HAM APRS Tracker – Byonics to the Rescue – sort of.

APRS Tracker Issues – an Amusing Response.

In Australia to use an APRS tracker you will need a “full call sign” for an amateur radio operator. A foundation or other license is not good enough. We use these trackers by always ensuring that we are not putting it on to a commercial payload, or that the commercial payload agrees to space in their payload for community experiments. We always use 2 trackers and they simply may be a pair of SpOT trackers or a spot tracker and APRS. At times we have even used 2 APRS trackers with different SSIDs (identifying codes)

My High Altitude Balloon (HAB) work just got made a little easier. My old trackers were all starting to fail. I just took delivery from Byonics of one of their MT2000 HAM radio APRS trackers. This is only for licensed Ham Radio operators and it is a sweet device for its size. It can output over 2W of power and has a full transceiver on board. It is easily configurable and runs off 5v to 12v. I think power output is a bit less than 500mw at 5V. It is as light at anything and easily programmable as I also bought the USB cable – a 9 pin D connector for RS232 slips over the end and I will solder it in place. I usually slip a VHF antenna right on the end (red cover cap) and I will solder the special GPS receiver in place on the board. There is still a connector on the GPS unit. It should be noted that these GPS units are configured to work above 60,000 ft as most GPS stop there. Don’t try using the GPS in your phone for tracking on a balloon!

Hey, before I go too far with the Tracker, here is a video from one of our flights. Made for MYOB, it shows the quality of our work. This payload was extreme and we built it on the spot from a wooden frame prepared the night before:

I suggest that you click full screen to get the real impact of this video! In fact go to YouTube and it is really HD

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvWjNYja8xA

The payload had 8 cameras 3 power banks, 6 voltage regulators, 1 actuator and 2 trackers. One camera was a Fly360 x 240 camera.

Back to the tracker:

https://www.byonics.com/mt-2000

Here is what they say:

The Micro­Trak 2000 (MT2K) is a frequency agile, 2 Watt, programmable miniature APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) transmitter utilizing a TinyTrak3 controller chip and is capable of operating from 144 to 148 MHz.

Just plug in a GPS receiver, such as the Byonics GPS5, add a SMA antenna, and start tracking!

  • No need to tie up an expensive radio for APRS tracking
  • Simple 2 wire GPS connection
  • Supports all the latest Byonics TinyTrak3 features.

Note the special GPS block in the picture below. That is what to look for:

Byonics MT2000 APRS Tracker

APRS Tracker Failures – Why?

We could not get an answer to this question because we are simply too good at recovering the units.

We insulate them with bubble wrap, but the super low temperatures in the jet stream (-50ish C) seem to affect the devices over time. Several have died. When I asked Byonics the question as to why, it appears no one can answer me. It seems customers always loses their trackers and we seem to only notice this problem because we have never lost a payload and keep using them. It looks like they only last about 10 flights with super low temperatures and super low pressure. If this works as expected, then I will have to order more. Everyone else loses them by this time. I expect it is a temperature issue and we will try and compensate of update our units after about 7 flights.

Configuring your APRS Tracker

The important parameters to specify for preconfiguration when ordering from Australia for a MT2000 balloon tracker are:

Your HAM radio Call Sign with the appropriate SSID. Mine is VK2URB-11

The Digi Repeater parameters:  WIDE 1-1

The Australian APRS frequency:  145.175MHz

Transmit interval:  every 20 seconds – no receiver check

Symbol:  /o balloon

Any appropriate text:  mine is “UpLift Balloon”. Keep it short as it makes the transmit packet bigger.

Watch out – other countries use different frequencies

World Moon Bounce day collage

STEM/STEAM and Wotzup

Jason delivering 18 lectures in 3 days at AlburySTEM/STEAM Power at WotzUp

Good Facebook friend Peter Ellis from Canberra in Australia attended a Wireless Institute of Australia Conference in Canberra that was address STEM/STEAM and HAM radio. He posted on my Facebook page:

“AREG.org.au talked about Horus flights, etc. I mentioned your efforts”.

my response (below) sounds like I was criticising Peter a bit for singing my praises, but I was not. I just wanted a group that was there to tell their story to have a go as they have done a great job over the years pushing HAM radio and balloon flight. They were there before me and have had an exciting time with nearly 40 flights so far. The group has changed a lot, but that does not matter, the opportunity for STEM/STEAM goes

So What is STEM/STEAM Education?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEAM adds in the arts. I think that we need a balance and that comes from the arts – making the rest less sterile.

The AREG guys from South Australia where there to tell the story of their contribution to STEM and HAM radio. I guess that I should have been there to tell of the work that I was doing if I had had the time. I am the one at fault and the the AREG team do not want to hear about me doing stuff too in the same area at the end of their presentation. We all love and believe in STEM or STEAM.

What does WotzUp do for HAM Radio and STEM/STEAM

Peter’s  question at the end of their talk has prompted me to let others know what my son and I do to help in this area. I put it to you as a challenge to do better and to help kids all over the world grow and be inspired.

Well first and most obvious is this website. It is a place where we post what we are doing for others to learn and make their own dreams and bring them to reality. There are other websites too, like http://projectthunderstruck.org  We really try to communicate our efforts.

As for balloons payloads / flights to the Stratosphere, I am directly responsible for 1/3 of all balloon flights in Australia at the moment and altogether 1/2 of all flights due to mentoring so many teams. This figure comes from a source in the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia.

Here are a few highlights of what we are doing with STEM/STEAM. This would have been my contribution if I had had the time to attend the Canberra Conference:

In 2009 on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, I and another US guy put on World Moon bounce day where kids around the world spoke Jamboree of the air style via bouncing signals off the moon using 30-60m dishes. The Uni of Tas – with an old NASA dish that was in use at the time of the Apollo landing – Orroral Valley – broke world records for the smallest signal to every be bounced of the moon and decoded successful by another site on the earth. 3mW!

Echoes of Apollo? What is That? It was simply the website that preceded the WotzUp website. Because I did not own the domain name, all the stories and content are lost. None the less some of these videos survived. The World Moon Bounce Day remains one of the biggest successes of HAM Radio and STEM?STEAM The work to organise such an event was impossible to maintain, but the two years that we made it happen was amazing. 

The next year in 2010 we were given Arecibo for three days as we did it all again. World Moon Bounce day nearly became World Moon Bounce Week

World Moon Bounce day collage

gunghlin College student with the very light weight recovered payload - mainly foamJust last week Jason and I flew UpLift 29, supporting a very progressive Canberra School. It is a public high school – Gungahlin College. It was a mechatronics class and it was Australia’s first steerable parachute flight in the stratosphere. I placed 4 risk assessments to CASA for that and did it at cost for the physical stuff. The school felt I was undercharging and paid me a further $300 dollars that I pretty much donated to the Rankins Springs primary school – a regional primary school right opposite the field that we so often use. I like giving back to the community and forging a link to science and the public school seemed a good idea. We give the odd lecture at the school too.

Gunghlin College Mecgatronics Students about to recover their payload from 33Km altitude 100m away.

HAM Radio Repeaters in Central NSW

Jason and I almost got stuck on a slick and rutted road in Central NSW surveying radio towers.More STEM/STEAM directly for HAM purposes: We use so much radio that I am personally about to put a lot of radio repeaters in my balloon launch area to support the work that I do when amateur radio is appropriate. It is also to provide the local community a way of connecting to others that is not possible without the infrastructure being there. The repeaters will be solar powered and donated by me. I believe that the first will be on a small peak to the NE of Weethalie NSW and it will form a link that will cover the road between West Wyalong and Rankins Springs. It may be usable as far away as Griffith with a good yagi. The site will also support APRS contacts and transport them to the web. This will be a real asset in times of flood and fire. It will be able to support STEM activities if HAM radio support is there. I spoke to the President of the WIA about this only 4 weeks ago – Phil Wait. Phil is a friend and I worked with him some 40 years ago.

