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.

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.

 

 

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-2

Weather Balloon Success (Archives)

UpLift-2 Payload Recovered

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

by Robert Brand

As I mentioned previously I was flying a weather balloon on Sept 25th. I cannot tell you too much about the helium filled weather balloon flight other than it was a success, because of a “Non Disclosure Agreement” (NDA). I can tell you that all objectives were met. It carried an amateur radio APRS tracker that sent back GPS details every 20 seconds.

Why the NDA,? A company actually paid me to be a consultant on an earlier launch that day. Although this payload was not fully commercial, they do not want too much said about the flight at all for the moment. I will post a comment for those interested to see the flight information in about 2 weeks.

It flew on schedule and reached the required altitude.

We had hoped to broadcast preparations for the flight, but unfortunately the local Telstra 3G base station was off the air! We had no mobile coverage and thus live TV showing the launch was not possible, nor was it possible to warn people that the tracking call sign had changed. I managed to get it onto my Facebook page briefly, but coverage was so poor that I could not warn anyone else.

Why the change?

We had 2 trackers fail! Luckily there was a third, thanks to fellow HAB enthusiast, Todd Hamson, but by flight time, we had to run with an adjusted call sign.

The payload capsule landed within 1/2 a metre of a farmers dam! Very close indeed.

Max altitude was 68,466 ft or 20868 m. The jetstream was running at 213kph (132mph) max. We had a lot of trouble catching up with the payload.

 

Below: High Cloud being streaked by the Jet Stream in the Troposphere. The yellow fields are conola:

UpLift-2 clouds with wind sheer

Below: Max Height

UpLift-2 Maximum Altitude

Below: They say it is not all over until the “fat lady sings”. We spotted this lake (normally dry) and my son Jason said it looks like a fat lady! Since the balloon had popped and it was descending on parachute, I guess she was singing! She also looks like she has burst a gasket singing the highs.

Below: Todd (L) amd Mark (R) Hamson – 2 fellow High Altitude Balloon enthusiasts and part of our recovery team. The Parachute was 1/2 a metre from the water of the farmers dam. The payload was under an NDA and thus I have had to blur it out. The cameras had been knocked off the capsule on impact. We will be adding a lanyard in future.

UpLift-2

Below: The “Stills” camera snapped this shot of my son Jason (10), VK2FJAB  recovering the cameras that were torn from the payload capsule after a hard landing. That is me in the background, VK2URB

UpLift-2

Below: The flight path:

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.

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/