The zero pressure balloon preparing for launch.
April 19 I was able to attend my second high altitude balloon chase event. As part of a nationwide competition the Purdue AMET club launched two balloons. The Purdue Physics Society also launched a balloon. This required a concerted effort to chase three balloons launched at different times from two different locations. I was able to get in on the balloon projects since I’m a member of the Purdue Amateur Radio Club. We’ve partnered with the other clubs to assist in tracking and comms support. In the process, we’ve been able to encourage many of the club member to get licensed. We even started our own PARC VE team.
In addition to the various club members out tracking I also had my son, Jared, riding shotgun; and friends Nick N9SJA and Tabb W9TTW in their mobiles. We were able to track and recover two of three balloons. AMET balloon #2 is MIA and hopefully will be recovered by someone and returned to the club. AMET balloon #1 was a special zero pressure balloon that was actually totally constructed by the club members. It’s designed for an experimental payload. What it lacked in speed and altitude it made up for in endurance. We followed it all the way to the end of a dirt road outside a small town in rural southern Ohio. We were actually able to see the balloon and follow it as it floated along at 40,000 feet altitude. I wouldn’t have believed that possible. The Physics balloon ended up in a tree in a golf course community in Fishers, Indiana.
Liftoff for the zero pressure balloon.
It was nice to really make use of the APRS features of the Kenwood TM-D710 in my mobile. We were able to copy the balloon’s beacons direct from our mobiles. It was also helpful to be able to tether my tablet to my cell phone and view the balloon in real time on maps. This also helped us plot our route as we followed along. At one point the balloon went right over my house and used my digipeater. That was really neat for me. It definitely took us into some unfamiliar territory. We knew it was a good sign as it went past Dayton, OH. Being that near to Hamvention land was some good mojo. Can’t wait to get back there in a few weeks.
I’ve included a pic that shows the flight path of AMET #1. You can see the red line is the path it traveled. The blue line is from the pickup point back home to West Lafayette. They must have turned off the beacon and then turned it back on again later. It was neat to follow it along and see it hanging in the sky, especially after it got below 10,000 feet. As it got cool in the evening the altitude really started to drop. I wish I could’ve gotten a picture of it lit up by the sun and floating along about 5000 feet thorugh some rolling fields out in the country.
We’re looking forward to some more balloon projects this summer as many of the members will be sticking around campus. We also have plans for using the kite antenna again. Maybe this time we can send up a small, low power repeater.
AMET balloon path from aprs.fi.
The weekend of November 16-17 was the annual Ft. Wayne Hamfest and Computer Expo. It’s also the annual ARRL Indiana Section Convention. For my friends and I it signifies the end of the yearly hamfest circuit until the “Big One” in Dayton. I try to attend when I can. It’s held at the Allen Co. War Memorial Coliseum and is all indoors. A real bonus this time of year in Indiana. My travelling buddy, Nick N9SJA accompanied me to the event. We didn’t go to any of the convocation lectures that were held, but did enjoy looking at all the wares on display. There was quite a variety of new and used radio gear and accessories for sale. I somehow managed to spend a couple hundred dollars on random goodies. Nick had more self control than me and only came away with a neat book on cold war missiles.
In addition to the commercial vendors and swap meet sale tables, there were several displays. I enjoyed the FlexRadio display since I’m a proud owner. That new 6000 series SDR is really something. One display that really caught my eye was an APRS demo. I think their main emphasis was targeting the EMCOMM community but it’s applications are far reaching. As we were watching the display we saw the Purdue University AMET high altitude balloon beacon come across. The students are doing upper atmosphere and near space research. The W9YB Purdue Amateur Radio Club was partnering with them to provide tracking and comms. As members of the Purdue ARC, Nick and I were quite interested. The members had texted us earlier to let us know when it launched. It was really neat to actually see the W9YB balloon beacon on the screen as it floated through the area.
The Purdue chase team already had two van loads of students on the way to track the balloon to the landing point. Since The Nickster has a Yaesu FTM-350 mobile in the mighty F-150 we would be able to directly intercept the APRS packets. We decided to join in the hunt. Off came the shorty dual band antenna and on went the big 5/8 wave for better signal reception. It also turned out to be of assistance in comms with the other chase team since they only had HT’s. We were able to access good maps using our smartphones and aprs.fi.
After a hearty dinner we headed out on our adventure. The last beacon was heard just south-west of Kalida, Ohio. It was just under 3000 feet in altitude and travelling about 40 MPH. We estimated where it might go down based on it’s direction of travel and approximate rate of descent. You can’t believe our surprise when we saw the first directly-received packet come across the display on the Yaesu! We were only a half mile away. Soon after that we got a call on the radio and the AMET/PARC students had recovered it in a field. They had thought ahead and covered the payload with blue LED’s in addition to multi-colored flagging to make it easier to visually locate. An excellent idea as it was fully dark by this time. They saw a glowing blue light in the field that led them right to it.
If you’ve read this far you might be interested in some further information. Here’s a nice article and video from the local station WLFI TV18. The AMET crew has loaded several videos from the on-board GoPro camera on their Youtube channel. A lot of this was boring as there wasn’t much to see besides clouds. I skipped a lot of them but really enjoyed the take-off and landing. Warning! the camera spins around a lot and can actually make you dizzy just sitting on the couch. Still, pretty neat to actually see the curvature of the earth from so high up. Finally, there are some nice pics on the TechPurdue flickr page. They show some really great detail. This was probably the most enjoyable ham radio activity in which I’ve participated in a long time. Nick and I definitely want to do this again. Now I guess I’m going to have to start building an APRS station for the “Zed Sled.”