Monday, May 20, 2013

The Flight Of ABE 3

Near Space - 99,239 feet (30 kilometers) - The Crew of ABE 3

Near space is the region of Earth's atmosphere that lies between 65,000 and 350,000 feet (20 to 100 km) above sea level, encompassing the stratosphere, mesosphere, and the lower thermosphere.
Craft that fly in near space include high altitude balloons, non-rigid airships and sounding rockets.

 "May I take your order"...the voice on the speaker at the Tim Horton's drive-thru in Chestermere was asking, and with 5:05 AM indicated on the radio display, I was already running late. I had fueled up at the Conrich card-lock at 4:30am, and although that only took 10 minutes, I had stopped down the road where the CN rail-line presented a cool photo that I couldn't leave behind.

I had planned on being further down the road than I was by this time, however I was not in to bad a shape, considering that I had time on my hands, as I wanted to arrive at the Beiseker Airport just after 7:00am for the launch of an aprs high altitude balloon. However before that happened, I wanted to take a looping drive to arrive there, that would take me east to Standard, and from there, head north over to Rosebud, and then northwest on backroads over to highway 9, before heading west over to the Beiseker airport that is located on the north side of highway 9, just west of the town of Beiseker.
In the end, it worked out fine, and I enjoyed the drive with a number of pleasing captures to add to my hardrives when I returned home later in the day .

I arrived at the Beiseker airport at 7:10am, and found that I was not the first to arrive, although I was not concerned, as nothing was slated to happen until 7:30am. I was to be involved in the launch of a high altitude balloon, that was being launched by the Airdrie Space Science Club (ASSC), and headed by Brian Jackson VE6JBJ. The ASSC is open to boys and girls between the ages of 10 to 14, and their parents are welcome as well.

Brian VE6JBJ works as a science teacher at Ralph McCall School, and after you have been around Brian and his science group for a short time, it was easy to tell that Brian had done a good job of preparing this group of space enthusiasts as to what their responsibilities were in preparing for the launch of the Airdrie Balloon Experiment 3 (ABE 3).. The ASSC had previously launched two other high altitude balloons, the first in 2010, and the second in 2011, both resulting in successful flights.

Before long this group of young but very enthusiastic launch technical specialists had broken up into smaller groups, those of whom were helping Brian with last minute preparations of the payload module, while another group were helping with the filling of the balloon with Helium.
This balloon is a meteorological or weather balloon attached with lengths of high-strength nylon cord to the first payload with included parachute, that contains a aprs packet transceiver VE6JBJ-12, as well as a gps receiver, that determines the position of the balloon and its payload. Also included in the payload module are several cameras programed to capture images as the balloon and its payload climb to altitudes approaching 100,000 feet. Beneath the first payload module, is a second payload with a second aprs packet transceiver VE6JBJ-13 that also includes a gps receiver, acting as a backup in case of a failure of either one of the aprs devices. These two aprs devices transmit position beacons back to launch control, consisting of the chase vehicles tracking the balloon and its payload from the ground.

The launch crew quickly and efficiently completed the preparation of the balloon and its payload for flight. The last thing to do before launching the balloon with its payload, was to assemble everyone together for photos. Once the photos were shot,and a final check on the wind direction was done by releasing a small balloon, we were ready for launch.
 Shortly there after, Brian with the help of another launch crew member released ABE 3, to the cheer of the many space enthusiasts in attendance.  ABE 3 consisting of the balloon and its payload floated briskly away into the big beautiful early morning sky, with the time of launch recorded as 8:27AM.

The on board aprs transceivers VE6JBJ-12, and VE6JBJ-13 were transmitting position packets that were being heard loud and clear by the various aprs equipped transceivers located in the various chase vehicles, being readied to get underway. As the chase vehicles left the launch area about 30 minutes later, a glance at my Kenwood D710 aprs radio, was displaying a position beacon from ABE 3, and the position packet time-stamped 8:55:19, was indicating that the balloon and its payload were progressing on a heading of 93 degrees, with a forward speed of 28 km/h, and was passing through 20,000 feet.
You may be wondering why we were not in any particular hurry to leave the launch area. The reason why, is that Brian was running predictive software on his computer in his mobile, that took into consideration a high altitude meteorological weather report for the day, and predicted the flight path for ABE 3, as well as the landing site where the payload could possibly be recovered. The convoy headed east on highway 9, and upon reaching the junction of highway 9 & 21, made the turn north up highway 21.

 As the convoy moved up highway 21, we kept in contact on a
frequency of 146.520 mhz, that allowed for updates on ABE 3 to be passed to those who did not have aprs capabilities in their vehicles. Up ahead ABE 3 had passed over highway 21 on a heading of 46 degrees, with a indicated forward speed of 37 km/h, and was passing through a altitude of 42,000 feet.  Once the convoy reached highway 27, we turned and headed east  for a ways before pulling over on a side road, where we watched the progression that ABE 3 was making.

When the balloon reached a maximum altitude of 99,239 feet, the balloon that started out measuring about 5 feet in diameter at launch, now was possibly approaching 30 feet in diameter, due to the thinning of the atmosphere, burst, and at that point the parachute deployed, with the payload beginning its descent back to earth. The convoy then moved up to highway 583, about 8 kilometers east of Three Hills, and just north of where the payload was predicted to land. I actually took a different road to get there, and was rewarded with a sighting through my binoculars of the payload and its parachute, as it descended through 9000 feet on its way back to earth.

Once the payload was on the ground, and with the aide of the location beacons being received from VE6JBJ-12 located in the payload, a cross-country trek of about a half a kilometer was required to retrieve the payload, where it had landed in a farmer's field.  Everyone made the hike from our mobiles left on a road bordering the field, and a cheer went up when the payload was located and recovered.

 Of course, it goes without saying that a photo of the Airdrie Space Science Club members that were present was required.  Great job everyone. What a great day it was, and enjoyed by all.

Note..all photos expand
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