Australia to New Zealand Balloon Success

Andy New ZealandTrans Tasman Balloon Success

Congratulations to Andy, VK3YT in getting his Pico Balloon from Melbourne Australia to New Zealand. The balloon crossed land in New Zealand at 1600 UTC (GMT)  17th March 2014.

The flight last tracked offshore from Sydney more than a day ago and the tiny balloon has been transmitting its signal over the ocean until it changed frequencies at 160 degrees longitude to the New Zealand APRS tracking system.

NZ Amateur radio station Zl2AJ-5 was the first to hear the tiny 10mW transmitter as it neared the coast. The balloon will likely pass over the country within an hour and sone after the transmitter will fail with the battery losing power.
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A long range PICO balloon flight is under way. Predicted path is Melbourne – Sydney – NZ

Payload is an ultra-light APRS beacon transmitting 10mW on 144.575Mhz.

Callsign is VK3YT-11

APRS tracking at
http://aprs.fi/#!call=a%2FVK3YT-11&timerange=86400&tail=86400

Tracking with prediction at
http://spacenear.us/tracker/?filter=VK3YT-11

Updates will be posted at http://picospace.net

Andy NZ

 

Andy’s Long Distance HAB Attempt

Angy Pico Flight to NZAustralia to New Zealand HAB Attempt

Last night I got word that my good friend Andy from Melbourne was attempting a long distance Trans Tasman Balloon attempt. I’m not sure if it qualifies as a High Altitude Balloon flight as it just gets to about 7km altitude and not the typical 20km to 30km. It is classified as a small balloon and does not require CASA permission to fly. Simply it is a foil balloon that cannot expand and a very light payload. In this case the tracking payload is a single AAA battery and a 10mW tracker. The payload weights only 13 grams. The balloon is set to float at about 7,000m and when Andy launched the balloon it was predicted to fly from Melbourne to Sydney and on to New Zealand.

Andy’s email said:

FYI, A long range PICO balloon flight is under way. Predicted path is Melbourne – Sydney – New Zealand.
Currently over Victoria Alpine National Park at 7000m, doing 125km/h.

Payload is an ultra-light APRS beacon transmitting 10mW on 145.175Mhz.   Callsign is VK3YT-11

APRS tracking at
http://aprs.fi/#!call=a%2FVK3YT-11&timerange=86400&tail=86400

Tracking with prediction at
http://spacenear.us/tracker/?filter=VK3YT-11

Updates will be posted at http://picospace.net

 Expected to reach Sydney tonight, then it will be out to sea.
If the balloon survives tomorrow it might be within range of New Zealand APRS stations around 12:00 UTC 17/3

TX frequency will switch to NZ APRS frequency 144.575Mhz once 160.0 longitude is crossed.

Regards, Andy

Well around Midnight last night the little balloon tracked right over Sydney and if I had binoculars and it was daylight I could have seen it!  It was last tracked about 30km off Sydney headed to New Zealand. We are waiting to see if it arrives in New Zealand in a few hours.

 

Andy flight to NZ.

UpLift-2

Jason (11 y/o) to Recover Balloons in Croatia

20130414 Jason Brand on the Fuzzy Logic Science ShowAustralian Student Recover Balloons in Croatia

Okay, I’ll be traveling with him to Croatia, but since there are two separate balloons to track and recover on two days, Jason will be well and truly tracking without my help and in a foreign country. He will have the team Stellar guys with him, but he will be doing the tracking and navigation for his vehicle. Stellar is a Team in the Google Lunar X Prize event. Have a look on Wiki to find out more.

jason is an 11 year old student in year 7 at Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus. At age 9 he obtained his Amateur Radio License (Foundation). We has some programing experience and builds and repairs helicopters and tricopters. He has helped track and recover 16 successful High Altitude Balloons and together Jason and I have the world’s highest recovery rate – 100% over an enormous number of missions.

A quick snapshot of the whole event:

We travel to Croatia at the start of the NSW school holidays. They are two weeks long. Jason and I will probably be traveling with fellow Team Stellar member Tim Blaxland. Tim is our team’s chief of UpLift-2Navigation. I look after the Team’s Communications, Tracking and Data. Jason is the Australian Student Representative and he is also my son.

Jason will be taking part in the planning phases of the mission and will have a big role in talking to the press and to school students. He will be bringing his newly built tricopter with him and he will be showing students what they can do with a little help. he will be talking about High Altitude Balloons (HAB) and the science of the troposphere and the stratosphere.

We will launch over two days and thus need to track 4 balloons – mostly with students experiments.  We have done our best to ensure success of Stellar’s “Balloon Stratosphere“.

Follow up interviews and more student mentoring and sessions.

Return to Sydney.

Much of this trip will be assisting the Croatian members of Team Stellar to get comfortable with HAB missions. Jason and I hope that we can pass on our expertise to the Croatian members.

Tim Blaxland already has some experience helping with a flight in NSW with us. That flight achieved nearly 37km altitude. We recovered the payload in a freshly cut wheat field a few weeks back.

More updates with travel and tracking information shortly. The picture below is Jason, Tim and I with some others preparing the recent balloon for flight. it is a 1.2kg balloon. Stellar’s balloons will be 3kg! That is the view from the payload camera.

DCIM100GOPRO

 

KickSat – Owning a Spacecraft.

kicksatKickSat – Our Personal Spacecraft

Hey, guys, be jealous. Be very jealous! Jason and I own 1/3 of a real spacecraft that will fly in 18 days aboard a Falcon9. It is a resupply craft for the ISS, so it will be in sight of the International Space Station. So not only will it fly in space, it will have been close to the ISS!

It is to be launched with a lot of others from a special box that will eject all of the Kicksats It is sometimes called the Mothership. After three days flying free after being released, our spacecraft will flutter back to earth somewhere, probably intact. It will never be found, but no matter. My very own (part of a) spacecraft will have flown in space and back. How many of you can say that! This will be one great space adventure.

Pictured top right is a prototype. I keep this in my wallet to show people how tiny a spacecraft can be. People just don’t believe it until they see it. The big silver area is where the solar panel sits. The computer and radio receiver and transmitter are the chip in the middle. HAM radio will supply the ground links. Yes, this is just one crazy experiment – a swarm of spacecraft all able to communicate with each other and with earth.

MissionClockSpaceX Falcon9 Resupply Mission

This launches in 18 days. There is a great iPhone App and probably one for Android. It is Called MissionClock. You can follow the launch of the Falcon9 and the KickSats. This is of special interest to the creator of MissionClock as he has also invested in a KickSat. The picture on the left is the main screen for the resupply flight and the KickSat mission. I have used this application for many years. It is really good and I recommend it.

Before the flight I will provide the links to be able to track the swarm and our little craft.

If you are a HAM radio operator, I can help organise the information that you need to help with the tracking.

This flight is ground breaking. It is both a swarm and a crowd funded flight.

The Flight in More Detail

Once in orbit, the Falcon 9 will release the Dragon towards the ISS and, a few minutes later, pop the KickSat mothership into orbit. Did you see the movie “Gravity”? The slight delay is to avoid a space debris disaster like the movie. It’d be a risk if all those tiny satellites end up pinging around the world at high speed in exactly the same orbit as the space station.

The mothership will spend at least seven days in orbit before the sprites (the tiny KickSats) are released. “There are some space debris mitigation concerns,” admits Zac Manchester – the creator of the project, “but we’ve worked with the ISS Program Office to make sure it’s safe for the ISS.” The sprites’ orbit is so low that they will only survive for around three days before the upper atmosphere drags them to destruction.

What do They Do?

Some of the sprites will do little more than go beep, like the original Sputnik, others will transmit identification codes and some will even be used for science. Those fitted with magnetometers – like the ones that provide your smartphone compass – will transmit data about the Earth’s magnetic field. Others will send back information on temperature, orientation or radiation.

Stay tuned for more details on the flight. It will end in about one month’s time. That is the mothership below ejecting the Sprites – or KickSats. Who owns the other 2/3rds of the craft? S some Facebook friends and I chipped in #100 each to buy this baby.

KickSat Mothership

 

 

Record Balloon (HAB) Attempt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAustralian or International Record High Altitude Balloon (HAB) Attempt?

It seems that some HAB friends along with my son Jason and I are going to attempt a Balloon (HAB) record. It may be an Australian record or an International record. The only question remaining is how we will do the attempt. It is a serious question and looks like it will be either a self funded exercise or one of good timing. As many of you know, Jason and I assist with commercial launches through my company, PlusComms. Several customers in the very near future will be  making flights using zero pressure balloons. These are amazing balloons that do not burst like weather balloons. They simply are huge envelopes that expand to their maximum size and any excess gas vents from the bottom of the envelope. They often look under-filled when the are launched and then as they ascend and the gases expand, the balloon fills to capacity. Right: is a small Zero Pressure Balloon from Raven Industries in the US. Alternately we can use a 3kg weather balloon. The record may be altitude, distance or both.

So we have 2 options:

  • A 3Kg weather balloon
  • Hitching a ride on a Zero Pressure balloon

3Kg Weather Balloon.