Jason Brand and Dr Barry Jones - past Science Minister

Jason and and Dr Barry Jones – past Science Minister

Junior STEM/STEAM: I nearly forgot to mention that Jason gave 18 lectures in three days when he was 10 years old – for Science Week in Australia. We traveled a day by car to Albury (and a day back at the end of the lectures). We even launched a balloon on the last day and tracked with with HAM radio APRS as he gave the lectures to students from all over the region. Some in year 12. He was in year 6 – seriously. He had his HAM radio license earlier in the year when he was 9 years old. As you can see, we are a hugely STEM focused family binging HAM radio to the community and to kids especially.

Jason’s story about Albury and the event down there is on this link:

http://wotzup.com/2013/10/jason-delivers-18-lectures-3-days/

I do not begrudge Horus getting there time in the spotlight, they are a fantastic group giving back to the community and I sure as hell don’t need the pat on the back, but the true picture of STEM work in the HAM community is not known by those in the HAM community. Just because people were not able to attend does not mean that there are not other amazing stories that remain untold. This is just one example. There are many others working hard to bring STEM/STEAM HAM radio to students. As I said, Phil at the WIA knows about my proposed my HAM radio repeater work and he is looking at a band plan to cover off on a new type of repeater configuration that will cover more than one state in Multicast mode. The WIA are currently writing a story on the Mars mission that we are doing. Making HAM radio relevant is the big deal and STEM/STEAM connects with students. Students are the target of HAM radio to stay functional. Having enough users to ensure that the bands don’t get removed for other purposes is a real self interest aspect of all of this. Nothing wrong with that so long as we all realise the self interest of STEM/STEAM and the benefits that a self interested group can contribute to. It is wonderful, the linkages work so well and provide benefit both ways – that is when things really work well.

Thanks for the mention at the conference, but no one would have a clue about what Jason and I do…

Mars Quad Rotor Test Flight Murdoch University PlusComms HABworxSTEM/STEAM events for next year include flying a 4 rotor Mars flier at 34Km altitude in a bit of a partnership with Murdoch Uni (WA). HAM radio will be at the heart of this.

http://wotzup.com/2016/07/new-mars-flight-challenge/

Sydney uni has a stratospheric blimp that also want to work with me to test at 34Km – a small version of our StratoDrone essentially. Again HAM radio.

As for the testing of the Mars Median mission, I have put it to the WIA that we may have a HF radio event to focus attention on the work Australia is doing in space. The site will be a salt lake where we are doing the drop testing. Plenty of scope for STEM/STEAM in all these events.

Like I said., Do better. I am always, always happy for others to do better than Jason and myself. We are not the high water mark, but we know that we do a lot. Tells us what you do to promote STEM/STEAM.

Bundaberg HAMing it Up

BARC Team with their High Altitude Balloon ProjectcHAM Radio Takes to the Skies

By Robert Brand VK2URB. I have been helping a Queensland (Australia) Amateur radio group to launch a balloon payload to the stratosphere- AND to be successful in recovering the payload.

The club is the Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club (BARC) in Queensland, Australia and they wanted to get a balloon into the Stratosphere and recover the payload. It was called the High Altitude Balloon Experiment? *HABE” and they really wanted to do it all. we sold them a balloon and guided them through the difficult procedure of a risk assessment with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). The club members taking part were lacking the knowledge of how to mitigate (lower) the risk of the various areas of flight. I provided my risk analysis for my area approval and made suggestions of what needed changing. They paid their $600 for CASA to assess their launch proposal and finally got it through. They also followed my advice that they request an exemption from having to pay since they were a community group and there was a strong educational activity taking place with this flight. I am pleased to say that they got their $600 back.

We have a neat fill system developed by WotzUp and HABworx that uses some extremely light weight agricultural threaded pipe, a threaded collar – joiner and a threaded cap. It makes filling a dream and almost a one person job. The payload is connected in advance of the fill and there is almost nothing to go wrong.

Another aspect of the flight was that we had to make sure they went far enough inland to make recovery a simple procedure. They originally were looking close to Bundaberg, but they kept looking further west for the release as I kept explaining the potential loss of the payload was greater with hills, forests and lack of roads. They eventually settle o the town of Roma.

They made a triangular pyramid for the payload. It used 9mm x 9mm oak lengths with cable ties to hold it together. There inserted through 4mm drilled holes drilled at the ends of the rods. The cameras and trackers, etc were distributed over the frame and balanced.

Being a HAM radio club, they used a HAM radio APRS tracker and a SPOT3 tracker. The Spot3 tracker is not too good for HAB work as it does not give altitude and it does not provide coverage above 60,000 feet. It also is expensive to get rapid updates. The APRS tracker gives it all every 20 seconds, where you pay a lot for 2 or 5 minute updates on the SPOT tracker. The HAM tracker was also free.

The HAM club HABE group actually camped the night at the release site ready for the big day. They had help from a local HAM operator from Roma who gave them a good location to camp and release the balloon. The flight occurred on the 2nd and 3rd of July 2016.

So how did the HAM club do following my guidelines? Judge for yourself.

HAM club BARC’s unofficial Response

“Hi Rob..Mate, I just wanted to let you know the launch of the HABE was a complete success!

We went to Roma in Central QLD last weekend and launched the Balloon on Sunday Morning 3rd July at around 8:30AM – we had clear blue skies and not a whisper of wind as the balloon went straight up!!

All the electronics on-board worked well. We were able to track the Balloon with (HAM radio) APRS and also the Spot Tracker. We had the X-Band radio (70cms/2Mtr) working and about 30mins into the flight, we started to make contact with amateur radio operators from all over QLD. We worked stations from the Gold Coast and also into Bundaberg. (a total of 22 stations)

The balloon went up to 33,000Mtrs and we got some great video footage of the entire flight.”

A hundred things could have gone wrong, but everything we learned in the planning for the mission came together on the day.. We had a pretty good idea of where the payload had landed and went to the nearest road. After about 2 hours of bush walking we found the payload.

I wanted to THANK YOU – thank you for all your help with the HABE mission – and helping us work through the CASA red tape to get approval.. and also your advice on the payload design – It was an amazing experience.

Kind regards,
David VK4HAX
Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club.

————————–————

I love it when a plan comes together and a lot of hours on the phone and in front of the PC. Well done everyone!

Interested in the Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club? go to their website by clicking on the link below:

http://www.barc.asn.au/

Want the full story?:

http://www.barc.asn.au/habe.html

A few early screen grabs from the HABE video they made.

HABE HAM flight near Maximum altitude.

HABE HAM flight landscape

HABE HAM flight mid flight

P.S. you know that Jason and I love to toast our success with ginger beer – it is a non alcoholic soft drink / sode – and Bundaberg makes the best ginger beer anywhere! It has bite! Here’s to the Bundaberg Amateur Radio club and their success – from Jason and Robert; from WotzUp and HABworx and our readers.

UpLift-28 Robert and Jason Brand toasting success.
The above image is Robert Brand (left) and Jason Brand (right) and was borrowed from their UpLift-28 flight photos. Three cheers for the Bundaberg HAM radio Club and three cheers for the team that made the flight a reality.

The Sound of Flight

UpLift-28 ReleaseUpLift-28, Please Sound Off.

by Robert Brand. It is not something that we think about too often, but contemporary artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding certainly have been wondering about it – sound – a lot. What passive sounds can a payload make when moving through the air? They have chosen to do an installation in Australia and France about releasing a balloon into the stratosphere and exploring sound during the different stages of flight.

They have an upcoming exhibition opening at the Powerhouse Museum and at Parramatta in Sydney and I believe, later in France. We will be at the Powerhouse Museum for their opening night. Their details can be found at their website pages:

http://www.haineshinterding.net/category/haines/

http://www.haineshinterding.net/category/hinterding/

We have all heard the sound of the wind in recordings, but this art piece will record special sounds made by bows and strings vibrating in the wind. There were three instruments, each set to make a different pitched sound in three different planes.

