High-Altitude Balloon Launch and Tracking


Our HAB at the Edge of Space (GoPro Capture)

Our HAB at the Edge of Space (GoPro Capture)

We made it to the edge of space! The image above was taken from our HAB at an altitude of over 90,000 ft!

After many months of work, raising funds to finance the project, teaching STEM sessions in local High Schools, and an open-house to test the Balloon Platform and to learn about Amateur Radio; our High-Altitude Balloon Project (HAB) Team finally got the chance to launch and track our Balloon. We launched our Balloon from the Elementary School in Winchester, NH.

Setting Up Our Gear

Setting Up Our Gear

Students, Teachers and Club Members came out to be part of the launch and to track our HAB. The first step was to move all of our gear to the center of the athletic fields at the school and organize all of our equipment.

Assembled Flight Platform

Assembled Flight Platform

Next, we attached the GoPro video cameras, satellite tracker and the battery pack for the Flight Computer and 2M APRS transmitter to the flight platform. We used an APRS capable HT to confirm that the flight computer and APRS transmitter were working.

Rigging the Flight Line

Rigging the Flight Line

We rigged the 40 ft. flight line which connected the HAB’s flight platform, recovery parachute and the balloon.

Balloon Inflation

Balloon Inflation

And then came the inflation of the balloon from the Helium tank. The winds were gusting to about 12 mph at this point which made inflating the balloon a little tricky. When filled, the balloon was about 6 ft. in diameter on the ground.

Launch!

Launch!

With both GoPro cameras running on the flight platform, we were ready to launch. A 10 second countdown and the balloon was up and away!

Tracking the HAB

Tracking the HAB

We watched the balloon from the ground as it soared off into the clouds. The 2M APRS tracking system worked perfectly and we spent the next several hours at the launch site, at lunch, and in our cars tracking the HAB on aprs.fi.

HAB’s Flight Path On APRS.fi

HAB’s Flight Path On APRS.fi

Our HAB’s flight path took it across Massachusetts where it reached a maximum altitude of 91,700 ft. above sea level (ASL).

Looking Upward at the Balloon (Near Burst)

Looking Upward at the Balloon (Near Burst)

The balloon reached a diameter of approximately 30 ft before it burst. After the balloon burst, the parachute deployed and the payload descended to a landing in the northeast corner of Rhode Island.

HAB at Recovery Site in Rhode Island

HAB at Recovery Site in Rhode Island

A combination of the APRS transmitter data and the on-board sounder allowed the landing location to be pinpointed and the flight platform recovered with help from a local resident.

The on-board GoPro video cameras captured some awesome video during our HAB’s ascent! All of the media captured by everyone who participated in the launch as well as the APRS data allowed us to produce the video above. Turn up your speakers and give it a play in full-screen mode to enjoy the experience what we shared!

By the time we had launched, school was at an end so we will have to wait until the fall to work with the students and teachers who were part of our STEM project to analyze the data from the flight. All in all, our HAB project has been an amazing experience for all involved. We are planning another HAB STEM experience and launch with additional schools in the fall.

We want to especially thank all of our donors whose generous contributions made this project possible.

Fred, AB1OC

 

GoKit for Field Day and EMCOMM


Completed VHF/UHF GoKit

Completed VHF/UHF GoKit

We’ve been thinking about building a portable GoKit for VHF/UHF EMCOMM and Field Day Applications for a while now. The following is a list of our requirements for a GoKit –

  • 2m and 70cm operation with FM simplex and repeaters
  • APRS capability and tactical display for portable coordination
  • Digital messaging capability
  • Weather band monitoring capability
  • AC Power with flexible battery backup options

A plan to build our GoKit came together during our trip to the Dayton Hamvention this year.

Kenwood TM-D710GA At Dayton

Kenwood TM-D710GA At Dayton

The heart of any GoKit is the Transceiver. We’ve been using Kenwood equipment for our APRS iGate for some time now and we have had good results with it. Kenwood’s latest 50W transceiver with APRS is the TM-D710GA. This unit provides full support for APRS tactical applications and now includes a built-in GPS receiver making it ideal for our GoKit application.