UpLift-1 ready to launch with help from the locals at Rankins SpringsThese are the domain of amateur balloon enthusiasts. Smaller balloons are affordable as are parachutes and trackers. By the time you travel to a good launch site, the exercise may cost US$500. These balloons are like standard party balloons. They are sealed envelopes and they expand until they explode. That is UpLift-1; our first flight: pictured on the right. 3Kg is the weight of the balloon alone. UpLift-1 carried a 500 gram payload (1 pound) and the balloon and parachute cost me US$75

By under-filling a 3kg balloon for a slow rise and making the payload a simple tracker, we would expect over 40km altitude. By using Hydrogen, we would get a lot higher. The cost of the balloon alone with shipping is over US$500. Our attempt would cost close to US$900 when we factor petrol, balloon gas and accommodation. Possible maximum altitude would be close to 45km or nearly half the way to space (100km by most definitions). At some stage the balloon would explode and the flight would terminate. We would not recover the tracker unless it fell into a very accessible place. It would either explode or float without exploding. Either way the balloon would soon explode within 24 to 48 hours as the strong UV destroys the Latex material.

I buy my balloons from a UK seller:

Balloon Sales: http://randomengineering.co.uk/Random_Aerospace/Balloons.html

Zero Pressure Balloon

This is a serious high altitude balloon. A small one weighs nearly 20kg (41 pounds) and will reach 135,000 feet / 41km with a 7kg payload. One is pictured top right. What we are planning (if we get permission from one of the customers) is to cut away the paying payload and continue the flight with a smaller amateur payload designed to do two things:

  • Rise further without a payload to over 45km
  • Stay aloft for many days or weeks traveling around the world

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9The secondary payload would have a communications package with a satellite modem to get back reports on the half hour and as requested. It will also be able to terminate the balloon envelope by command if required. During the night time, the balloon descends as the air cools. If the gas levels are low (leakage over time) it may descend into controlled airspace and it will need to be terminated. We will use solar power and rechargeable batteries and it will engage with local HAM radio operators with UHF RTTY capability and a frequency agile APRS transmitter. This is because there are different frequencies used for APRS in different countries. We may also have slow scan images from the balloon sent via RTTY packets. The images are broken up into 60 to 70 packets and sent with sequential RTTY transmissions. If sent back to the server, these are assembled back into an image. Any missing packets are left as grey or coloured bands. That is the example on the right with two missing packets. This was from a recent HAB flight conducted by my good friend Andy from Melbourne. Jason and I helped with both the launch and recovery.

With hydrogen, we may approach or exceed the 50kg mark and may exceed the maximum altitude of any object in the world other than rockets passing through the atmosphere.  The world record for HAB flights is 53km. We are now designing and building the equipment for flight. We are looking forward to flying with one or both of these missions.

As the customers may have unusual schedules or issues with secondary payloads, we may need to raise some funding through Kickstarter or similar to make this a reality. Minimum funding needed is US$15K.

 

 

Jet Stream Snapshot

Australian Jet StreamFind out what the Jet Stream is Doing.

If you are launching a High Altitude Balloon (HAB), it will be in the Jet Stream for a significant time during its flight. You had better know what the jet stream is doing. Predictions are good, but reality is the key. I have found a site that is perfect for this and the method of display is excellent.

Thanks to HAB enthusiast, Andy from Melbourne, for the link. In fact he launched a pico balloon flight (uses a foil balloon) that never got higher than 7,000m because he saw that the jet stream was running north from Melbourne. Before its transmitter battery failed or it ran out of range of the last tracking station it was nearing Bourke in NSW. Not bad for a foil balloon. That is nearly 1,000 kms. Below is a link to the Australian map for the jet stream.

The website is: http://weather.wvec.com/auto/wvec/global/Region/AU/2xJetStream.html

Below is the track of Andy’s Pico Balloon flight. There is a small chance that the battery is not flat and it may get picked up by a remote APRS station – HAM radio tracking station. If it gets seen again, we will let you know.

Andy Pico flight 20140217

You can clearly see from the Jet Stream map, that the flight was easily predicted visually.

Other countries will also have their Jet Stream maps – maybe on aviation websites. Search and you may be rewarded with a real tool. You will find many here:

Australia: http://weather.wvec.com/auto/wvec/global/Region/AU/2xJetStream.html

US: http://weather.wvec.com/auto/wvec/global/Region/US/2xJetStream.html

Europe: http://weather.wvec.com/auto/wvec/global/Region/EU/2xJetStream.html

Central America: http://weather.wvec.com/auto/wvec/global/Region/CA/2xJetStream.html

Southern America: http://weather.wvec.com/auto/wvec/global/Region/SA/2xJetStream.html

Asia: http://weather.wvec.com/auto/wvec/global/Region/AS/2xJetStream.html

HAB Data From a Recent Flight

DCIM100GOPROHAB Data from 37km Flight

Recently I published a story on a High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flight I help with for my friend Andy from Melbourne. I was asked about the data collected.

The flight data was only stored from transmissions from the Payloads on the balloon. The payload did not carry a recording device for such data. There were two sets of data returned. RTTY on UHF frequencies and HAM radio APRS. APRS relies, like RTTY, on a number of stations picking up the transmissions and sending the resulting data to the network for storage and display (maps) on a server via the Internet.

Simply this post is to display the data collected and help decode the data. I have not cleaned up the results. They are simply in Text and Word (Docx) format.

Andy Flight 20140208 Text File

Sorry about the formatting in the above file. I will try and fix that shortly, but it does not matter. The formatting is only in the legend for the data.

Andy Flight 20140208  Word File (docx)

This from the data file:

This is the breakdown of the raw HAM Radio APRS data strings. I have chosen the first line of APRS data as an example:

Server Date                             2014-02-08

Server Time                             00:43:06 UTC

Call-sign of the balloon:          VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7    (including the APRS data and call sign of the relay station if applicable)

Beacon TX time                       004300h (time of transmission from the payload)

Latitude and Longitude           3532.44S/14456.90E

Course                                    O052/    Note “O” + course in degrees “052”

Speed                                      000/   knots

Altitude                                     A=000314   feet above sea level

Packet number                        143  – starts at “1” with the first packet of data and increases with each packet.

After this point, the data strings are determined by the user / builder of the tracking unit and spaced by commas. This unit is configured with the following:

Number of satellites                   9

GPS lock (3D)                            3

Navigation Mode                        6     Will work over 60,000 feet

Not used                                    0.0,0.0,

Volts (mV) of Battery                  3296   Note, the battery voltage falls over time and with temperature. The voltage increases as the battery warms before landing

The first few APRS packets of data transmitted every 36 seconds by the tracker:

2014-02-08 00:43:06 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004300h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000314,143,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:43:42 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004336h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,144,10,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:44:18 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004412h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,145,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:44:54 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004448h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,146,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:45:30 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004524h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,147,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296  (launch)
etc

 

Balloon flight Payload Recovered

High Altitude Balloon Success. Payload Recovered.Andy PS1 Preparing to fly

Jason and I went to Deniliquin NSW (Australia) to help a good friend, Andy from Melbourne, launch and recover a high altitude balloon / payload. I am part of Team Stellar going for the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP). I am in charge of Communications, Tracking and Data. Jason (11) is their Australian Student Representative. Jason and I have launched and recovered 16 payloads to date and assisted with others and we love High Altitude Balloons (HABs).

I brought my fellow Team Stellar member, Tim Blaxland and his son Rhys (9) along for the experience. Tim is Stellar’s chief of Navigation. The launch was at Deniliquin and we traveled part of the way there on Friday and the rest early on Saturday morning to be there for a 9:30 start. It was an 8 hour drive and we intended to do another 8 hours back later on Saturday after we recovered the payload.

Fellow HAB enthusiast Todd Hampson also traveled from Sydney in his own vehicle. it was great that we all arrived at the designated point in a timely fashion and started the final preparations for launch. Other than Tim and Reece, we all have Amateur Radio licenses and on this flight we would have 2m APRS tracking system. See earlier posts about APRS. In addition there was also RTTY on UHF. The RTTY system s available for non amateur radio hobbyists to use.

Andy had a video camera camera hooked up to a Raspberry Pi unit. Its job was to break up the video into smaller packets of data and send it along with the RTTY GPS information. The pictures are then sent to a server on the internet and the packets reassembled into a complete picture if all of the packets are received. The transmitter is very low powered and many people set up their equipment to help receive and download the images. Below is an image from the flight. The grey strips are missing packets that no one managed to receive successfully.

Note that at this time of the year, the wheat and other crops  have been harvested and the temperatures are in the 40C range at times. With little rain, the fields are a brown cover. The dark areas are either farms with crops still growing or trees around the rivers that flow through the region.

Andy PS1 flight Deniliquin NSW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo is only from a low resolution camera but the payload also carried a GoPro that took photos. The top image is a small section from the flight camera while it was on the ground.

Here are the details that Andy distributed before the flight:

FYI, there will be a HAB launch from Deniliquin NSW this weekend, Sat 8th Feb 2014 at 11am EST.

 Payloads will be:
– SSDV RTTY 300baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 434.650Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW quarter-wave antenna
– APRS 1200b 145.175Mhz 100mW with dipole antenna
– Cutdown RTTY 100baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 432.220Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW downlink, quarter-wave antenna.
RTTY tracking will be on spacenear.us, callsigns PS and PSPI
SSDV images will be uploaded to ssdv.habhub.org, callsign PSPI
APRS tracking will be on aprs.fi, callsign VK3YT-11

The temperature was 42C / 108F for much of the day and UV protection was essential. Recovery was easy, so we did not have an issue with tracking through the forests looking for the payload.