A Sound Idea

They approached our balloon company, HABworx, recently to see about buying a weather balloon and doing the flight themselves. When they found out the task that they faced, they brought my son Jason and me on board to help with the technical aspects of the flight. They would concentrate of the sound aspects of the payload I met them last weekend and found out that there was a video being made of the entire workup to the flight and their friends from France would head home shortly. So one week out they hired us to make it all happen. Making Art and Sound would go into the Stratosphere

We ordered the helium, checked the electronics and arranged a NOTAM (NOtice To AirMen). A bit sexist these days, but that it what it is called. It is issued by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) as I have already been approved to fly certain sized payloads to the Stratosphere – up to 4Kg. It took weeks and a lot of work on the risk assessment – 3 attempts at getting it right. We packed the car and met them at West Wyalong ready for the one hour trip to Rankin Springs in central NSW. The next morning we left separately after getting breakfast at the local bakery. We arrived at 8am. The rest of the team arrived nearly an hour later as they had to return to West Wyalong for fuel. They had forgotten to fill up their vehicle fuel tanks. There is nothing out there and small town fuel stations are often closed on weekends.

UpLift-28 payload sound systems preparationA Sound Launch

16-07-2016. It is winter in Australia and there had been a lot of rain over the last month. We normally launch in a reddish dirt field, but on launch day (yesterday at time of publication), it was a lush green and the small town even had to mow it in Winter. There was a frost on most of the field still in shadow, but it was warm in the sun. We set up our gear and waited for the team to arrive.

Rankins Springs Frost

Frost on the ground – Coldest launch yet.

We basically started at 9am, but their was one more wrinkle to iron out. I got a phone call from Rex Airlines operations. They had a flight from Sydney to Griffith and the pilot had asked that we don’t release the balloon between 10:45am and 11:30am local time. We agreed and so we had a 1.5 hour deadline or we may have to wait until 11:30am and that may be with a filled balloon if we were in the middle of a “fill” when we ran out of time.

I left the customer to prepare their payload, their sound instruments and sound recording and their spot tracker. I have an agreement with all flights that we have an amateur radio payload of 300 grams and usually carry an APRS transmitter and some other instruments as part of the deal. It is amazing how many HAM radio operators and others follow the flights on the APRS tracking website.

Uplift-28 balloon fillAt 10:25am the payload was complete and ready for flight so they gave me the OK to fill the balloon. That takes about 15 minutes as we like to use a standard party balloon regulator. We know that we can get a faster fill with a gauge regulator, but that is not a bog consideration and can cause trouble with extreme cold air in the neck of the balloon – especially in winter. I have no idea whether this affects the balloon, but I did not want to risk a problem. We used our special fill and seal system. It is a tube where the balloon and payload are already connected and after UpLift-28 Lift measurementthe fill, you just screw on a cap and release the balloon. You don’t need lots of people holding the balloon and there is no fear of last minute hassles securing the neck and payload. Simplicity and ease are how I would describe this light weight accessory.

At 10;42 the balloon was filled and released in about a minute. We rang Rex Airlines and gave operations the news that we were in the air.

UpLift-28 Release of sound recording payload

A Sound Flight

This is an unusual day to day the least – first request from an airline to delay a release and to be very clear, our flight was 100Km to the north of their flight path. A rather unusual request given that their altitude would be only about 6Km in my area at the most and by the time we intersected their flight path on a windy jet stream day we would be at 20Km. It worries me that we might get these requests regularly. Although the flight path can be way off the predictions, at the area of release, it is relatively accurate. As the flight time increases, the total error increases. Today we would find out that the winds were stronger than predicted. It went in the predicted direction, but traveled further due to stronger winds in the stratosphere. They got to 150kph – that is 93mph for those in the antiquated non metric systems! They were expected to be only be about 60kph maximum. At the time of the NOTAM it was only meant to travel about 50km from the release point. On the day the prediction was saying 90km and it turned out to be 130km travel. This was despite a slight overfill to ensure a good climb rate. We like about 6m/s. the direction of travel remain about the same.

Prediction for 2016-07-16_2 UpLift-28

Prediction for 2016-07-16 for UpLift-28 – line diagram (above)

 

Prediction for UpLift-28

Prediction for 2016-07-16 for UpLift-28 – 3D (above)

UpLift-28 Actual Flight.

UpLift-28 Actual Flight (above). Note that it is 2.5 times the initial prediction.

As for the Rex Airlines request, we honoured it, but we believe that they did not know that we were very experienced and could be trusted. There is no technical course to take when you decide to send a balloon to the stratosphere. You have to submit a risk assessment that is fairly tough and a “flight plan” that is really a prediction and may vary greatly as I said. I will talk to CASA today and see what I need to do in such situations. That is, when Rex Airlines asks for something that worries them on the day. To be fair – it was only the pilot of one flight – not everyone in the airline, but it was still a request from operations. If we had enough requests from pilots, then we would be stopped from flying totally. That would be an enormous amount of money to waste in this case. We had 4 vehicles and 9 people that had all traveled from Sydney for this release. 6 hotel rooms and the fact that the video people were returning to France would have been a serious blow to the whole event. I will discuss this with our Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) today and also Rex Airlines and I will report on the outcome.

The next unusual thing was that the balloon went west with the winds in the low troposphere – ground winds and lower level winds and then as the jet stream took over it came back over head. This was predicted. We set a new personal record for being able to see the 3m balloon with the naked eye. 11.1km altitude right overhead. That is 6.9 miles to be able to clearly see a 9 foot white object. Amazing! Not just one person, but several with good eyesight. The incredible clear Australian winter skies and the fact that it remained overhead to that altitude was a lot to do with it of course, but I would never have thought that it was possible. Previous best was 5km altitude. I doubt that we could top this because the conditions were perfect and the balloon was a pinprick of white in a bright blue sky. Polaroid glasses may have darkened the sky to help more, but the resolution of the tiny dot was probably at optical limits for everyone.

We will need to replace our APRS transmitters because the transmitter is definitely failing. We thought it was cold from not insulating it well enough last time, but it also appears to be low power and some sort of distortion is still there at the slightest hint of cold. Last time it stopped working when exposed directly to the jet stream conditions. This time it transmitted consistently, but with large gaps all through the flight. Our ham radio had a lot of trouble picking up the signal and decoding it. This was only the start of the problems.

We tracked the payload and we were getting odd data and even set a new second personal best – an altitude of 33.668m or 20.920 miles or 110,459 feet. To be clear, we are never trying to break records. This was a 1.2Kg balloon with a 2Kg payload. Nothing special. One day we might try to see what altitude we can reach, but it will be a special flight and we might not try to recover the tracker. we would use more fuel than the tracker is worth. We need to declare that in advance so you don’t think that we lost a payload! It may be a nice job to send our dodgy tracker on a farewell flight and see if we can heat the tracker to keep it active and send it on its way. Sounds like a plan.

A Not so Sound Descent

The next problem was clear when we later saw the video that we recovered. The balloon exploded and a piece if balloon fouled the bottom of the parachute sealing the cords together and stopping the parachute from opening. The second issue was that the cord to the parachute twisted around the payload placing it on its side – even slightly upside down. The spinning slightly inverted payload mean that the SPOT 3 either never got GPS lock or could not get a good signal to the relay satellite. It also landed upside down and when we found it it also seemed to have turned itself of. It was useless. Our primary tracker was gone and we had a partially working APRS tracker. We headed past West Wyalong and to the road to Grenfell where it had given its last report at 5km altitude.

UpLift-28 watery walk to Payload landing siteFailure is Not an Option

We had a search on our hands over a wide area. We did however have a little luck on our side. As we drove past the location that we last got a decodeable transmission from the APRS unit, we heard a faint burst of noise in the receiver. That was the APRS transmitter still working with its antenna on the ground. The search area narrowed and with a tiny bit of deduction, I turned off the road and moved 50 metres closer to the downed payload and I got UpLift-28 founda decodeable burst of data. Not only that my radio digipeated to to an iGate (HAM radio talk) 240Km away and we had a fix on maps on the Internet. It was 200m / 660 feet to the north of the road. We placed our horse blanket over the barbed wire fence and walked without compass in the direction of the payload. Jason spotted it first and even though it hit hard, everything was working fine. Even the sound instruments were undamaged.