AvMap GeoSat 6 APRS Tactical Display

AvMap GeoSat 6 APRS Tactical Display

We have been using the Kenwood TM-D710 along with an AvMap GeoSat APRS display in our APRS iGate setup and the combination works very well. The AvMap display lets one see the location of portable and mobile APRS stations on a map display. This arrangement is perfect for coordinating activities in an EMCOMM situation. The AvMap GeoSat 6 APRS display is no longer in production but I was able to locate a nearly new unit on eBay.

3 - iPortable Enclosure

We had a chance to look at the iPortable enclosure at Dayton and decided that their Pro 2 4U deep unit would be a good choice for our GoKit application. The iPortable enclosures are based on a portable rack mount case and include a DC power system, speaker and headphone hookups, a light, and provisions for a cooling fan.

Radio Shelf

Radio Shelf

With all the components in hand, we began the construction of our GoKit. Reliability is important in any portable system like this so we put some time into securely mounting all of the equipment and neatly arranging the cabling. First came the shelf which holds the Kenwood transceiver and a SignaLink USB sound card. A combination of drilling the shelf to secure gear with large cable ties and #8 stainless hardware was used here.

Coax Connector Cables

Coax Connector Cables

Our iPortable case was equipped with both SO-239 and N-connectors on the front panel to allow for antennas and feed lines equipped for either connector type. To make the change over between the connector types easy, we installed separate PL-259 jumper cables for each connector. One simply connects the appropriate jumper to the radio.

Display and Power Shelf

Display and Power Shelf

The power and AvMap display shelf was next. The AvMap display mount was dissembled and modified to accept a custom mounting bracket.

PWRgate Battery Interface and Charger

PWRgate Battery Interface and Charger

The iPortable enclosure was drilled to mount a West Mountain Radio PWRgate to handle backup battery charing and management. The PWRgate supports instantaneous switching between an AC power supply and a backup battery and can accommodate a wide range of battery types and sizes.

Backup Battery

Backup Battery

The PWRgate was configured to properly charge our 18AH AGM backup battery. Note the use of a fuse in series with the battery for safety reasons. We used a Powerwerx SPS-30DM adjustable power supply set to 14.5Vdc to operate our GoKit and to provide proper charging voltage for our AGM battery.

Diamond X-30 Antenna and Mast

Diamond X-30 Antenna and Mast

The last piece of the setup was the antenna. We wanted something that was portable, easy to set up and would provide good performance. We choose a Diamond X-30A 2m/70cm ground plane antenna and mounted it on an 12′ fiberglass push up mast. The feed line is made from 25′ of LMR-400UF coax. Several bungee cords are used to attach the mast to a fence post or other vertical structure.

10 - GoKit In Use

The picture above shows the completed GoKit in operation. We typically set one side of the Kenwood TM-D710GA to operate as an APRS transceiver and Digipeater and the other side to operate on a local repeater or simplex FM. The SignaLink sound card is used with a laptop computer running Fldigi and NBEMS for messaging applications. The iPortable case has a 13.8V lighter socket which connects to a power brick to power our laptop PC.

GoKit Packaged for Transport

GoKit Packaged for Transport

The GoKit is quite portable when closed. All of the equipment and cable connections are enclosed and protected by the case’s removable end caps. We’ve tested our GoKit during our club’s weekly repeater net and it worked great. The first real use of our new GoKit will be at Field Day this year. It will be located in our public information tent and will be used as a “talk-in” system.

Fred, AB1OC

 

An Amazing Amatuer Radio STEM Project – High-Altitude Balloon


Image Taken From Our High-Altitude Balloon at over 90,000 ft

Image Taken From Our High-Altitude Balloon at over 90,000 ft

Members of the Nashua Area Radio Club launched a High-Altitude Balloon (HAB) to the edge of space and back this past weekend. Our HAB carried a 2m APRS Transmitter and sent position and atmospheric telemetry to the ground during its flight. Our HAB was tracked by many folks using aprsi.fi during its flight via the N1FD-11 call sign.

You can see an amazing video of the flight include footage taken during our launch and from the balloon while in flight above.

Our HAB launch was part of a STEM learning project that our club did in partnership with several High Schools here in New Hampshire. You can read more about the project and our STEM work on our club’s Blog here.