The flight lasted around 2hrs 50mins, reached max altitude of 36,789m / 120,699ft / 22.9 miles  before the balloon burst and landed in a paddock.

The following images were transmitted whilst in flight:

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9 2014-02-08--01-43-42-PSPI-8CB2014-02-08--02-04-48-PSPI-8CC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-02-08--02-44-03-PSPI-8CE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last image was taken close to maximum altitude.

GoPro3 images in the next post. Below, the flight path from left to right. The tropospheric winds (Jet Stream) where pushing the balloon to the eastand the stratospheric winds blew us west . When the balloon burst, the winds eventually took us east again as we passed through the Jetstream.

The Flight PS1 Map The Flight PS1 terrain

 

Live images from Balloon Flight

Balloon FligAndy Flight still images from balloonI-896ht Scheduled Jan 8th 2014

My friend Andy from Melbourne, Australia is launching a balloon tomorrow. It is expected that the balloon will be sending back live images from over 30km altitude. We will be launching from the NSW country town of Deniliquin at 10am EDST. That is 2300Z Jan 7th.

I will be there with Jason assisting as will a few other of the regulars.

Andy Writes:

Hi Robert,

 Here are some info for the launch:

– Payloads will include SSDV, APRS, RTTY and cutdown

– balloon tracking positions will be uploaded to spacenear.us

– SSDV images will be uploaded to ssdv.habhub.org.

– Expected altitude is more than 33km

You can track the Balloon on APRS on http://aprs.fi  – I will send the callsign later as a comment on this page

Jason and i will be leaving about 1 hour after I post this story. You can track us on the APRS service with the callsign of  VK2URB-7 as we travel to Deniliquin. We will probably stop on the way at a motel!

Jason Delivers 18 Lectures in 3 Days

UpLift-16 AlburyScience Week at Albury, Australia 2013

I was delighted when the organisers of the Border Stargaze and Science Fair invited Jason and myself to deliver 18 x 30 minute talks over three days to both public school students and high school students. I threw Jason in the Deep end and told him, it was his job to deliver the talks. We were also asked to fly a small balloon with just a tracking payload. It was designated sequentially in our UpLift series as UpLift-16. We were not planning on recovering the tracker, but with our record of recovery, it seems that we were destined to even get this one returned to us. That was mentioned in an earlier post. See: Australians Applying to CASA for a HAB Flight More on that later.

Here is a bit about the event:

Border Stargaze and Science Fair

The event is open to all ages, the wider community, schools and amateur astronomers. The Border Stargaze has grown over the past 7 years and with it the annual Science Fair. It is event such as these that have inspired individuals, groups, schools, the community and universities in our region.

When: Monday, August 12 2013 till Sunday, September 8 2013. 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Where: Albury, NSW, 2640
What: Festival, Hands-on activity, Talk / Lecture
Theme: Energy and transport, Environment and nature, Health and medical, Space and astronomy, Innovation and technology
We drove down from Sydney – a solid 6 hour drive and of course we had to drive back after the event. They had offered to fly us there, but the amount of gear we needed even for the simplest balloon flight and props for the lectures was too much to fly to Albury. Jason Delivered 18 Lectures in 3 Days.
We left after School on Monday afternoon and got to Albury late Monday ready for the lectures the next morning. It was a great event and after a few talks with me assisting, Jason (11)  found his stride and he was delivering the talks like he had been doing them all his life. The subject was launching and recovering stratospheric balloons. We passed around the tools of the trade we use to get a high altitude balloon into the stratosphere. Balloons, parachutes, even the thin cord used to suspend the payload from the balloon and of course the GPS tracker.
On Thursday morning we got up before dawn on a very cold winters morning and headed out to the designated launch site. Although it was the required 5km from the airport we had to liaise with Albury airport because we were in the landing circuit. We had to release our balloon between landings. We were able to give the airport our tracking web page and they were able to monitor our balloons flight, ensuring adequate safety for those in the air. We successfully launched our small balloon and tracker – no parachute as it would fall slowly with its super-light weight bubble wrap cover. We only used the bubble wrap to insulate from the extreme cold of the jet stream. The winds would take the payload to the east and over inaccessible land. We did not expect to see the tracker again, but we did thanks to the host of Canberra Fuzzy Logic Science Show, Rod Taylor. We still have a 100% recovery record after 16 balloon flights. Rod’s trip to recover the payload will be in another post.

Jason and I have HAM radio licenses and we use a HAM radio compliant tracker for these flights. We are amateur radio operators, (nick named HAMs). Jason got his foundation license at age 9 because he wanted to help with the radio systems that we use to communicate. His license is not high enough to use the APRS (digital) systems, but I have a “full” license that allows me to use the systems. My call-sign is VK2URB and Jason’s is VK2FJAB. You can look up your local club on the Wireless Institute or Australia’s website and select “Radio Clubs” on their menu.

. Contact you local club for more information..
UpLift-16 Albury - before sunrise - it was cold
UpLift-16 Albury – before sunrise – it was cold
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UpLift-16 Albury - Preparations
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparations
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IMG_0076
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparations
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 UpLift-16 Albury - Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
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UpLift-16 Albury - Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
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Jason in Class with the balloon being tracked across country
Jason in class delivering a lecture with the balloon being tracked across country.
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  UpLift-16 Flight 01
UpLift-16 Flight over the lakes near Albury – Lake Hume on the right.
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UpLift-16 passing overt the old Honeysuckle Creek Dish Site.
 UpLift-16 passing overt the old Honeysuckle Creek Dish Site.
Note the harsh mountain forests and difficult terrain.
Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station brought the world
Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon  – Apollo 11

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UpLift-16 breaks our personal best altitude record.
UpLift-16 breaks our personal best altitude record.
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Jason Brand and Dr Barry Jones - past Science MinisterThe flight made it to well over 30km altitude and set down in a field near the Monaro Highway as the small village of Michelago. It was too easy to recover after avoiding so many impossible places. The classes that watched the tracking in class cheered every time we set a new record. Jason was also given the privilege of representing his school in Sydney and wore his school uniform – Leichhardt Public School (Y6)
Jason with Dr Barry Jones – Past Minister for Science and quiz show contestant extraordinaire. Now in his eighties, he is still a huge supporter of science and was a key note speaker at the Albury National Science Week event where Jason was a guess presenter. Jason was excited when Dr Jones mentioned that he had heard of Jason’s balloon flight that landed south of Canberra in the ACT. He said that it was lucky to land south as all the hot air would have kept it from landing in Canberra (full of politicians). — at Charles Sturt University.
Our return drive to Sydney on Thursday night was uneventful and Jason was back at school the next day. He did have to give the same talk to his Y6 students at his school.

UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald (Archives)

Sydney’s very own space agency: Brand and son

*** Recovered from the Archives ***

This excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald, January 16, 2012. UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney’s Space Agency

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand, with the help of local school students has built and launched a weather balloon a quarter of the way to space.

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand and his 9-year-old son Jason recently launched a high-tech weather balloon a quarter of the way to space, retrieving images and flight data to help school children get a better understanding about space.

Mr Brand, of Dulwich Hill, has a history with space – at age 17 he wired up some of the Apollo 11 communications gear in Sydney during his term break from college. He was also stationed at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory in New South Wales at the request of the European Space Agency for spacecraft Giotto’s encounter with Halley’s comet in 1986 and Voyager’s encounter with Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and ’89. Also under his belt is an award from NASA for support of STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program, presented personally by the commander and moon walker John Young.

So when it came time for Mr Brand to launch his own gear towards space he was well prepared, documenting his do-it-yourself journey on his personal blog wotzup.com for other space enthusiasts to watch and track.

Jason and his father Robert celebrate retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space.

Jason and his father Robert celebrate with ginger beer (soda/soft drink) after retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space. Photo: Supplied

“[The balloon launch] was being done to help science education in the Sydney area and anywhere else in fact because we were publishing [on the internet] all of the information and data that we got from the balloon launch,” said Mr Brand, 59.

Launch day was December 28, 2011 from Rankins Springs near Goolgowi in Central NSW. As the balloon got up to about 85,000 feet (25.9 kilometres) above Earth before it burst, Mr Brand and his son tracked it using amateur radio.

“During the flight we were actually relaying data back to the ground and off to a server and that allowed people from all over the world to actually participate with this flight and track it as it was going,” Mr Brand said. “We were getting back a lot of comments on some of the social media [services] such as Facebook just really helping us understand what they were sort of getting out of the whole project. People were sort of yelling loudly if you could put it that way, on the [wotzup] website claiming ‘Hey, they’ve reached this height and that height’, and so there was a lot of really great audience participation in this.”

Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch.

Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch. Photo: Supplied

The data being sent back from the balloon – which was later recovered about 50 kilometres away from where it was launched – tracked altitude, position, rate of climb, payload temperature, payload voltage and air pressure, Mr Brand said. The balloon also has a camera on board that captured still images. “We could actually see as [the balloon] hit different wind levels in the atmosphere and eventually we got up into a jet stream and actually found that we had two jet streams,” Mr Brand added.

When the balloon finally popped it came hurtling back towards Earth at about 40 metres per second, according to flight data.

“So this thing was falling a bit like a brick would fall at ground level but it slowed down and eventually the parachute dropped it on the ground at about six metres per second,” Mr Brand said.


