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, 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) This site has the tabs and pages for many of the programs discussed by our guest. 2). 3) 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 Brand began by talking about the Global Space Network he was creating by utilizing outdated equipment such as 30 meter dishes that have been abandoned.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 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 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

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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: