Friday, January 27, 2012


Having left from Calgary 20 minutes earlier, and with my cameras in the truck, and a cup of Chai tea in the cup holder of my truck, I was running north on the QE2, and watching for the turn coming up on my Garmin Nuvi, for highway 72. I would be meeting Brian Jackson VE6JBJ, to join him and the Airdrie Space Science Club (ASSC), too launch a Balloon experiment from the Beiseker airport located northeast of Calgary. Balloon filling was to begin at 7am at the Beiseker airport, and the launch was scheduled for between 8 to 9 am. The balloon that would be used is the same type of weather balloon, used by meteorologists to carry out various measurements in the upper atmosphere. In this case, the payload would consist of five cameras, two of which would be shooting video of the ascent into the upper atmosphere, and three cameras shooting still photos. Youth from schools in Airdrie, and surrounding areas would be participating with the ASSC on the launch. Also joining the group and providing some of the expertise required to make the balloon launch, and the flight a success, were James VE6SRV, Barry VE6SBS, and Garrett VE6RKY, who had travelled down from Edmonton. Once the balloon has been launched, the goal was to have the balloon rise up beyond 100,000 feet above the the earth's surface, and take photos from the upper atmosphere.

I arrived at the Biesieker airport just as the launch team were filling the balloon with the proper amount of helium, ensuring that the lift would be correct for the desired rate of rise. Checks were being made, to see that the balloon, parachute and payload package were properly connected together. After checking that the payload was functioning correctly, and ready for launch, the launch team moved the balloon with it's payload out of the hanger, to a clear area, ensuring that the balloon and the payload would safely clear all nearby ground obstacles as it begun its assent. The last couple of days had strong winds blowing out of the southeast, and this morning had winds once more creating some concern with the launch. With the Ground Control team handling their various responsibilities with clear precision, the launch proved to be a success, and cheers were heard all around, as Balloon Experiment VE6JBJ-13 quickly rose in to the early morning sky, setting a course to the northwest. Soon vehicles were making preparation to leave the launch area, to begin the chase across the Alberta countryside. The APRS tracking radios in the balloon payload, were transmitting their beacons, and the course of the balloon, was being monitored by the various radios mounted within the chase vehicles, as well as on laptop computers, that continuously refining the predicted landing area as telemetry data was received. This information was keeping our recovery team informed of the current balloon location, speed, heading, altitude, and predicted landing area.

Once underway, the chase vehicles convoyed over to the QE2, and drove north towards Olds, where the convoy would made a planned stop, just to the west of Olds on highway 27. All the while Balloon Experiment VE6JBJ-13 was beaconing, as it continued its upward climb. Once the chase vehicles reached the scheduled stop area west of Olds, everyone was excited when the balloon was spotted in the clear blue sky, at a altitude of 77,000 feet, above the surface of the earth. The balloon was travelling on a course of 220 degrees, and a speed of about 19 mph. With the balloon continuing on this course, we travelled along highway 27, easily keeping track of the balloon. The balloon was approaching highway 22, when the balloon reached its maximum elevation of 99,727 feet, on a heading of 263 degrees, when the balloon burst, and the parachute opened, allowing the payload to begin its descent back to the earths surface.

As the payload descended nearer to the surface, where the winds were carrying the parachute and its payload along at speeds, that at one point reached a speed of 62mph, there was some concern about the safe recovery of the payload, as the landing site was looking to be in the vicinity of the James River, that lies North of Sundre. The concern was that the payload could possibly land in the river. To make it more interesting, the chase vehicles got caught up with access to the landing site, as we looked for a crossing on the river, being that we were on the south side of the James River, once it was realized that the landing would take place on the north side of the river near James River Bridge. Fortunatly, the convoy was able to find a bridge that allowed us to cross over to the north side, and with the positioning beacon being heard from the payload, the recovery team were able to quickly get a fix on the landing site. The convoy pulled up to within a few hundred meters of where the payload hung in a grove of trees. Once the payload was recovered,and the doors accessing the cameras were opened, everyone held their breath as Brian VE6JBJ checked the first camera. Eureka, the flight was a success, with a beautiful photo of the earth displayed on the display of the camera, passed around for everyone to look at. What a rush!

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