The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commerical jets will normally fly at.

Photos from Robert and Jason Brand’s weather balloon flight

The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commercial jets will normally fly at. Photo: Robert and Jason Brand

  • The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commerical jets will normally fly at.
  • The view from 21,977 metres.
  • The view from 22,222 metres.
  • The view from 22,470 metres.
  • The view from 22,969 metres.
  • The view from 24,305 metres.
  • The view from 26181 metres.
  • The view from 300 metres.
  • The view from 3235 metres
  • The view from 4153 metres.

The balloon (payload) was put together with the help of senior students at Sydney Secondary College at Blackwattle Bay, who Brand sought to get involved with the project and tasked them with doing a whole stack of materials testing. They tested the Styrofoam and how it reacted in zero atmosphere as well as the glue, ensuring it would hold throughout the flight. “The students were putting these materials in a bell jar and sucking the air out of it . . . and checking all of the materials held together – and to protect some of the electronics from the very cold temperatures of about minus 50 Celsius we simply used bubble wrap. … You’d be surprised to know that bubble wrap doesn’t explode when it gets into pretty much zero atmosphere.”

What's in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon's payload.

The photos that came back from maximum altitude look “pretty much like that taken from a space shuttle”, Mr Brand said.

“So very dark skies looking at this very thin blue line around the Earth which is our atmosphere and protective layer. It’s a bit scary when you see that photo and realise how thin the Earth’s atmosphere really is.”

Picture right: What’s in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon’s payload. Photo: Supplied

When it came time to recover the balloon it was tracked to landing on a field near the small town of Weethalle in NSW, Mr Brand said. “There was nothing growing on it. It seemed to have been abandoned.”

After knocking on a farm door to no avail, he and his son entered the field to locate the balloon. After driving “pretty much right on top of it” it was recovered, allowing for the father and son duo to publish the photos it captured that weren’t sent back live but stored on the camera attached to the balloon.

Mr Brand hopes to do more balloon launches and get schools involved.

“I’ll keep doing this each year and trying to get . . . more interest in the school year earlier in the year. I’m very keen to hear from people that might be interested in getting involved.”

End of article: UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald

Balon Stellar Stratosfera 30Km

Stellar Balloon flight to the stratosphere in CroatiaJason & Robert to Fly Balloons (HAB) in Croatia.

by Robert Brand

As many will know, I am the Director of Spacecraft Communications, Navigation and Data for Team Stellar and Jason is Stellar’s Australian Student Representative.

Jason and I also hold a world record for launching and recovering High Altitude Balloons (HABs). We have launched and recovered 16 so far and you can’t get better than 100% success. Mind you, much of that is attributed to us researching and finding a fantastic launch and recovery area with HAM radio APRS coverage (one of our tracking systems), flat and clear land with little water and good mobile telephone coverage and good access roads to farming and grazing land.

Croatia is a very different place. Our Team Stellar Croatian associates have told us that part of our recovery team will be Aplinists, capable of hiking in snow and ice to recover any balloon that lands high up on a mountain!

So why is Stellar launching these flights?

STEM EDUCATION:

Balon Stellar Stratosfera 30Km

Basically we will be carrying experiments from schools all over Croatia. They will go into the stratosphere and after recovery they will be returned to the schools for analysis and of course we expect them to publish the results.

More on this soon.

This is just one of several activities being undertaken by Team Stellar in the name of STEM Education – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Jason is 11 years old and will just turn 12 when we assist with this flight and will have just completed his first term in high school (year 7). He will be attending Sydney Secondary College – Balmain Campus just as his two older sisters did.

These will be larger balloons that will be needed to lift heavy payloads and to get them into the stratosphere before they explode and return to earth. We also expect to have cut-down ability to command the payload to release from the balloon and return to earth.

We will let you know more as we prepare for the flights in 6 months’ time. You can read more here later and more at:

http://teamstellar.org

That is Jason and I celebrating with a soft drink after the successful recovery of UpLift-1, our first balloon mission in December 2011. Jason does the tracking, radio systems and navigation – I just do the driving.
Jason and Robert Brand Recover UpLift-1

World Moon Bounce – Part 2 (Archives)

Robert Brand - Parkes

World Moon Bounce – 2009

Posted on by

The Wireless Institute of Australia Magazine Article WMBD

Below is some of the article on the Echoes of Apollo World Moon Bounce Day (WMBD). Much of it was written by the University of Tasmania (UTAS) staff members Rex Moncur VK7MO and Justin Giles-Clark VK7TW for the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA):

27 June 2009 was designated World Moon Bounce Day as an amateur radio contribution to the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon. The event was organized by Echoes of Apollo – a joint project between Pat Bathelow (US) and Robert Brand (Australia). Key to the success of the event was the contribution of the Overseas Telecommunications Veterans Association. (OTVA) A key objective was to involve and interest school children in science and amateur radio by allowing children to hear voices from the moon. The event was supplemented by amateur Earth Moon Earth (EME) stations all around the world and particularly those with SSB capability on 23 cm.

Within Australia the University of Tasmania agreed to take part using their 26 metre dish which was originally used by NASA in the Orroral Valley near Canberra between 1964-1985 after which it was gifted to the University and transported to Mt Pleasant, near Richmond in southern Tasmania. Our involvement was to provide amateur EME equipment, help set up and test the system and operate the station on the day. As it eventuated the availability of large dishes provided the opportunity to explore QRP EME at as low a level as possible and we are pleased to report completion of a JT65 EME contact between the University of Tasmania’s 26 metre dish and a Dutch 25 metre dish, PI9CAM, with the Tasmanian end running only three milliwatts.

Mount Pleasant Radio Telescope UTAS

Setting up the University of Tasmania dish

While Dr Jim Lovell of the University of Tasmania willingly offered their dish and the support of the site technician Eric Baynes (VK7BB) it was first necessary to consider what was practical. At our first meeting it became clear that transmitting any sort of high power as required for SSB would be out of the question as the dish is fitted with five extremely sensitive liquid helium cooled receivers working from 4 to 22 GHz. There is no protection for RF and we could not risk damage to these receivers which are involved in ongoing international research programs. Accordingly, the Echoes of Apollo team where advised that we would contribute to the event but as a receive station only.

40 Year Anniversary Apollo 11The feeds and receivers for the 26 metre dish are mounted in a small feed cabin (a cube approximately two metres per side) behind a Teflon window approximately one metre in diameter. Within the cabin there is a remotely controlled three axis focus frame that allows the feeds and receivers to be moved into the correct focal position depending on which feed is in use. There is space for a two GHz non-cooled feed and receiver which fortunately was not required around the time of the Echoes of Apollo event and the University agreed that this could be removed and replaced with a 23 cm antenna. Because of space limitations it was decided to use a small three turn helical. There is over 100 metres of LDF-4-50 coax between the dish and the control building where we could operate and for this reason we decided to down-convert at the feed and receive on 144 MHz. Eric constructed a down-converter and the VK7MO EME station provided pre-amplifiers, 144 MHz receiver, GPS frequency reference, computer running WSJT and bandpass filters at 1296 MHz and 144 MHz to limit interference from microwave systems at the nearby Hobart airport.

A few weeks prior to the event tests were conducted with Dave VK2JDS, with JT65c signal levels much worse than expected at -9 dB and no prospect of copying SSB. A sun noise test gave around 18 dB compared to 27 to 28 dB determined with the VK3UM EME calculator. The time for testing was limited as this is an operational radio astronomy research facility but the system was gradually refined with additional pre-amps and filters and through adjusting levels at all stages – as well as resolving the occasional “Murphy” problem. Finally we decided that the helical feed must be the remaining limitation and did some estimates to see if a Septum feed and choke ring could be physically mounted. Initially it fouled other equipment but after a redesign of the mount is was successfully installed. In the end we achieved a sun noise of 25 dB which was within a few dB of what could be expected. Every time the system needed adjustment Eric had to don a safety harness and go up in a cherry picker .

The story above is part of the article in the Amateur Radio magazine, a publication of the Wireless Institute of Australia.

World Moon Bounce – Part 1 (Archives)

World Moon Bounce 2009 & 2010 – Part 1

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

Robert BrandJust before the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2009, I got contacted by a gentleman wanting to do a commemorative HAM radio event between the Jamesburg Earth Station and the Parkes Radio telescope. His name was Pat Barthelow. Moon Bounce is basically bouncing signals off the moon and back to earth and using big dishes to do the work. In the week before the Apollo 11 40th Anniversary (July 2009) dishes from all over the world took part in World Moon Bounce Day (WMBD) and it was a great success. Notably Jamesburg and Parkes never took part!

We had support locally from the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA) and financial support from the OTVA to make this happen. Kids from all over the world took part in WMBD. We broke records with a 3mW transmission from the old NASA Orroral Valley dish (now in Tasmania with UTAS) and a dish in the Netherlands – both 30m dishes. The data was successfully decoded and a new record set. The gain in these dishes is massive – about 60dB each for the technical. It is great to think that the gains of dirt on the surface of the moon where shaking ever so slightly and reflecting back the voices of children for a global hookup.