Uplift-28 Parachute twisted shut.

Jason holding the useless balloon (above)

Everyone was ecstatic and the video is truly amazing – we had a look at some of it in a little coffee shop in Grenfell. I expect that we will be assisting this team when they next need to fly. Again, this is another case of only having a partial track, but experience and a good radio ability is key to success. Before we left the landing field my son Jason (14) and I had our traditional toast to another success. It is some of the best ginger beer on the planet that is non-alcoholic. Bundaburg Ginger Beer – it is a soft drink / soda. Balloon release 28 and recovery 28. Our 100% success rate remains intact. It was a very nice drive home on a natural “high” – 33.668m high!

Videos later. More on the sound made by the passive “musical” instruments  in the video post – they worked and you will hear them. Not so musical, but more like a buzz saw!

UpLift-28 payload ready to take back to cars

UpLift-28 Payload packed and ready

UpLift-28 Robert and Jason Brand toasting success.

Robert & Jason Brand celebrating 28 releases & 28 recoveries. 100% Success. (soft drink/soda!

Equipping our Tracking Vehicle

Pajero Centre ConsoleTracking Equipment and Mobile Technology

One of our big issues when working with balloons and supersonic gliders is that they never stay still. Even our balloon flights have reached an astonishing 230kph over land by simply climbing through the jet stream. Simply, the car can’t keep up. Even if we could travel at such mind-blowing speeds, we could never follow the same path and have to stick to roads that cris-cross the landscape and never in an easy route across country. Mind you a recent flight did travel straight along the Mid Western Highway and have the courtesy to land within a few hundred metres of the main road in sheep grazing paddock. – no crops and no trees.

Simply we need to have not just good tracking, but great tracking. That is where the car needs to be able to cater for several technologies and that means radio and wireless data connections. Our car has just this capability and we need more. We have chosen a Pajero 4WD as we will need some rugged ability for off road work. In the past we have had to drive right through a 200m bit of forest without any road or fields that may have had animal burrows. over logs, through streams and much, much more. The Mitsubishi Pajero Escape is an older model, but still good and we have used it for balloon flight tracking in the past.

In Australia, the most common tracking for High Altitude Balloons (HAB) is via either HAM radio APRS for non commercial activities and RTTY on UHF for commercial activities.

Our Kenwood D710 radio sits on the central part of our dashboard in the car - easily able to display where we have to head.

Our Kenwood D710 radio sits on the central part of our dashboard in the car – easily able to display where we have to head.

Ham Radio APRS

APRS stands for Automatic Packet Reporting System and is a digital communications information channel that is capable of handling information such as GPS (Global Positioning System) data. This is ideal for tracking balloons. Ham radio hobbyists simply build receivers and port the data to a central server. Several receivers may pick up the signal and port the data which i recorded in the database. In our case every 20 seconds. The frequency of the reporting interval is important as the payload gets near the ground so that the radio can easily be located. In some areas there are no receivers and internet connections – known as iGates. Care needs to be taken, but the solution is to have a mobile iGate in the car if there is good mobile wireless coverage in the area. We are preparing to have a mobile iGate in the tracking vehicle. Until then we have a high power APRS repeater. It receives the data and resends it to an iGate that is in range. Occasionally this is in another of our tracking vehicles and the ability to relay is important. If you want the full details, you need Internet connectivity in your vehicle, either through a tablet or PC.

UHF RTTY

In Australia, it is illegal to use APRS to track commercial flights. We have to use something like the globally accepted UHF RTTY system. RTTY in Australia can be on multiple channels on 434MHz. and can only be 10mW of power. This is fine if you have height and can track to the ground. As with APRS, you need to be nearby when the unit is near the ground or the curve of the earth will cause the signal to be lost possibly 1Km above the ground. on a windy day this can lead to a big search area. Similar to APRS, there are many people that place a UHF RTTY gateway in their vehicle and gate the data to an internet server. If you want the full details from the server, you need Internet connectivity in your vehicle, either through a tablet or PC.

What is Installed in the Vehicle So Far?

Let’s do a list of the basics:

  • A Kenwood D710 APRS capable transceiver (VHF/UHF) with tracking display and GPS integration
  • An Icom IC-7000 all band HF/VHF/UHF transceiver that is RTTY capable (but does not display tracking)
  • An 80 channel CB radio on UHF (in case we have a non ham radio car in the group
  • A Byonics MT-400 10W APRS Beacon
  • A wireless mobile modem with a wired and WiFi router (so to have an external antenna) runs of 12 volts
  • A motorised antenna raiser – the big antenna hides in front of the roof rack and is near invisible.
  • A multi-socket cigarette lighter system for power for many items

What we need to be installed

Let’s do a list of the basics:

  • HF radio antenna (we have the Icom -700 HF radio side hooked into a 100w termination for safety)
  • An auto-tune system for the HF radio
  • Another big VHF/UHF antenna with a motorised lifter.
  • 2 x 900MHz antennas
  • A 900Mhz antenna for 56Kb modem access to the balloon and ThunderStruck systems
  • Radio Controller as used for flying model aircraft
  • A video downlink on a band to be decided.
  • A visor and screen display for the video from the balloon payload and ThunderStruck aircraft.

So we are already halfway there, but still have a long way to go and need your help with funding. More on that soon. It is clear that we have a lot of this gear tested and bedded down and that is a good thing. Part of my requirements with this vehicle is to make it inconspicuous. Being old is a start. Hiding all the antennas is another. One antenna is super thin and near invisible, another is very short and the last folds down in line with the roof rack. The photos below show the antenna folded down and raised.

Antenna folded down

Antenna folded down

Antenna being raised

Antenna being raised

Antenna fully raised

Antenna fully raised

The fully raised antenna

The fully raised antenna

The antenna can be raised when driving and it lets us enter car parks without a second thought. We have a switch on the centre console, but i am thinking of adding a proximity alarm in case we forget that it is up. That is the switch to the right of the cigarette lighter. Sorry for the debris under the switch. We had just finished installing the Icom IC-7000 above it.

Centre console antenna switch

Centre console antenna switch

The passenger's side of the centre console with the CB radio and the 3 socket cigarette lighter extension unit

The passenger’s side of the centre console with the CB radio and the 3 socket cigarette lighter extension unit

The 10W APRS unit with the GPS receiver to the left of the transmitter

APRS 10W tracker with the GPS receiver to the left of the transmitter

In the picture above, we could have mounted the unit under the dashboard, but it is a little more versatile being accessible. I also took the opportunity to hard wire the GPS Navigation unit directly to the car wiring. Since the 12 volt plug has the 5V system, we ensured that the charge unit from the plug was in circuit.

The IC-7000 in RTTY mode

The IC-7000 in RTTY mode

Note that I did not change the frequency to 434.650MHz or similar frequency where RTTY resides. I just wanted to show the fact that it does RTTY. The output at the back of the radio connects to an interface box and can then connect to your PC.

Pajero Centre Console with the Kenwood D710 on the top and the IC-7000 at the bottom of the console.

Pajero Centre Console with the Kenwood D710 on the top and the IC-7000 at the bottom of the console.

Note that the IC-7000 display is only a front screen. There is a cable to the base unit under the driver’s seat. it is wired so that the microphone and front screen can be moved to the rear seat so that an operator in the rear of the car can operate the unit. Similarly the base unit for the Kenwood is also under the drivers seat.

Kenwood D710 display  on the centre of the dashboard

Kenwood D710 display on the centre of the dashboard

Note that the unit above has its GPS hard wired. Like the IC-7000, it is a dual VFO. Only the B VFO is displayed above, but you can operate the VFOs on different bands or channels. It is very versatile.

Our Kenwood D710 radio sits on the central part of our dashboard in the car - easily able to display where we have to head.

Our Kenwood D710 radio sits on the central part of our dashboard in the car – easily able to display where we have to head.

The image above is displaying the rough compass direction to the station displayed. It shows an actual bearing (325 degrees) to the target and there is also a distance in 100m increments. Since the beacon was very close, it shows 0.0Km. A second display shows position altitude and speed.