Enjoy!

Fred, AB1OC
President, Nashua Area Radio Club

A STEM Learning Project for Young People


High Altitude Balloon At The Edge Of Space

High Altitude Balloon At The Edge Of Space

As some of you may already know, Anita and I have been working with our local Radio Club on a project to promote STEM learning and interest in Amateur Radio among young people in our area. The idea is to work with kids grades 7-12 to plan, build, launch and recover a High-Altitude Balloon carrying Amateur Radio. Our balloon should be able to reach an altitude of about 100,000 ft before it bursts and the payload returns to earth via a parachute system. The payload will include a computer, GPS and a 2 meter APRS transmitter to record the balloon’s flight track, atmospheric data and altitude throughout the flight. The balloon will also carry a video camera and will capture a video record of the entire flight. You can learn more about our project here.

Project Team Members Will Analyze and Report On Scientific Data

Project Team Members Will Analyze and Report On Scientific Data

We are working with local schools to put together a team of young people to plan and execute our project. This will include designing the on-board science experiments, analyzing the data collected and providing a presentation about what was learned to fellow students and others who are interested.

You can learn more about our project and view a video that shows what our balloon flight will be like on our Club website. This project is part of our Club’s on-going program to promote interest in Amateur Radio among young people. The folks at HAMNation recently featured a video which included some information about our club’s activities for young people as well.

We are working to raise the necessary funds to enable the project to be completed during the current school year. We have setup a GoFundMe page to facilitate the fund raising aspect of our project. We know that we have many readers around the world who follow our blog and it would be wonderful if some of our readers could help us by contributing to funding our project.

Anita and I will continue to post information about our project here.

Best and 73,

Fred (AB1OC)

HF Mobile – Planning A U.S. County Hunter’s Tour


2015 Dayton, OH County Tour

2015 Dayton, OH County Tour

Anita (AB1QB) and I have been having a lot of fun with our Mobile HF station since we completed it several months back. We’ve been working quite a bit of DX and we make some contacts whenever we are out doing errands or taking other trips. We are planning to attend the Hamvention in Dayton, OH again this year and Anita suggested that we use the trip to activate some most wanted United States Counties along the way.

CQ US-CA Award

CQ US-CA Award

U.S. County Hunters are Amateur Radio operators seeking to work and confirm all 3,077 U.S. Counties. CQ Magazine has an awards program for U.S. County Hunters. Quite a few Amateur Radio operators work all U.S. Counties – some do this using multiple modes and several have done it multiple times. To find out more about the US-CA Award, see the excellent County Hunter Dot Com site.

The Mobile Amateur Radio Awards Club (MARAC) is a support group for county hunting and mobile activities with members all over the world. This is a great organization to join if you are interested in County Hunting. MARAC provides additional awards center around County Hunting and mobile operating.

You can also view WY7LL’s video on YouTube for a nice introduction to County Hunting, MARAC and the tools that the group provides to help County Hunters.

Anita did the planning for our County Tour to Dayton, OH and back. She began by looking at looking at the County Hunter’s Web most wanted page to determine which counties lie along potential routes between are home and Dayton, OH were most needed by County Hunters. Based upon this information, she created the route shown at the beginning of this post. As you can see, we are taking different routes going to Dayton, OH and back to allow us to activate as many U.S. Counties as we can. We are also taking a few side trips off our route to activate a few of the most needed Counties near our route.

Date

States Counties
SundayMay 10 MA Middlesex, Worcester
CT Windham, Tolland, Hardford, Litchfield, New Haven, Fairfield
NY Putnam
NJ Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren
PA Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, Lebanon, Dauphin
MondayMay 11 PA Northumberland, Montour, Union, Snyder
TuesdayMay 12 PA Cumberland, Fulton, Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Indiana, Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene
WV Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler
OH Monroe, Washington
WednesdayMay 13 OH Athens, Meiga, Gallia, Lawrence, Scioto, Pike, Ross, Greene, Montgomery
SundayMay 17 OH Clark, Madison, Union, Delaware, Morrow, Richland, Ashland, Wayne, Medina, Summit, Cuyahoga, Lake, Ashtabula
PA Erie
NY Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Wayne, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaiga
MondayMay 18 NY Oswego, Madison, Oneida, Herkimer, Montgomery, Fulton, Schenectady, Albany, Columbia
MA Berkshire, Springfield, Hampshire, Worcester, Middlesex

Planned U.S. County Activation Schedule

The table above shows the 86 U.S. Counties that we plan to activate on our trip along with a rough idea of our schedule.