The story of World Moon Bounce Day and the 2010 World Moon Bounce event is below and taken from the Echoes of Apollo Website. The 2010 event turned more into a week long event as my partner in crime in the US – Pat Barthelow – managed to secure the Aricebo Dish for a week or so! This was written before the 2010 event:

World Moon Bounce Events:

World Moon Bounce Day Logo 2010

EOA April 17th 2010

This major event will add a new word to most people’s vocabulary – Moon Bounce. Moon Bounce has been happening for almost as long as the oldest of us can remember. From the early days when it was thought to be a  means of communications that the military could exploit right through to today’s more peaceful use by amateur radio hobbyists. So what is moon bounce? Also known technically as Earth-Moon-Earth transmissions (EME), it is simply bouncing radio waves off the moon’s surface and back to earth. Every day hundreds of people enjoy doing just that and they do it as everyday people using mainly homemade dishes and antennas and  a mix of “do it yourself” systems, electronics and “off the shelf” equipment.

So why hold World Moon Bounce Day? At Echoes of Apollo we are both interested in space (especially the moon) and amateur radio. We created an event to highlight both of these amazing areas of interest. We are also looking to the commercial world to take part soon and make this an event for the whole world to enjoy

On Saturday, April 17th, many of the world’s large parabolic antennas (sometimes called dishes) along with hundreds of amateur radio operators and their gear will stop their normal work and swing around to track the moon when it rises. Volunteers will then use the EME or Moon Bounce transmissions to link up with other dishes and antennas worldwide via the moon. Signals are literally being bounced off the moon’s surface and back to other stations on earth where they are received some 2.5 seconds later. Yes, at an atomic level we are actually shaking each atom on the moon’s surface every so slightly and they then radiate the signal back into space and to earth where we again use our high gain antennas and dishes to receive them

moon_bounce

The sites will be run by volunteers from the amateur radio community and they will be helping local youth talk to other youth from around the world in a “Jamboree of the Air” style event. This type of activity has happened before but never on this scale. One  fantastic demonstration was a small Moon Bounce occurred in 2007  to celebrate the UK’s Jodrell Bank Telescope’s 50th anniversary generated press and TV coverage. Children read and listened to their poetry being bounced of the moon. Jodrell Bank held another event in 2009, but it was a small event with a local transmitter.

The first World Moon Bounce Day held in June 2009 was huge by comparison with much high voice quality in comparison given the sizes of the big dishes at both ends that were involved. The bigger they are, the more effective power they will radiate and also the more power they gather and concentrate for reception.

Web video of World Moon Bounce Day on June 27th will be available on this website with feeds from multiple sites, so you can see all the action taking place. We have invited some of the world’s biggest dishes an a wealth of important people. We already have several large antennas taking part and we will provide a list shortly.

Why April 17th 2010?

At Echoes of Apollo we celebrate the amazing achievements of the Apollo astronauts and their vast numbers of support staff, whether part of the rocket design team, mission control or NASA‘s global communications network. We simply have the most incredible team ever assembled with a single goal that was beyond anyones expertise at the time of its announcement 10 years earlier. We celebrated the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 with out first annual World Moon Bounce Day and this year we will be honoring Apollo 13′s return to earth 40 years earlier. Echoes of Apollo still believe that this mission was one of the most amazing and riveting stories of the space age. It is the only Hollywood movie made of any of he Apollo missions.

Arecibo Puerto Rico

This year, April 16,17,18, Echoes of Apollo Moon Bounce, a fun, educational, science outreach activity, will conduct 2 way Voice communications by bouncing radio signals off the Moon.  One day of the event, Saturday, the 17th, has been assigned the Moniker, “World Moon Bounce Day”.  Commonly known among the specialist amateur radio operators (hams) that do this,  as EME, for Earth-Moon- Earth,  this time, the Echoes of Apollo Moon Bounce event is quite special, and opens a big door of opportunity for Science outreach.The Arecibo Observatory amateur radio club has built an amateur radio EME station at the Arecibo 1000 ft dish.  Angel Vazquez, club president, is working with his team of radio amateurs and have produced a 500 watt station that will operate in the 70cm band, on 432.045 mhz.  The 500 watts at the feed of 58 dbi gain dish will produce a very loud signal that will be bounced from the moon, and can be heard, using very modest antennas.

On March 19, and 22, Arecibo conducted a test of their station on the air, establishing 2 way Moon Bounce contact with many ham radio operators all over the world.  The test, established that the very strong return signals from the moon, can be picked up, using radio communications receivers capable receiving 432.045 MHz  SSB and/or CW signals, and equipped with small, yagi antennas.

As a science/Education  outreach activity,  EOA  co founder, Pat Barthelow, has arranged for amateur radio mentors, and teachers, to supervise the construction of very simple, cheap yagi antennas that can be used to hear the moon bounced signals, returned to earth.  The yagi antennas are easy and cheap to build, according to published designs, and made from wooden  1 x 2 sticks, about 3-6 feet long, and welding rod,copper or aluminum wire.

 

Pat Barthelow: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1535563951&ref=ts

Robert Brand: http://www.facebook.com/Echoes.Of.Apollo?ref=profile

So far we have moon bounce-capable stations in the US, Europe,  and,  of course Arecibo in Puerto Rico. (Look up on Google Earth, latitude 18.33 degrees north, and Longitude 66.75 degrees West

Some other stations in Europe planning on participating,  are:

Dwingeloo dish run by the CAMRAS group in Holland, http://www.camras.nl

HB9MOON 10 meter Dish, in Chur Switzerland,  run by Christoph, HB9HAL:

http://www.radiosky.ch/home.php?nav=amateurfunk&page=eoa

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Dishes at their Haystack facility. MIT based  Radio Amateurs are anticipated to be active with MIT station setup and operating.

The world wide event,  will have different stations around the world communicating whenever the moon is visible between them, and in the case of Arecibo, there will be two hour windows of operations, each of the three scheduled days. Arecibo only has limited time viewing the moon due the limited “steering” of about 20 degrees

On this weekend, this translates to operating times from Arecibo of:

Apr 16 1645 – 1930 UTC

Apr 17 1740 – 2020 UTC

Apr 18 1840 – 2125 UTC

FFI:   Pat Barthelow AA6EG (Founder of Echoes of Apollo)

Echoes of Apollo

apolloeme@live.com

Here is a video of the event from UTAS in 2009:

The large antenna, pictured below, at Mt Pleasant in Tasmania, Australia (University of Tasmania) is typical of the antennas that will be involved in Moon Bounce and it took part inthe 2009  World Moon Bounce Day. Photo by Jim Lovell of UTAS.

mount_pleasant_observatory

Another big dish was the SRI – Stanford 150ft Dish (45m). The reports from the site were amazing and the excitement high. Pat Barthelow reports via phone during the final 5 hours of the 2009 event as they were working Europe and Australia was coming back into view. You can hear Pat’s report below.

http://www.echoesofapollo.com/audio/World_Moon_Bounce_Day_20090627.mp3

Christop Joos from Switzerland reports on our 2009 Event

http://www.radiosky.ch/images/spaceparty/EoA_Kids_hb9moon.jpgClick the link below to hear Swiss greetings via the moon

Greetings from Switzerland via the moon

Kids talking via the moon for World Moon Bounce Day.

“First of all many Thanks to all who helped us talking to our non Radio Amateurs, Visitors and Children of course. Special Thanks to Dough VK3UM how had to answer many questions about his “Crocodile” in his shack :-)

More than 300 Visitors, many Families, Swiss Television, News Journalists, joined our outstanding Party.

We also had ON4BCB, Walter on board and many Swiss Radio Amateurs and youngest YL too. 45 Children took this chance to send a short Message to the Moon. And a few did a great job and learned very quickly how we communicate. Who knows maybe one of them will become Hamsone day  too… Swiss Television will report from EoA HB9MOON on Monday evening during Prime-time! It was an unforgettable event for us!

Christoph, HB9HAL / HB9MOON

The following is Swiss TV coverage of the Echoes of apollo event on World Moon Bounce Day 2009:

Our June 2009 event featured Apollo astronaut Bill Anders who reportedly had a great time talking to the world via the moon. We are hoping to have an even bigger lineup of guests and they will be featured in interviews with the Echoes team after the event. You will be able to listen to the broadcast via the moon on the Internet. We have some large dishes taking part and that announcement will be coming soon so please stand by for more information. Echoes of Apollo salutes all the amateur radio operators that make this event possible.

Is There any Science Being Done?

Yes, plenty. Even setting this gear up is a major challenge to get it right. Not only do many of the scientist that take part find the effort rewarding, they all find that they learn a lot from working with amateur radio operators. The staff at the Mt Pleasant dish (above) also broke world records during our 2009 event sending data to the moon and having received as viable data in the Netherlands and their transmitter was only 3 milliwatts – about 1/1000th the power of a bright incandescent flashlight. The gain and accuracy of big dishes can achieve some amazing results.

What Frequencies will be used?

Any frequency that operators can legally utilise. Most amateur radio operators will be using frequencies of about 1.3GHz which is almost half that used in microwave ovens and Wireless computer networks. This frequency is the best for bouncing signals off the Moon’s surface. Some possible commercial operator may use frequencies as high as 12GHz.