Mobile Wireless modem, router and WiFi hotspot.

Mobile Wireless modem, router and WiFi hotspot.

Finally the above shows our mobile hotspot unit. It still needs its external antenna for really good mobile coverage, so it is temporary. It uses the rear 12 volt outlet next to the torch (bottom left) for power and once the antenna is installed, the modem will not be on the cable, but plugged directly into the TP-Link unit. We also have 4 hard wired network connections for future units such as the mobile iGate.

Also note that there are two other trackers on board that I will not disclose. It has significant anti-theft devices and tracking, so don’t come after this car. it might just get you caught.

Anyway, we are halfway there for Project ThunderStruck. We are extremely ready for any High Altitude Balloon flight.

Super Sale – 48 Hours only

IMG_7340Super Sale – Weather Balloons, HAB Flights and More – 48Hrs

Live in Australia?

Monday 17th November 4pm: We are, as always, raising funds for our Project ThunderStruck. Live in Australia and want weather balloons, want us to take your payload to the Stratosphere, or want to rent HAM radio tracking gear?

Sale Ends Wednesday 19th Nov 2015 at 4pm

Learn to Launch and Recover HABs

HABs? High Altitude Balloons. We can do just about anything. We can even take you along with us and show you how its done. It is the full course on flying payloads into the stratosphere. Just $500 per car and you drive your own vehicle – it must be in good condition and suitable for dirt roads.. We launch from west of West Wyalong in southern central part of NSW. The course is hands on and you will get to have a tracking radio in the car and be part of the recovery team. You cover all your own personal costs including road assistance coverage, etc.. You will also need a wireless enabled tablet – preferably Telstra connected and a mobile phone, again preferable with Telstra connectivity. Conditions apply. We may be flying this weekend. Maximum people in one car for the above price is three.

Balloons for Sale

We current have 30 x 100 gram balloons at $10 each + $15 delivery for 1 or 10. We have 2 x 500 gram balloons for $100 delivered in Australia by express post, a 350 gram balloon at $75 delivered in Australia express post and some older 3Kg balloons for $200 each – no guarantees. They are probably 3 years old, but that is all I know.

Helium

We can even rent you 3.4 cubic metre helium bottles (Size E) and balloon regulators. These need to picked up from and returned to Sydney and require substantial deposit of $700 per bottle fully refundable. At this stage it is cash only as we do not carry credit cards. It is also $2 per day per bottle after 1 week’s rental if overdue.

Radios, GPS, Cameras

The HAM radio equipment includes:

  • Yaesu GPS enabled APRS tracker VX-8 two way radio – VHF / UHF dual band
  • Byonics MT-400 APRS trackers – pre-configured with your call sign and SSD
  • GPS units for MT-400
  • Spot 2 and Spot 3 trackers
  • GoPro cameras with external connections for Lithium Iron batteries
  • Lithium Iron Batteries and charger
  • antennas

Send your Mascot or Sign to Near Space?

We can do it for $1,200, down for the sale from 1,500 and that was a special deal already – marked down from $3,000. Conditions apply.

Payment

Sale ends at 4pm Wednesday 19th November 2015 EDST

A 50% deposit must be made tomorrow (Monday) at a CBA branch OVER THE COUNTER to get this sale discount or goods with the balance on most items by Wednesday. This sale ends Monday at 4pm, but call me to negotiate a price after 4pm. For details on the rental of radio equipment and gas bottles- you can call me on 0467 545 755 or call 02 9789 2773 and leave a message if I am unavailable. You may have to ring for a while to go to the messaging service.

Want to see when we have the next sale. Subscribe to our RSS feed to get our posts and be ready.

http://wotzup.com/feed/

Lessons from UpLift-20

Weather balloon burst

What a burst weather balloon should do! Disintegrate

UpLift-20 Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Jason, our 12 year old pilot for Project ThunderStruck is no stranger to having to prepare for the worst and it is what we do every time we send up a payload on a high altitude balloon. Our last flight of a balloon into the stratosphere was a case of just that. Two failures. One on launch and the second on decent. Each problem would be enough to cause most balloon payloads to be lost, but as part of our preparations, we carried two trackers for the one flight. This was a flight in preparation for our project and we are testing. We have had to cover our payload in the video. Our apologies.

Below: An artist’s view of the ThunderStruck aircraft under a zero pressure balloon (more on that another time) at 40km altitude. You may have guessed, I am the artist….. Note that on the ThunderStruck event, we will not be using weather balloons so there will be no unexpected explosions.

Balloon Flight with ThunderStruck

Failure One

The first failure was totally invisible to us. A massive downdraft. The first that we have ever encountered. Uplift-1, our first flight, started in an updraft and it rose at an incredible rate for the first kilometre. In the video below, you can hear me make the comment that there did not appear to be the lift that we knew we had because we had used scales to measure the lift. We could not feel the downdraft pushing the balloon down 15 metres above our heads. I mistakenly thought my lack of “feel” was because of the others also holding the payload. We released the payload and balloon and then our hopes sank as the payload only lifted slowly and then sank back to the ground. We ran to catch it, but it rose again and caught on the edge of the eve of the roof of a nearby wheat silo. It stayed there for only 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity before it released. It rose quickly as calculated, but one tracker had had its GPS unit disconnected and the other had its antenna twisted 90 degrees effectively lowering the power considerably. None the less we could still track the flight – mostly.

One tracker disabled, but still sending its ID at full power, The other effectively made to look low power. Those GoPro cameras are great. hundred of metres above the ground you can hear (faintly) people talking and a dog barking! They make great gear.

Failure Two

The weather balloons are meant to explode and disintegrate. This one did not. The entire balloon, well over 1Kg fell into the parachute and tangled itself in the chute, effectively making the mass look like more like a tangled flag than a parachute. It slowed the payload in the thick air, but the fall from its maximum height was rapid and the entire fall from 30km only took 15 minutes. This was an average speed of 120kph. Given that the payload probably hit the ground at 30 to 40kph, the initial speed was probably close to 400kph in the thin upper air.

With the tracker only giving us effectively a poor signal, the last track that we received in one of the vehicles headed to the landing site was 2 km above the ground making the landing site potentially one square kilometre.  We also fond out later that the second tracker was never going to give us a signal, because the impact had caused a battery to eject from its holder. We only had one ID every 20 seconds and no GPS location! We used a directional antenna to lead us to the payload, but it was a slow and painful task.

The video below shows the impact and the wooden spars breaking. The camera continued to record! Nothing like a good wiring system to ensure that power kept flowing from the external battery. I did not mention that we use external batteries. The GoPro’s batteries, even with the additional power pack, just do not last for the entire flight if it goes over 2.5 hours and especially if it is taking both videos and stills – The new GoPros are amazing, but need more power for High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flights.

Initially the video above shows the incredible stability of our payload at 30km altitude. The Balloon explodes at the 30 second mark and then plummets and spins at a sickening rate of a  couple of times a second with the disabled chute causing the spin.  At 1 minute 45 seconds, we cut to an altitude of about 3km and it took 3 minutes to hit the ground at 60kph. At the 4:45 mark, the payload hits and spars shatter. The camera keeps recording. By the way, the big tree lined road is the Mid Western Highway. The payload was kind enough to land in a sheep paddock beside the main road. You can’t ask for better.

The Lesson

The lesson here is that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Yes, we have recovered every payload that we have sent up, but good preparations both in the payload design and build is important as are the preparations for recovery on the ground. We even carry poles to remove the payload from trees. We can manage 14 metre trees. After that we will have to look at other methods.

Our preparations will be backup, backup and more backup. Redundancy rules over weight considerations where possible. Systems will be over-engineered and more care will be taken than what appears necessary. Project ThunderStruck will fly while the world watches. Delays will be unacceptable. This was UpLift-20 and again we have 100% successful recovery rate. @0 flown and 20 recovered. As our flights become more aligned to the actual shape of the ThunderStruck aircraft, speeds will dramatically increase on decent and the videos will have way more interesting stuff to show, but these lessons were there to remind us not to get complacent.

