Fall 2008 Issue

Up in the Air

Superlaunch 2008

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 day’s launch.

Launch Day

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.

The Chase

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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