———————————————————————————-

World Moon Bounce Day 2009

Below is some of the article on the Echoes of Apollo World Moon Bounce Day. Much of the article was written by the University of Tasmania (UTAS) staff members Rex Moncur VK7MO and Justin Giles-Clark VK7TW for the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA):

27 June 2009 was designated World Moon Bounce Day as an amateur radio contribution to the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon. The event was organized by Echoes of Apollo – a joint project between Pat Bathelow (US) and Robert Brand (Australia). Key to the success of the event was the contribution of the Overseas Telecommunications Veterans Association. (OTVA) A key objective was to involve and interest school children in science and amateur radio by allowing children to hear voices from the moon. The event was supplemented by amateur Earth Moon Earth (EME) stations all around the world and particularly those with SSB capability on 23 cm.

Within Australia the University of Tasmania agreed to take part using their 26 metre dish which was originally used by NASA in the Orroral Valley near Canberra between 1964-1985 after which it was gifted to the University and transported to Mt Pleasant, near Richmond in southern Tasmania. Our involvement was to provide amateur EME equipment, help set up and test the system and operate the station on the day. As it eventuated the availability of large dishes provided the opportunity to explore QRP EME at as low a level as possible and we are pleased to report completion of a JT65 EME contact between the University of Tasmania’s 26 metre dish and a Dutch 25 metre dish, PI9CAM, with the Tasmanian end running only three milliwatts.

Setting up the University of Tasmania dish

While Dr Jim Lovell of the University of Tasmania willingly offered their dish and the support of the site technician Eric Baynes (VK7BB) it was first necessary to consider what was practical. At our first meeting it became clear that transmitting any sort of high power as required for SSB would be out of the question as the dish is fitted with five extremely sensitive liquid helium cooled receivers working from 4 to 22 GHz. There is no protection for RF and we could not risk damage to these receivers which are involved in ongoing international research programs. Accordingly, the Echoes of Apollo team where advised that we would contribute to the event but as a receive station only.

The feeds and receivers for the 26 metre dish are mounted in a small feed cabin (a cube approximately two metres per side) behind a Teflon window approximately one metre in diameter. Within the cabin there is a remotely controlled three axis focus frame that allows the feeds and receivers to be moved into the correct focal position depending on which feed is in use. There is space for a two GHz non-cooled feed and receiver which fortunately was not required around the time of the Echoes of Apollo event and the University agreed that this could be removed and replaced with a 23 cm antenna. Because of space limitations it was decided to use a small three turn helical. There is over 100 metres of LDF-4-50 coax between the dish and the control building where we could operate and for this reason we decided to down-convert at the feed and receive on 144 MHz. Eric constructed a down-converter and the VK7MO EME station provided pre-amplifiers, 144 MHz receiver, GPS frequency reference, computer running WSJT and bandpass filters at 1296 MHz and 144 MHz to limit interference from microwave systems at the nearby Hobart airport.

A few weeks prior to the event tests were conducted with Dave VK2JDS, with JT65c signal levels much worse than expected at -9 dB and no prospect of copying SSB. A sun noise test gave around 18 dB compared to 27 to 28 dB determined with the VK3UM EME calculator. The time for testing was limited as this is an operational radio astronomy research facility but the system was gradually refined with additional pre-amps and filters and through adjusting levels at all stages – as well as resolving the occasional “Murphy” problem. Finally we decided that the helical feed must be the remaining limitation and did some estimates to see if a Septum feed and choke ring could be physically mounted. Initially it fouled other equipment but after a redesign of the mount is was successfully installed. In the end we achieved a sun noise of 25 dB which was within a few dB of what could be expected. Every time the system needed adjustment Eric had to don a safety harness and go up in a cherry picker .

The story above is part of the article in the Amateur Radio magazine, a publication of the Wireless Institute of Australia.

Much of the credit for the 2009 World Moon Bounce Day success can be directly attributed to the efforts of the OTVA and other exOTC staff. This has been a fantastic experience and we are looking to grow the 2010 World Moon Bounce Day to even great success. Yes, a world first for OTC staff involvement and a world record! Plenty of Australian amateur radio people got involved and were active bouncing their signals off the moon. I am Now organising the 2010 World Moon Bounce Day for early April. If you wish to help, feel free to raise your hand.

UpLift-1 Prediction

Our First High Altitude Balloon Flight (Archives)

UpLift-1 PredictionUpLift-1 Mission Announced

Fuzzy Logic Science Show

Jason and Robert Brand on Canberra Radio

In April 2013, Jason and Robert Brand joined with Rod Taylor, the host of Canberra’s science show, Fuzzy Logic, for an hour of chat about space and what we are doing here in Australia. Jason got to talk about his involvement with high altitude balloon flights. He even got to back announce one the musical interludes. He had just turned 11 a few days earlier.

I discussed everything from my early days supporting space missions like Apollo 11 and right through to my work with Team Stellar.

You can listen to the show by clicking here

You can also use our flash player below:


“Canberra 2013-4-14 Interview about Space on the Fuzzy Logic Science program”

From Radio Interview Fuzzy Logic 2XX. Posted by Robert Brand on 4/15/2013 (6 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2


UpLift-1 Flight Data Pt-1 (Archives)

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

UpLift-1 Facts and Figures 28th Dec 2011 Pt-1

Time for some SCIENCE. I have cleaned up all the data from the flight removing duplicated figures and out of place data that sometimes occurs from having lots of receiving stations all trying to add it to the database. The figures are certainly interesting and even fun to see what is going on during the flight.

Some Facts first:

  • Altitude of the launch site is about 90m or 300ft above sea level. flat farmland was chosen for lack of trees and easy access for recovery.
  • Morning was chosen for air stability and lower wind levels.
  • Weather: Clear with little to no wind. Summer.
  • Flight launch: 10;53 28th Dec 2011 EDST (23:53 27th Dec 2011 UTC).
  • Flight landing: 13:40 28th Dec 2011 EDST (02:53 28th Dec 2011 UTC).
  • Flight time: 2 hours 47 minutes.
  • Maximum Recorded Altitude: 26.181km – 85,896 feet – 16.2681 miles.
  • Distance traveled: 45.6km (28 miles).
  • Direction from launch of 72 degrees.
  • Rate of climb: 3m/sec (5ft/sec) near sea level to near 5m/sec (8ft/sec) at the burst point.
  • Payload temperature during flight: 34C (93F) at ground level to -12C (10.4F) minimum.
  • Maximum recorded rate if fall: 33m/sec (110ft/sec)
  • Anomalies encountered: Thermal at the time of release caused 9m (30ft) initial rate of climb.
  • Balloon: Totex 350g (optimum fill 1.2m, actual fill 1.35m diameter)
  • Gas used for lift: Helium
  • Payload: Polystyrene box with a bit less than 1/2kg weight (1lb) including parachute.
  • Camera: GoPro 7mp still camera set to take photos every 30 seconds – lasted entire flight. Housing included
  • Tracking was via Amateur Radio APRS with Internet and direct reception in vehicle. 145.175MHz Packet radio.
  • Transmitter from Argent Data system with GPS rated for over 60,000 feet and 1/2 watt transmitter.
  • Antenna – precision tuned vertically mounted dipole.
  • Transmitter Power: 2 x mounted on-board Lithium 3V pile batteries.
  • Reporting time: 20 seconds.
  • Thermal insulation for transmitter: Polystyrene capsule and three layers of bubble wrap.

The first bit of data showed that UpLift-1 climbed very quickly. At first I could not believe the rate of climb, but there it was climbing at 9m per second. I now know that this was an anomaly. The simplest and most likely explanation is that at the time that we released the balloon we were in a thermal area where the hot air at that spot was rising quickly were near by air was falling. As it was early in the day, upper air thermals had not formed so the affect was short lived. So here is the graph of altitude for the flight:

Atitude vs Time

At the very start of the flight there is a slightly different rate of climb caused by the thermal that dissipates at about 2km. From then on the climb is steady and near flat. The rate of climb being mainly determined by the size of the balloon (air resistance and lift) and the wright of the payload. As the air thins, the balloon expands keeping the air resistance somewhat the same, but as altitude increases, the ability to lift is also reduced. The result is a fairly consistent rate of climb. At the maximum altitude the balloon bursts and the payload is released. The parachute is ineffective in the free air and the rate of fall is determined by air density producing a somewhat parabolic curve. For most balloon flights with a reasonable rate of climb, the climb to fall ratio is usually between 3:1 or 4:1 for flight estimations.

The rate of climb graph shows the linear and parabolic effects more clearly”

Rate of Climb - Fall vs Time

In the graph above, you can clearly see the high initial rate of climb and the slowing of the rate as it left the thermal event. The rate was not flat, but slowly climbed from 3m/sec (5ft/sec)  to near 5m/sec (8ft/sec) at the burst point. There is a fairly long period of time following the burst point before the payload reaches terminal velocity of greater than 33m/sec (110ft/sec) – remember that the plots are 20 seconds apart. There is one plot during the initial fall that indicated that the payload was accelerating and was showing 9m/sec (30ft/sec) fall and accelerating until terminal velocity is reached – the point where air resistance stops any further acceleration due to gravity.

The payload – a foam box weighing less than 1/2kg (about 1lb) has plenty of air resistance at sea level, but very little in the thin atmosphere. As it falls the air density increases and the rate slows. Where the rate of climb was determined by fairly linear forces, the rapid descent is clearly non linear when plotted against time.

Part two shortly with links to both imperial and decimal data data sets.

UpLift-1 Launch (Archives)

UpLift-1 Takeoff 28th Dec 2011.