Zero Pressure Balloon Converter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWeather Balloon to Zero Pressure Balloon Converter.

By Robert Brand

Two weeks ago I was a guest lecturer in Aerospace at a Sydney University spoke about the current space projects I am involved in. It was good to see interest from some students to take part in some of the activities. I stayed on to listen to the second guest lecturer talk about high energy particles and there effects on astronauts and also equipment.

Following the lectures I was invited to talk about a difficult project of taking a science experiment to the stratosphere and holding it there for 3 hours. Now this creates a real challenge. It can either be done by a seriously expensive Zero Pressure Balloon (ZPB), shown in the picture at right, or it needs some way of holding a weather balloon below it burst point, both are not ways i would like to think about. Either big dollars or big problems.

My solution is to turn the Weather Balloon into a ZPB before the envelope pops and the lot comes down. I have designed a Weather Balloon to Zero Pressure Balloon Converter. Due to the commercial ramifications, I cannot give the fine details of the specific way we will do this or the materials used, but as you will obviously realise, it means opening up the balloon canopy so the helium (or Hydrogen) stops expanding the balloon fabric thus the balloon should then find a floating point, provided that the canopy is not too elastic.

Since this will require additional weight and we need to get extreme height to be in the stratosphere at a required altitude and we don’t want the risk of the canopy bursting early, I expect that it will require 2-3Kg weather balloons. Not cheap, but way less than ZPB that probably start at a price of US$7,000 or so.

Now for the hard part. We will need to test to see exactly what happens and how to control the eventual height based on gas fill, elasticity of the balloon, the balloon size / weight and the payload size.

The balloon should survive until next morning in the stratosphere when the sun’s UV will cause the envelope to deteriorate along with the punishment it has received during the night. Given that it is not fully stretched, it may in fact last much longer. This will the subject of more testing.

The next problem is that the stratospheric winds run east to west – the opposite of the jet stream – yes there is balance in the world! the difference is (from our experience over Australia) that the wind starts out light and then increases with strength at height. Several times we have seen stratospheric winds reaching 100kph at altitudes of 33.333Km (/3 the way to space). As that is our highest record and we have been involved in flights by others to that height, it seems a fairly linear increase over height and it may get faster at higher altitude. Only tests will tell, but 3 hours at 33.33Km is a long drive. It means carefully planning our launch points and recovery points. In fact we may need to launch on days when the jet stream is fast to drag the payload a long way to the east (say 150km and then allow the winds in the stratosphere to pull it 300Km to the west and allow it to fall back through the jet stream with a big parachute, allowing time to pull the payload back to near the launch point.

With radio cutdown an option, we need to be close enough for that to work on UHF frequencies of to create a HF cutdown on much lower radio frequencies that will travel further.

Weather to ZPB converterAs APRS is not an option on commercial flights, We will use SPOT3 units in gimbals for the commercial tracking. For non commercial flights I have toyed with the idea of using the HAM radio based APRS to upLink commands for cutdown. As a final cutdown I am looking at a time based mechanism to terminate the envelope or cut down the payload. More testing!

As a  teaser, the photo to the right is some of the “plumbing” without the servo and other systems. It is intentionally difficult to see, but the point is that it is off the shelf technology that is very light weight. In fact not all of this mechanism flies – some is only there for the “fill” and another device (not shown) makes the final configuration. When the cutdown occurs, we will lose the servo and the plumbing – a total cost of about US$15. Total weight of equipment lost will be in the order of 200 grams and the balloon envelope will also be able to fall to earth but since it will not be blown to pieces, it will flutter to a soft landing. I expect to have a number of the mechanisms ready and off the shelf to provide services to customers that wish to have low cost long times in the stratosphere. Note, that if we can keep the payload closer to the lower parts of the stratosphere, the drift is negligible from our general experience for a three hour duration in the stratosphere.

Other benefits here are a new easy fill system that requires no more struggling with cable ties at the last moment while holding on to a big balloon. I expect that we will use a smaller version for smaller balloons. The weight is likely to be an additional 50 grams that we can factor in, but the benefits will be great in securing the payload and ensuring an easy and safe tie off in the final moments. Once we test that I will publish the arrangements. More on the Zero Pressure Balloon Converter in future posts.

Space Chicken? Not Quite.

Space Chicken Flight Matches our RecordUpLift-19 Space Chicken

UpLift-19 continues our incredible success in launching and recovering payloads. That is 19 launches in the UpLift series and 19 recoveries. UpLift-19 was a bit of a record breaker for us in that it is the smallest of our balloons to reach 1/3 the way to space. Yes, that is right, 1/3 the way to space with a 1.25 kilogram payload. So not quite a space chicken, but what is in a few words said our customer.That is 2.75lbs for those few countries still using outdated measurements systems. I think that there are three left out of step with the world! (I do like to have a gentle dig at my US friends). Oh yeh – our first chicken too.

We managed to reach exactly the same height with a 3Kg balloon that we launched in Croatia, but that was carrying 2.5Kgs of payload. So what else was so special about the flight. Well, we cracked the best method of doing photography and have our clearest and most colourful shots ever taken from a balloon flight! It is hard to say what we like best about the flight, but it was a flight that we never thought would get of the ground. We had to launch in 40kph winds. Errhhh, that is 25mph for my non metric friends. That is 22 knots and please note that knots are acceptable in the metric world as they are not imperial measurements, but linked closely with dividing up the world into useable chunks – from the old sailing days.

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19 The flight was commissioned by Clinton Toyota and we carried 3 cameras and 2 trackers and some science experiments. We used our Spot3 tracking for the commercial requirements and provided a secondary private payload where we added an APRS tracker and some experiments. The APRS tracker gives good data above the ground where the commercial stuff is pinpointed with the SPOT3 as it will give precise coordinates when it is one the ground. We use a simple one ring gimbal to ensure that the antenna always has a view of the sky and the satellites that it uses to communicate position. For the commercial aspects, that is all that is needed – to recover the payload and cameras. The APRS invariably stops communicating anything up to 1km from the ground, depending on how close it lands to a HAM radio APRS receiver. We launched from Rankins Springs, NSW – our main launch site. It gives a clear area over most of the flight with little water or little in the way of forests to get in the way. The tracking is good on APRS for all of the flight above 700m at launch. We test the radios are fully functional before letting go. I also realised after launch that my old call sign was on the balloon. That probably confused a lot of people. My fault, but I will rectify that for the next flight.

The winds were over 40kph and we could not see a way to launch until i spotted a solid line of tall trees on the other side of the sports oval. We repacked our equipment and set up in the light wind behind the trees. It worked, but that was with the wind from the north. Usually southerly winds are the problem, so we will watch carefully for weather conditions for future flights and I have a few sites around town picked out if we get caught again.

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19The local primary school (Rankins Springs) came out in force to hear us talk about what we were doing and a bit of fun and science. They came back for the release of the balloon. My son Jason wore his School uniform as he was representing the school for the science experiments that were being launched. He attends Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus.

We completed the payload frame, made from light wood (4 x 1.2m lengths) in the hotel room the night before release and it held together very well with no damage, despite a heavy landing due to the parachute getting rather twisted up and spiraling down.

IMG_3081This meant that we were not at the site where we thought it would land and we had about a half hour drive to reach the site once we realised the problem. In essence the balloon traveled east in the jet stream at speeds of up to 130kph and then broke into the stratosphere and stopped any horizontal movement. As it climbed into the stratophere it picked up speed and traveled to the west reaching 100kph at the point the balloon burst. That was an altitude of 33.333KM – 1/3 the way to space. As I said, this exactly matched our Croatian record where we had a 2.5Kg payload and a 3Kg balloon. The free fall saw a top speed, in the upper atmosphere where the air is thin, of 400kph. That was with a parachute and a rather non-streamlined pyramid frame. That was about 1/3 of the speed of the sound barrier at sea level. I can’t wait for future flights were we will build payloads designed to fly super fast in thin air. Watch out for our attempt to break the sound barrier with a small Radio Controlled aircraft. There will be a few records broken that day. Note in the picture (left) the bubble wrap used as an insulator for the batteries and trackers.

