios being used on this morning, were the Kenwood TM-D710A that I have mounted in my truck, and the new kid on the block, the Yaesu FTM-350R, proving to have a wonderfully bright display. If you expand the photo of the Yaesu FTM-350R that was being used by Tammy-VA6TSS, you will see the information displayed on the screen of her radio, downloaded from balloon VE6ATV-12 after about 15 minutes in to the flight.
Soon a convoy of vehicles set off chasing after the balloon, as it travelled in a easterly direction, set by the winds aloft as they propelled the balloon forward, in its quest to reach space. It was the hopes of the everyone involved, that the balloon would break through the 100,000 ft mark (it did, and then some) before the parachute returned the payload safely to earth, where it would then be recovered by the chase team.
I'll have a update for you later down the road!

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