UpLift-1 launch weatherBefore we even left home we needed a massive list to make sure that we did not leave anything behind. After all, a 600km / 400 mile trip for nothing would not be a lot of fun. It was a huge list for such a small balloon and payload. It included the balloon, parachute, payload, helium, spare balloon, test equipment, hoses, cameras, tripod, 2-way radios, tracking radios, decoders, computer, USB cables, mobile phones, car chargers and much, much more. But this is not about that story, this is launch day! We traveled to West Wyalong in NSW (Australia) and spent the night in a great little hotel ready for an early morning departure. We still had 100km / 60 miles to drive to the launch site. The first thing was to check the weather. We had already looked at a long distance forecast before setting the date as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia have to issue an alert to pilots for our balloon. CASA have been wonderful UpLift-1 Launch site with Jason Brand age 9and amazingly helpful. A peek out the door reveals a perfect day for a balloon flight. The photo on right shot outside my hotel room reveals a brilliant day with little wind early in the morning. We packed the car and headed to Rankins Springs near Goolgowi. I had fallen in love with this little town in the middle of nowhere. With about 50 people living in town, it was just a speck on the map at the intersecting of some sealed main roads. What struck me was that it was a place that people cared about. The public places were clean and the grass cut, perfect for preparing a balloon flight.

We found a clear grassed area next to an old Railway water tank used for filling steam engines. The contrast was great – the old and the new. This story is going to be a bit instructive so lots and lots of pictures. First I had my son Jason (9) laidUpLift-1 fill - Latex Gloves out the clean plastic sheet for the filling operation. We placed items in the corner in case a breeze kicked up the corners and destroyed the balloon. We also used Latex gloves to stop acids and other oils from transferring from our hands to the balloon and potentially causing an early failure of the balloon when the UV and other chemicals in the air act on it. We could also have used clean cotton gloves. The problem there was two fold. Sweat from our hands filled the gloves and needed to be changed occasionally to prevent and drops from landing on the balloon. The second problem was that every time we wanted to use duct tape, our gloves stuck very well to the tape! That is me on the left taping the hose to the balloon to protect it and getting the gloves stuck to the tape. There were cable ties under the tape and I used the tape to protect the balloon from sharp edges. The cable ties held the balloon to the flexible PVC tube. I also had the other end of the tube over the balloon fill regulator on the helium tank. That was just sealed with duct tape.

It was then time to prepare the payload. I had decided to block off one of the port holes for the video camera as I wanted this balloon to rise quickly. I was also going to overfill the balloon above specifications to ensure that it would explode a bit earlier than normal. All precautions for a first flight. While we were preparing for the flight, Wally, one of the locals came by on his ride-on mower and remembered me calling in at the petrol / gas station a month earlier. He was excited that we had chosen his town for the launch and APRS Tracker being wrapped in bubble wrapwent off to find the kids in town so that they could join in with all the excitement. Wally was the unofficial “mayor” of the town! A lovely character that obviously cared about kids. The photo on the right shows me preparing the GPS transmitter (Amateur Radio APRS). I am wrapping it in bubble wrap as a thermal insulator to protect it from the cold at the outside air temperature at times during the flight will be between -40 (-40F) and -50C (-58F) or possibly even lower. The capsule is also made from Polystyrene so that too will provide some protection from the cold, but with openings for the camera, there will be some cold air entering the capsule. Care was taken to ensure the dipole antenna (the two gold wires) was mounted vertically in the capsule in the correct place and the small GPS receiver was on top so that it would get a strong signal from the GPS satellites orbiting the earth. The balloon was on a 10m (30ft) cord so that the antenna had no chance of puncturing the balloon. The final benefit was that the capsule would never land upside down so the GPS receiver would always be able to receive satellite signals and report its position once on the ground. Lots to consider. The batteries were also the best that we could buy. Failure was not an option and the cold can kill batteries. We also wanted UpLift-1 Tracker competethe transmitter to last for as long as it took to recover the balloon. The unit was switched on and the receiver in my car was used to checked it was operational and all systems working. The unit reported position, altitude, atmospheric pressure, payload temperature and battery voltage. All parameters where checked and normal. APRS normally will allow you to see the track on the Internet, but we were too far away from any receivers to register. That would only happen when the flight was high enough for the distant receivers to “see” the balloon – once it was high enough to overcome the radio shadow caused by the curvature of the earth, allowing “line of sight” radio signals to be heard. Similarly when we landed, we would lose the signal close to the ground. We were going to rely on the receiver in our car to pick up the transmitter signals and read the location. This would be super important in a couple of hour. More on that later. The photo at right show the transmitter with one layer of bubble wrap. Two more were added with the GPS receiver wrapped to the top – above the side that you can see the unit with care taken to get it the right way around.

UpLift-1 CapsuleThe camera batteries were charged the night before and the camera then required special care. We had it in a sealed box with desiccant overnight to ensure that there was as little moisture as possible in the camera. This would otherwise cause condensation during the flight and fog the images. It was inserted quickly into the housing and the almost closed housing was flushed with helium from the filler hose. This ensured that water in the air was removed and the housing was sealed. The camera was turned on and set to commence taking photographs – the counter on the front began incrementing every 30 seconds. Both the camera and the transmitter were mounted in the capsule. The picture shows the camera in place secured with blocks of polystyrene  and the transmitter in place with the GPS receiver at the top. The payload bay was covered and sealed with duct tape and the capsule was ready to fly. All that waited was to fill the balloon.

UpLift-1 Balloon FillWe had brought a large bed sheet to hold over the balloon in case the wind was too strong for a simple fill. The wind was light and we did not need this, but if we had we would have asked volunteers to hold each corner down while we filled the balloon. The balloon fill was simple, but we needed to measure the diameter to get the fill right. If we under filled the balloon then it might never burst or even rise fast enough and drift long distances before popping. Either way I had made a decision to lighten the payload UpLift-1 measuring the diameterby leaving out the video camera and to overfill the balloon slightly. It was, from the manufacturer’s specifications meant to be 1.2m (3.937ft) in diameter.  I was going to fill it to 1.35m (4.43ft). Since the day was sunny, it was easy to accurately measure the diameter. We simply used a tape measure across the centre of the shadow – perpendicular to the rising sun. This meant that any stretch of the shadow from the angle of the sun would not affect the measurement. In the picture at left you can see that the sun is behind me and Jason is in the right place. The local that was helping just needed to move the measure up closer to the camera to get the final measurement (the photo was a few seconds early). We had the right diameter now and were ready to remove the hose and secure the payload. The helium tank valve needs to be shut off at this point in case the hose gets pulled and the tank either topples or adds more helium to the balloon. If the tank falls, then you could damage the regulator.

This next operation was the most difficult part of the procedureUpLift-1 Securing the neck and the payload. We had already wrapped a cable tie in duct tape to lower the chance of tearing the balloon when inserted. it would secure the nylon cord that secures the parachute and payload. First though, we needed to cut away the cable ties securing the balloon to the hose – all without cutting the balloon. The protective duct tape was peeled away and side cutters were used to sever the heads of the cable ties. This kept sharp edges away from the balloon. That is me on the right cutting the cable ties away (sorry no close-ups). Once the hose is removed then the balloon needs to be sealed and secured. I have no photos of this but the fill tube of the balloon is folded once and then a second time (4 folds thick). The cable tie with duct tape that was prepared earlier was inserted in the middle of the bottom folds ready to secure the payload. I then secured the balloon and and its UpLift-1 ready to launch with help from the locals at Rankins Springsgas with three cable ties above that making them tight around the fill tube. It must be tight to keep the gas in during the flight, especially as the outside pressure gets down to a few percent of sea level and the inside pressure remains the same. I cut the loose ends of the cable ties and used duct tape to keep them from touching the balloon. The cable tie that secured the payload was looped and the payload tied to the balloon. Again duct tape was used to secure the knot holding the payload to the balloon. Nothing was left to chance. The knot used was a bowline and few half hitches – sufficient if you have the duct tape to stop them unraveling. We were ready to launch. The local mission control countdown team were assembled (all but one shy kid and a few adults) and provided the all essential countdown – that’s Wally in he green/yellow safety shirt.

UpLift-1 Launch with Jason BrandIt was a great moment. Rankins Springs’ first near space mission. The countdown proceeded with the kids leading the chant. At zero, my son Jason released the balloon and it was away. Note the old steam engine water tank behind Jason – the old and the new. At about 270 metres the distant APRS receivers saw the balloon’s transmissions and we breathed a sigh of relief that we would be able to track and recover the balloon. We saw the updates every 20 seconds on our smart phones with all the details of the flight. We watched as the balloon stayed in clear view right up to 5km. We kept losing site of the tiny white dot, but the odd reflective glint from the shiny black duct tape brought our eyes back to the tiny 1.35m (4.5ft) white dot up in the clear blue skies of central NSW.  It should be noted, that none of these photos have been altered. They are directly from a number of cameras. The colours have not been corrected! The final job was to pack the car and chase the balloon.

It was serendipity that the first photo snapped by the payload camera at around 270m (900ft) was of the town itself. A wonderful memento of the occasion.

Below is the photo from Rankins Springs. You can click on most of the photos above and below to see a large version of the image (requires that you click through an intermediate page). I have uploaded the image of the town in the highest format possible.