IMG_3073That is Jason holding the balloon during the fill. Notice the cotton gloves. We use these to protect the balloon or we use latex gloves, but they really make my hands too sweaty for my liking. We measured the balloons lift with a set of luggage scales – digital – and they have a “hold” button to make it easier to turn the hand held strain gauge over and see the reading.

This flight we used a new cutdown system that uses a UHF radio (1.4 watts) and a 10 channel modulation system. It should work up to 100km, but we are yet to test it at the extremes. The unit does work on all tests on the ground and this flight we did not have to terminate the balloon other than it bursting.

By the way, Clintons Toyota had a special “Clinton’s” jacket made to keep the chicken warm during the flight, but I doubt the toy mascot needed to worry about the cold. It probably experienced about -50 to -60C in the jet stream. That’s -58 to -76F for my US friends.

Bel;ow are some more photos of the flight. I hope that you appreciate the great leap in photographic quality and that you also appreciate the careful work that I have done to ensure that we recover each and every flight. It is always a challenge to keep our record at 100% recovery. Once we lose a payload, we can never again claim 100% success rate for all of our flights.

DCIM100GOPRO

Above: Jason and I give the payload a bit of close scrutiny before launch, caught by one of the payload cameras. Posing with the Space Chicken!

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19

Above: You can see the wheat and canola fields up here!!!

UpLift-19 Space Chicken

Above: Our Space Chicken at 33.333Km

Rankins Springs Free Fall UpLift-19

Above: Our Space Chicken in a 400kph free fall.

Rankins Springs Sunny UpLift-19

Above:  I hope I slip, slopped, slapped enough before the flight! The sun is bright up here.

Editor’s Note. We do not approve of the term “Space” Chicken from a scientific viewpoint as it is not space, but the company that contracted us to launch the balloon decided to use the term:
http://www.macarthuradvertiser.com.au/story/2562196/space-chook-takes-history-making-journey

UpLift-2

Australian Student (12) to Attempt Breaking the Sound Barrier with Radio Controlled Aircraft

UpLift-2Jason Brand to Attempt Breaking the Sound Barrier with Model Aircraft.

In the next 12 months, Jason Brand will attempt to break the sound barrier. He is a 12 year old student from Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus and is a regular kid with a passion for aerospace. Not surprising as his father, Robert Brand, is one of Australia’s leading space entrepreneurs.

The event will be a huge media attraction as nothing like this has been attempted before, especially by a 12 year old Student. It will consist of a zero pressure balloon ride by the aircraft to nearly 40Km altitude. The aircraft will be released and immediately be placed into a vertical dive as Jason pilots the vehicle by remote control. He will be wearing goggles that will allow him to see the view from the cockpit and all the important instrumentation. This Point Of View (POV) feed and possibly a HD feed will be available for a live feed for the media during the event. HD TV images will be recorded in memory aboard the aircraft.

pressure wavesJason has been studying supersonic wind flow over the control surfaces and the the loss of laminar flow away from control surfaces. Add to this the drag of shock waves. He and his father have come up with a design that has minimal laminar flow issues and low drag to ensure that Jason can maintain control as the aircraft exceeds the sound barrier by as much as possible. He has also been studying Mcr and Mdr and P and a whole lot of other important factors . Look them up! Yes the flight will be similar to the original sound barrier flights by pilots such as Chuck Yeager.

The flight will involve shifting the centre of gravity during the super sonic and sub sonic flight stages and retracting the supersonic spike during normal flight. The craft will be using an ITAR controlled GPS system that is capable of operating at well over the speed of sound. Video feeds will be available for the press in real time and HD video will be stored on the aircraft in memory as will be the GPS sampling.

UpLift-1 Launch with Jason BrandJason’s interest in “what’s up there” dates back to 2009 when he was 9 years old. His father decided to launch a weather balloon to the stratosphere and recover the payload and the camera. It was a great success. They launched the first balloon from the sleepy town of Rankin Springs in central NSW. They chased the balloon with radio tracking and the flight progress, with Google terrain was broadcast on the Internet during the flight. The jet stream was slow that day and they were sitting in the shade having lunch when the balloon burst at 24Km and the payload started its decent. After a few lessons in getting to the right field through a maze of gates and fences, they recovered their first payload. Today, Jason, along with his father are veterans of 18 flights and 18 recoveries. a 100% record and they intend keeping that way through science. The picture above is Jason picking up a video camera from a payload while the still camera just happened to snap his picture. After the first balloon flight he got his Foundation Amateur Radio Operators License (HAM) by doing a course at the Waverley Amateur Radio Club. He is now passionate about radio systems in regards to assisting with his goals in Aerospace.

IMG_1883His love balloon flights and model aircraft has grown. He recently designed and built a 1.5 horsepower tricopter which can lift 2Kg of load. He has also traveled to Croatia at the invitation of Team Stellar. Jason is the Australian Student Representative for Team Stellar – a Team in the Google Lunar X-Prize. He and his father (Head of Communications, Tracking and Data for Team Stellar) were invited to Croatia to launch Student payloads into the stratosphere – a difficult task in such a small country where the need to keep the balloon and payload within the borders is paramount. Add to that the large amount of forested land, swamps and mountains; not to mention the massive problem of leftover land mines from the recent wars with bordering countries. The flights were using the largest balloons and achieved a height of over 30Kms, one reaching 33.33km – one third of the way to space.

Jason spoke in front of many scientists, teachers  and engineers over recent years including Teachers at Science Week in Albury, Engineers Australia and the Skeptics group in Croatia. He has appeared on TV in Croatia and Australia. Below is a recent interview of a major balloon event in Croatia where Jason was a key person in the project.

The attempt will cost $60,000 and he is seeking sponsorship. One Sydney University has offered assistance and resources such as wind tunnel testing. The attempt will be with CASA approval and may be required to be located away from most air traffic in remote areas of Australia.

If you are interested in sponsoring the event please contact via homepc@rbrand.com

Media Contact: Robert Brand (International) +61 448 881 101   (national) 0448 881 101

Pico Balloon Update

Andy Balloon altitude over AustraliaPico Balloon Departs Australia

Andy’s Pico Balloon Update: It has now passed over the bottom of Fraser Island in SE Queensland and out to sea.

Next stop may be South America in a week’s time. We do not expect to hear from the balloon until then, but it may pass over New Zealand or Tonga.

At right is the altitude details from the spacenear.us website. The balloon took about 2 hours to get to just over 8km altitude and because it is a foil balloon and cannot expand, it then sits at that altitude day and night. You can see a small dip as the sun sets until it warms up again the next day. It then rises as the balloon skin expands in the heat. Air pressure will also cause the balloon to rise or fall as will vertical air currents.

The balloon will change APRS frequencies as it crosses different longitudes but the RTTY frequencies stay standard across the world.

Below is the last track of the balloon crossing the coast today.

Andy says that the payload weighs 13 grams or less than half an ounce and consists of:

  • APRS and RTTY transmitters (10mW)
  • A GPS receiver
  • rechargeable batteries
  • solar panel
  • Insulation

The gas is helium and the metal foil balloon should not deteriorate much in a week. The gas also does not leak out very much from a foil balloon compared to a latex or other non-metal balloon.

Note that because the balloon is so light, it is classified as a small balloon and does not need to involve CASA to be able to fly such balloons.

Andy Balloon departing Australia

Our New Online Shop Opening Soon

Totex 100 gram Red BalloonGreat News – Our Shop is Opening Soon

We will be setting up an online shop and selling weather balloons, balloon equipment, radio systems and much more for those interested in flying High altitude weather balloons and much more. I will also be selling general comms equipment from time to time and HAM radio equipment to verified HAM radio operators. Keep watching!

Note that we are located in Australia and the shop is for the convenience of Australians who may not be able to wait for a delivery from overseas. We will not be the cheapest, but we will be the best.

