Monday, May 11, 2015

Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning

                  VE6JBJ-13 in near space at 91,250 ft above the Earth

Near space is that region of the atmosphere above 60,000 feet but below the accepted altitude of space, 328,000 feet.

With the sun not scheduled to put in an appearance for another half hour, and with the promise of a beautiful day glowing on the horizon in the pre-dawn darkness , I was enjoying my first cup of tea of the day while playing out the day ahead in my mind, and all the while driving highway 1 towards the eastern horizon.
With the various displays of radios and other devices including the instrument panel lights adjusted down to the bare minimum allowing me to still read the displays, I was enjoying the murmur of voices mixed with packet making for a sound collage of seducing sounds exiting the various radio speakers.

My destination was the village of Carbon located near Drumheller and I was driving a meandering route that would allow me to arrive in Carbon for 9 AM to meet with members of the Airdrie Space Science Club headed by Brian Jackson VE6JBJ. The ASSC is open to boys and girls between the ages of 10 to 14.

Also in attendance would be the parents of the students of the ASSC, as well as other interested hams that have attended past launch's of APRS high altitude balloons assembled and launched by the ASSC.
I enjoyed my drive with stops made to shoot photos of scenes that I found interesting, and all the while working my way along various backroads before driving through the village of Standard, then north on highway 840 up to the hamlet of Rosebud, and then continuing north up to junction of highway 9 located just west of Drumheller.
With my VHF radio tuned to the Carbon repeater, I heard Andrew VE6EN making a call and we soon were discussing the launch amongst other things as we both made the drive to Carbon.
Once I had turned on to the road in to Carbon, I pulled over and waited for Andrew to catch up to me so that we could convoy the last few kilometers to the launch site together.

Arriving at the launch site located on the edge of Carbon we found that the rest of the group had arrived just before us and were unloading equipment in preparation for the launch.
 Before long the various components that make up the complete high altitude ballooning package were being assembled.
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 an 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 several other launch crew member released the Balloon and its payload to the cheer of the many space enthusiasts in attendance.  The balloon and its payload floated briskly away into the big beautiful early morning sky.

The on board APRS devices VE6JBJ-12, and VE6JBJ-13 were transmitting position packets that were being heard 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, and the position packet was indicating that the balloon and its payload were progressing in a southerly direction, with a forward speed of 57 MPH on a heading of 165° and an altitude of 22175 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, as well as the landing site where the payload could possibly be recovered.

Soon the convoy left the launch area and headed west on highway 9, and upon reaching the junction of highway 9 & 21, made the turn south down highway 21 with the balloon located on a flight path to the east of highway 21.

 As the convoy moved south on highway 21, we kept in contact on the frequency of 146.520 mhz, that allowed for updates on the balloon and its payload to be passed to those who did not have APRS capabilities in their vehicles. The balloon  had passed over highway 9 travelling at 50mph and on a heading of 171° and at a altitude of 26194 ft. Once the convoy reached highway 564, we turned and headed east  for a ways before pulling over on a side road, where we watched the progression that the balloon and its payload was making.

When the balloon reached a maximum altitude of 91,250 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 drove  east and turned on to highway 561, about 15 kilometers southeast of Standard.
 The convoy arrived in time to be rewarded with a sighting of the payload and its parachute, as it descended 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-13 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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