UpLift-1 Rankins Springs 60 seconds after launch

60 seconds after release (below). This photo looking east above Rankins Springs:

The Space Show (Archives)

David Livingston*** Retrieved from Archives ***

Robert Brand – Guest on The Space Show

Robert Brand was a guest of Dr David Livingston on the Nov 1st 2011 edition of The Space Show. The program disussed Do-It-Yourself Space and was well received by all that heard it. The WotzUp website and the various missions were discussed at length during the broadcast.

The program can be hear by Click Here to Listen 

The Space Show page for the show archive can be viewed by Clicking Here to View

The page details are as follows:

Guest: Robert Brand.

Topics: Australian space history, Save Our Space Systems, old style radio dish antennas, space education outreach in Australia. You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, http://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright. We welcomed Robert Brand as our guest to discuss space advocacy, space interests, education, and projects in Australia. I suggest you visit and have available the following websites while listening to this program: 1) http://wotzup.com. This site has the tabs and pages for many of the programs discussed by our guest. 2). http://echoesofapollo.com. 3) http://pluscomms.com. Click on the Space-Comms tab. In our first segment, Mr. Brand began by talking about the Global Space Network he was creating by utilizing outdated equipment such as 30 meter dishes that have been abandoned. He described his concept in detail, including costs and the likely customer base. Later in this segment, we took several calls from listeners such as the one by Roger that commented on the outstanding space education outreach projects undertaken by Mr. Brand so we moved along to the topic of kids and space education. Robert talked about 3D lunar photography from Apollo and some of his Middle School outreach projects. Later, Monroe called in to mention Team Prometheus and their satellite project as well as the N-Prize. You can learn more about Team Prometheus at www.teamprometheus.org. Kimberly emailed in requesting Robert share his vision for 21st century space awareness. Robert replied saying “making space everyday for everyday people.” Trent called from Australia to ask Robert what he thought were the greatest space needs for Australia. Robert talked about the need for disaster recovery information, data, facilities, etc. using real time space resources. In the second long segment, Robert directed us to his various websites listed at the start of this summary. We talked about Moon Bounce and Space-Quest, amateur radio , the UpLift project with balloon launches, and more. Robert went through the other programs on www.wotzup.com site including SugarShot, MissionTrax, Kidz-In-Space, and we talked about cubesat swarms and owning your own personal satellite. Later, he told us about his building a satellite tracker in his basement, he talked about holding workshops in his area to promote space education and personally owning a satellite, plus getting kids to take ownership of the technology, research, and data which inspires them with the projects, all of which is part of Do-It-Yourself-Space. Later, we talked about Australian space interests, the Australian space program, and space awareness in Australia. During the last few minutes of our two hour discussion, we talked space history, the Apollo program, the Parkes Radio Telescope, Honeysuckle Creek, the Challenger disaster, Robert’s leaving the industry and then his return to promote space education among kids. You can email Robert Brand at Robert.Brand@pluscomms.com

After you have listened, please post a comment on the following blog for The Space Show:

http://thespaceshow.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/robert-brand-tuesday-11-1-11/

UpLift-1 APRS Tracking (Archives)

APRS – The Best Balloon Tracking Solution

There are many ways to track balloons. There is the Radiosonde, Mobile Phone (3G), HAM radio APRS and many more. Since I both work in Radio Telecommunications and I am a HAM radio operator (VK2URB), then it is an easy choice. The amateur radio APRS system is ideal.

So what are these systems in brief:

Radiosonde: Wikipedia says: “A radiosonde (Sonde is French for probe) is a unit for use in weather balloons that measures various atmospheric parameters and transmits them to a fixed receiver. Radiosondes may operate at a radio frequency of 403 MHz or 1680 MHz and both types may be adjusted slightly higher or lower as required.” This sounds more like a license is required and special Radiosonde equipment is needed.

GPS enabled mobile / cellular smart phones: We all know what these are, but do they work?. Firstly you had better hope that your payload drops in a coverage area. These work by sending an SMS to the phone on the balloon and it then relays its position back to you via another SMS. Mobile telephone coverage in rural areas might not allow you to get a fix on the balloon as it parachutes back to earth. There is also the issue of the GPS receiver. Most do not work at heights over 60,000 feet (20kms) and thus you do not know how high it got or when it is descending. Many people on a tight budget try to use cellular phones and many have great success.

UHF Tracking: Similar to Radiosonde, yet it operates on a low power UHF channel, often used for garage door openers, etc. It transmits the co-ordinates for the GPS location and must be tracked by radios especially set up to receive the transmissions. The data is often ported to the internet for display on a web page. Handheld yagi antennas are directional and look like UHF yagi TV antennas seen on rooftops and are used to track the payload when it is on the ground or in the air.

APRS_TestTrackHAM Radio APRS:This is the choice that I feel best suits the situation and given that I already have a HAM license, then I do not have to ask others to help. What is APRS?: Wikipedia says: Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is an amateur radio-based system for real time tactical digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area. In addition, all such data is ingested into the APRS Internet system (APRS-IS) and distributed globally for ubiquitous and immediate access. Along with messages, alerts, announcements and bulletins, the most visible aspect of APRS is its map display. Anyone may place any object or information on his or her map, and it is distributed to all maps of all users in the local RF network or monitoring the area via the Internet. Any station, radio or object that has an attached GPS is automatically tracked. Other prominent map features are weather stations, alerts and objects and other map-related amateur radio volunteer activities including Search and Rescue and signal direction finding. APRS has been developed since the late 1980s by Bob Bruninga, call sign WB4APR, currently a senior research engineer at the United States Naval Academy. He still maintains the main APRS website. The acronym “APRS” was derived from his callsign.

Note the unusual off-white unit connected with wires in the top picture – it is the special high altitude GPS receiver. It will work up to very high altitudes but sacrifices some accuracy.

The picture above is the APRS Test Track around a street block on a hill near my home. Not precise, but very close. I was shaking the thing as I walked to make it hard for the system. I walked counter / anti clockwise from near the top without shaking and then where it goes a funny in the last quarter of the short walk I was really shaking it wildly. The unit reports on many details. These are:

VK2URB-11 is the balloon call sign

2011-09-10 02:59:41z is the date and time in GMT/Zulu

7 km/h was my walking speed

248 degrees was my bearing

alt 80m was my height above sea level

05.8v was the tracker battery voltage

20C was the temperature – about 70F

The other data is pressure, HHMMSS, and number of GPS satellites, the digipeater used (if used) and the iGate used.

Agilant systems APRS transmitter for balloonsPluses and Minuses

APRS is could always be better and there are not too many iGates (APRS gateways into the Internet) in rural areas, so you must check first. In fact I have chosen to have my balloon drop near Parkes for that very reason. There is an iGate in Parkes and the Digipeater (digital repeater) at nearby Mt Canobolas will also pick up the transmissions from my balloon. I have also chosen an area for good 3Gcellular coverage to assist with tracking and maps. Just to be sure, I will have a digipeater in my car so that if I am not too far away the position will be relayed by my car to the Internet for easy tracking. The unit I have chosen is specifically bought for ballooning. It is from Argent Data in the US. The unit weighs only 160 grams (5.6 ounces). It transmits half a watt (500mW). It is pictured top right and is a pre-release model.

The next issue is finding it when on the ground. Radiosonde and APRS are well suited to this task, but the APRS has a few tricks up it’s sleeve. Fist it might be able to radio its GPS co-ordinates to the Internet tracking system. As I get close with the digipeater, it will also do that job if no other iGates are in range. Secondly it may be picked up directly by my handheld radio, nice, but since it only transmits for 1-2 seconds, it will be hard to get a fix on the unit. Finally I can decode the data with my iPhone and simple read its exact co-ordinates. Nice! That is the directly decoded packets on the right. I did the test inside my house so the GPS coordinates will not be seen.

On the minus side, there is the need for an amateur radio license and access to the expense and homemade equipment that is either out of reach of some people financially or technically.

I also replaced the long general purpose whip antenna that you can see on the top image with a highly tuned light weight dipole. It is made of hollow brass and this also makes it easy to slide some stiff wire inside the antenna for tuning. The wire was then soldered in place to get the tuning very precise. This maximizes the antenna’s radiation ability at the precise frequency of the APRS system. We are using VHF at 145.175MHz. The pictures below show the modification. The work was done by my good friend Bruce who I have worked with on and off for over 40 years. He is also an amateur radio operator (VK2ZZM) and I am very appreciative of his advice and help on the APRS side of this project.

APRS Transmitter dipole antenna

The white Styrofoam under the unit is the lid of the UpLift-1 capsule. The antenna is mounted on a small printed circuit board, The copper wire is used to add strength to the copper on the board in case of mechanical failure that may make the copper peel from the board.

APRS Tracker with dipole antenna - back

The rear side above showing the bolts that pass through to the battery mounts on the tracker unit. A small amount of “locktight” was placed on the nuts to make sure that mechanical vibration did not make them fall off.

Spectrum / Network Analyser tuning the APRS tracker Dipole antenna

This is a state of the art network analyzer. It is measuring Return Loss. Send a signal to the antenna and what is not radiated comes back. The dip means that it is tuned to the frequency and radiating well. It is right on the tracker frequency. The Marker frequency. It is perfectly tuned and radiating the signal – not much is being reflected back into the cable. It is best practice as far as radio is concerned.

I will post a link to the tracker website that I will be using just before the day, but this link will let you see the few test drives that I have done in Sydney: http://aprs.fi/