Fall 2008 Issue
Up in the Air
By Bill Brown, WB8ELK
Photo 1. Attendees at the Great Plains Superlaunch.
Each year many of the active amateur radio high-altitude-balloon groups across the nation attend the Great Plains Superlaunch (GPSL). This year’s event was hosted by Near Space Ventures and CAPnSPACE and was held in the Kansas City area (see photo 1).
On Friday, August 1st, we gathered for an
informative conference in a large auditorium at William Jewell College
in Liberty, Missouri. This was an opportunity to discover what other
groups have been doing and what they’ve learned in the past year. New
payload designs and experiments, long-duration flight techniques, and
multi-balloon linking as well as educational outreach efforts were among
the topics covered. This year’s program also included a unique K-9
search-and-rescue talk complete with live demonstrations of the
search-and-rescue dog’s ability to locate individual members of the
audience using nothing but scent clues. They actually took the dogs into
the field to track Near Space Ventures’ payload during the following
Near sunrise on Saturday we all gathered in a field near the college and started inflating a total of nine balloons (see photo 2). Due to the rising costs of helium, using hydrogen safely was a hot topic this year. Nick Stich, KØNMS, and Taylor U (KB9ZNZ) each launched hydrogen balloons this year just prior to the release of the helium-filled balloons.
The helium-filled balloons were then
launched, filling the sky with nine balloons in the air at once (see
photo 3). Nick, KØNMS, ended up flying two balloons which carried APRS
as well as the Garmin RINO system (GMRS radio with GPS) and a beacon on
434 MHz. Edge of Space Sciences (AEØSS) flew APRS, a crossband voice
repeater (VHF/UHF) that provided coverage over a several-state area, as
well as live camera amateur television (ATV) on 426.25 MHz showing
dramatic views from the stratosphere in real-time. Taylor University
flew two different balloons which carried APRS and a spread-spectrum
900-MHz system. BASE from DePauw University (W9YJ) flew APRS and a
900-MHz spread-spectrum system. ORB (KC5TRB) flew APRS as well as a
2-meter audio CW FM beacon and a 10-meter CW beacon. Near Space Ventures
(WØNSV) flew a 2-meter APRS transmitter. WB8ELK flew APRS, a 2-meter
simplex voice repeater, a 2-meter voice beacon, and a 10-meter HF
telemetry transmitter sending down RTTY, Hellschreiber, and DominoEX5.
With all these transmitters in the air at
once, it was a foxhunter’s dream. After liftoff we jumped into our
vehicles and headed out on a wild chase toward the predicted landing
zone. The real challenge was to get there before our payloads parachuted
back down from the stratosphere. Fortunately, most of the payloads
landed in a rural area south of Kansas City. One of the Taylor U
balloons had a vent valve on it, and it came down with the balloon
intact. When their chase team found it, they cut off one of the payloads
and sent it up once again for a second flight on the same balloon. This
proved to take a very long time to reach burst altitude, staying up for
hours and traveling about 100 miles downrange into the Ozarks. The rest
of the balloon payloads landed within a few miles of each other, some in
trees and others in open fields.
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