Right now I have 44 x 100 gram Totex Red Balloons ($20 each), some 350 gram weather balloons ($50 each) and 2 x 3kg weather balloons. These 3Kg balloons are well over their expiry date (maybe about 3 years old – good for displays ($150 each). If you want any of these you will need to contact me on 0448 881 101.

I will calculate postage by Australia post depending on what you order. eg 500 gram express post bag can handle 4 X 100 gram balloons + bubble wrap and costs $15. The same to New Zealand will be $20 postage; to the US $25 postage and to anywhere else $30 postage.

Balloon specs here: http://www.esands.com/pdf/Meteorology/Totex_TA_Balloons_070213_web.pdf for Totex

We will be supplying NEW Totex weather balloons, although we may have the odd balloon from another supplier for time to time. I can also organise large orders if needed.

Totex 100 gram Red Weather Balloon Box

Andy’s Pico Flight Progress

Balloon Headed North

Andy’s Pico Flight progress has been as predicted. It is heading very much north from Melbourne in an unusual jet stream current. It is averaging about 8,000m (8Km – 5 miles) altitude and headed north at an average speed of 80kph (50mph). It recently passed over where Jason and I launch our balloons. It was a little west of Rankin Springs!

With a little luck, the current winds will take the balloon to sea near Cairns in far north Queensland (Australia). Below is the current track at time of publication:

Andy flight

Below is a snapshot of the jet stream that has allowed the flight to head north rather than the regular west to east path:

Jet Stream 2014-06-09

See the wind markers pointing straight up from Melbourne in the SE of Australia? Below is a more normal flow in 3 days time. The wind is headed west to east:

Jet Stream 2014-06-12

Andy has been very careful to watch the forecast and launch for the unusual jet stream wind direction.

Note that HAM radio tracking is listed in the preceding post. Tracking sites on the Internet are listed.

Track a Pico Balloon flight

Pico Flight prediction

Pico Flight prediction

Scheduled Pico Balloon Flight Monday 9th June 2014

My friend Andy will be sending a Balloon aloft from his home town of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia this Monday and it is headed initially north then east over the Pacific Ocean. I expect that it is headed to New Zealand and beyond.

Andy says:

Hi,

FYI, PS-9 PICO balloon release is planned for Monday morning

10mW transmit power, 

THOR16 with RTTY on 434.500Mhz

APRS on 2m band.

APRS call sign: VK3YT-11

Tracking as PS on spacenear.us

Will be in #picospace IRC channel on freenode.net

 http://webchat.freenode.net/?channels=picospace

 Andy

Note that the flight needs to head North or it will end up too low by the time it reaches New Zealand! Andy is looking at Jet Stream predictions to ensure that it heads north before it begins its easterly track. The APRS frequencies are different in each country and Andy’s transmitter is able to change frequencies by using GPS co-ordinates to know where it is. I believe that this is also using a small solar panel to keep it active. South America, here he comes!

Also the spacenear.us website will probably only list his flight an hour or so before departure.

You can watch the APRS tracking at http://aprs.fi  and use the call sign VK2YT-11 Isn’t Amateur Radio (HAM radio) wonderful?

He made it to New Zealand twice now, so South America is next!

Pico Flight prediction

Pico Flight prediction

What is a Pico Balloon?

Andy Pico Balloon to New ZealandMaking a Pico Balloon

by Robert Brand

There is not much in making a pico balloon – literally. My friend Andy has been making and flying pico balloons for a while now. These are basically strong foil party balloons that you can buy prefilled from a party shop. In fact, I believe that Andy keeps a few at home, ready to launch. When he sees the winds are right he adds the tiny GPS receiver, computer, APRS 10mW transmitter, Battery and antenna. These are secured to the balloon with little more than fishing line. The payload only weighs 13 grans – that is less than half an ounce.

In Australia, there are 4 classes of untethered or FREE balloons:

“Small, Light, Medium and Heavy balloons”

CASR Part 101E states:

A small balloon means a free balloon that can carry no more than 50 grams of payload.

So Andy’s balloon is classified as a “Small” balloon.

Provided that he does not launch within 6 nautical miles of an airport ( 11.112km), a single small balloon does not need CASA approval. CASA are the Australian Civil Aviation Authority and their job is to police the CASR (Civil Aviation Safety Regulations). Up to 100 small balloons may be released at the same time if far enough away from n airport or air field without needing CASA approval. If more are to released, the number and distance from the field must be considered as it defines what approval CASA need to give.

Other countries mostly have the same regulations, but you must check before releasing any balloon.

This information was correct at the time of publication, but readers are reminded to check for any changes in the regulations before releasing any balloon.

As for the payload, Andy chose to use th HAM Radio APRS system to track his balloons as HAM radio operators (Amateur Radio Operators) have set up a global network of tracking systems. Andy has his amateur radio license and is capable of making very small electronic components. He has chosen a small lithium battery and thin wires for the antenna. Each 5.5 minutes, the transmitter pulses a 10mW APRS signal from the payload and it can simply be tracked on the internet by anyone.

In the picture above, look carefully at the little black dot near the base of the clouds and a little to the left of the balloon. That is the 13 gram payload. Depending on air pressure, the balloon will sit in the lower jet stream between 6,500m to 8,500m altitude.

My friend Andy (VK3YT) is a master of minaturisation. Pico by definition means “one trillionth” – The work is used to emphasis the tin size of the payload – sounds better than a “small balloon”! He sent that picture to show the release of a recent flight! I hope to have a great announcement for you all soon about another Pico flight!

Just in case you have not read the previous articles. A balloon this size made from Melbourne to Sydney and on to New Zealand, crossing the Tasman Sea in just over 24 hours.

 

New Zealand gives Andy a Big Tick

New Zealand encounterBig Tick for NZ APRS and TransTasman Success

by Robert Brand

The New Zealand encounter with Andy’s (VK3YT) Pico Balloon (launched from Melbourne) has now ended. The low power from the Balloon payload will probably not be heard of again unless the Jet Stream turns the balloon around for another pass. It is unlikely to return, but there are some big changes in the Jet stream from time to time.Current predictions say it will head east and out into open water until the batteries fail.

It was fortunate that the balloon made it to New Zealand before the Jet Stream winds changed direction. The flight stayed over New Zealand for most of the day giving those interested in tracking it the opportunity to see where it was headed.

The balloon has been sitting at around 8,500m for most of the time in NZ. One APRS amateur radio station that was the first to receive Andy’s signals was also the last to track the balloon as it left New Zealand The APRS iGate received out packets and sent them to the Internet . Today I spoke with the owner of the iGate and there were a few interesting things that I should mention.

Warren Harris (ZL2AJ)  lives near Hastings in New Zealand and his antenna and receiver are at the top of a 720m hill. It is relayed down the hill by another radio link and into his iGate and on to the Internet. His radio received most of the packets from the balloon and only when the balloon was close to some other iGate receivers did they get the traffic.  I spoke with Warren about the balloon flight and he said it created a lot of “buzz” on the chat and email groups. Warren will write a story on this for NZ. Andy said that he will send a picture of the balloon to him for publications

Another interesting fact was that Warren’s iGate was broken yesterday with a faulty power supply. He fixed it last night without knowing that Andy’s balloon was on the way. It was only operational for a few hours before Andy’s balloon came over.

Andy (and I) want to thank all those in NZ that have APRS iGates and digipeaters. It is a great service for new endeavours. A special thanks to Warren whose iGate seems to outperform all others when it comes to ballooning.

TransTasman Balloon Breaks Records

Andy NZ TrackTransTasman Balloon Heads to the North Island

The record breaking balloon flight launched by my friend and colleague  Andy VK2YT continues to break records. It was thought that it would pass over the south island and out to sea, but it has changed course and headed north and is now crossing the stretch of water between the north and south island and will remain in range of HAM radio APRS trackers for many hours to come.

Launched from Melbourne, Australia on Sunday, it left the Australian coast just after midnight on Monday Morning and took just over 24 hours to reach New Zealand

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 (NZ APRS).

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 Track

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.
————————————————

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.

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.