County Finder App

County Finder App

We found a useful iPhone App (County Finder) that will tell us what County we are in at a given time. The County Finder App uses the GPS in our iPhones to provide our current location in real-time.

Ham Clock Grid Square App

HamClock Grid Square App

We will also be tracking and logging the current grid square that we are operating from. We will be using the HamClock App on our iPhones to determine our grid square of operation in real-time.

Mobile Logging

Mobile Logging

Anita and I will be taking turns operating and logging. We are planning to use a laptop computer running the DXLab Suite and we will connect it directly to the IC-7000 Radio in our truck. This combination plus the County Finder and HamClock Apps above should allow us to accurately log all of our contacts. We will also be uploading contracts that we make to eQSL, LoTW and ClubLog in real-time as we operate.

OpenAPRS App

OpenAPRS App

We will also be running an APRS station so that folks can see where we are located in real-time and follow our progress. We are using the OpenAPRS iPhone App for this purpose. Our APRS callsign with be AB1QB-15 and you can see our position and progress on aprs.fi at any time by clicking here.

N1FD Special Event QSL Card

N1FD – Nashua Area Radio Club QSL

Anita and I are members of the Nashua Area Radio Club and we will be operating using the Club’s call sign, N1FD/M, during the trip. In addition to the electronic QSL’ing methods mentioned above, we will also be able to provide paper QSL’s using the Club’s QSL card shown above. All paper QSLs that we send will note the correct County and Grid Square from which the QSL’ed contact was made. See N1FD on QRZ.com for QSL information.

Band County Hunters Net Frequency (SSB)
20m 14.336 & 14.271 MHz
40m 7.188 MHz
80m 3.901 MHz
17m 18.136 MHz
15m 21.336 MHz
12m 24.936 MHz
10m 28.336 MHz

County Hunters Net Frequencies

We plan to operate on or near the County Hunters Net Frequencies listed above. We will be QRV SSB on all of these bands and we may also do a limited amount of operating on 160m SSB as well.

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Our Mobile HF Station

We hope that you will take some time to work us during our trip. If you do and you read our Blog, please let us know. If we do not have other stations calling, we’d like to take a little time to say “hello” and get to know some of our readers better. We will also be attending the County Hunter’s Forum on Friday, May 15th at this year’s Dayton Hamvention. If you are there, please introduce yourself and we’ll have an “eyeball QSO”.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Amateur Radio Station Design And Construction


Station Design And Construction

Station Design And Construction

A little ways back, John (W1MBG) discovered our Blog and approached us about doing a presentation for the Nashua Area Radio Club (NARC) on the design, construction and operation of our recently completed station. The NARC group invited us to their March meeting where we shared our presentation with the nice group of folks in the Club. I wanted to post an overview of what we shared as well as a link to the full presentation so that our readers can have a look at the material and hopefully benefit from the information that we have assembled. I have also used this post as an opportunity to create an index to all of the articles on this Blog related to the design, construction and performance of our station.

Topics Covered

Topics Covered

Our new station project involved both the construction of a dedicated room for a new shack and a tower based antenna system. It took us about 1 1/2 years to build our station including the associated antenna system and we covered quite a number of areas during the project. Our presentation focused on some things that we did to plan and build our station that should be useful to many Hams building or upgrading anything from a simple station to an all out effort to create a state of the art multi-op station.

Station Goals

Station Goals

I think that its important to begin a new or upgrade station project by thinking through and writing down the goals that you have for your new station prior to purchasing equipment or beginning construction. This step is important because it helps you to think through what you want to accomplish and serves as a high-level blueprint for making design, equipment selection and construction decisions as you build your station.

Shack Layout

Shack Layout

We put considerable time and thought into the design of the room and operating area for our new shack including many rounds of drawings and some “human engineering” to arrive at the final room layout. While not every Ham will build a dedicated room for their shack, some careful thought put into the layout of the operating and storage areas for your shack and the associated support systems is an important design step.

Antenna System Planning

Antenna System Planning

The other major element in the design of our station was a new tower-based antenna system. We had some pretty expansive goals for the band capabilities and associated performance of our new antenna system and the presentation explains how we went about developing and executing a plan to meet our goals.

Additional Antenna Construction

Additional Antenna Construction

Since the initial installation of our tower antenna system, we added an 8-Circle Vertical Receive Array for the Low Bands and we’ve reinstalled our SteppIR BigIR Vertical Antenna. These new antenna system provide important additional performance on the low bands and during contests. We’ve also added an Antenna System and Electronics for LEO Satellites.

Station Automation

Station Automation

We’ve also installed an SO2R and Station Automation System from microHAM. The microHAM system enables much smooth and less error-prone operation of our station and enable SO2R and Multi-two operation during contests.

Virtual Station Tour

Virtual Station Tour

Our presentation includes several slides which cover the construction of our new shack and tower as well as the feedline, antenna, power and other supporting systems. The end result of all of this work is shown via a few slides which provide a “Virtual Tour” of our station.

Virtual Station Tour - Operational Videos

Virtual Station Tour – Operational Videos

The “Virtual Station Tour” slides contain several videos which can be played by clicking on the following links:

Other posts in this Blog contain more detailed information and many additional pictures and videos about our station. See the index of links at the end of this post to view more detail about the areas that interest you.

Station Performance

Station Performance

Our new station has been complete for several months now and we wanted to take some time to look at how it is performing against our original design goals. As you can see from the above slide, we are on a good track to meet or exceed all of the original goals that we set during the planning stage of our project.

What We Learned

What We Learned

Finally, we shared some additional information about what we learned during the project and a set of links to various sources of equipment and information that we used to complete our new station (see the full presentation). This Blog contains many more details (and pictures) about the design and construction of our station for those who are interested. Some good places to begin are categorized in the index of links below:

Shack Design and Construction:

Antenna and Tower Design:

Tower Construction:

Antenna Construction:

Tower Integration:

Station Integration:

Station Operation and Performance:

I hope that you can apply some of the ideas and information shared here to building or improving your station. We’d also like to extend a special thanks to John, W1MBG and the NARC Group for encouraging us to create and share this presentation. We are available to provide this presentation to other clubs or Ham gatherings. If your club or event is interested, please contact us at ab1oc@arrl.org.

Fred (AB1OC)

APRS Station Part 2 – Dedicated Antenna and Always-On PC


APRS Station Setup

APRS Station

We have had our APRS Station operating for a while now and it has been performing well. We decided to install a dedicated antenna on our tower that is a bit better matched to supporting our APRS Station. We choose a Diamond X50NA antenna and installed it on our tower at the 70 ft level using a vertical antenna bracket. The Diamond X50NA antenna has a broader vertical pattern than out existing repeater access antenna (a Diamond X300NA). The Diamond X50NA antenna is installed 19″ from the tower leg to minimize any interactions with the tower structure on the 2m band.

APRS Antenna On Tower

APRS Antenna On Tower

I also decided to move our APRSISCE/32 Software which controls our APRS Station to our home server which is always on.

Home Server

Home Server

The APRSISCE/32 software implements an iGate function (sending APRS packets to internet-based APRS servers) so it performs a critical role as part of our APRS Station’s operation. The following is a time-lapse video which shows about 6 minutes of the APRSISCE/32 software’s operation. The yellow lines show the paths taken by packets through various APRS Digipeaters on their way to the internet via our iGate. The circle on the map in the video is about 180 mi (290 km) in diameter. As you can see in the video, we are handing packets from New Hampshire, USA as well as from several surrounding states in New England. It is interesting to see the paths that some APRS packets follow as they find their way to the internet via our iGate node. It is quite apparent when there is an improvement in 2m propagation as we begin to see packets arriving from much greater distances.

The connection between our APRS transceiver (a Kenwood D-710A) and our home server is implemented via an RS-232 over TCP/IP device from StarTech. This device allows us to run the RS-232 control connection from the APRS transceiver to our home server over the wired Ethernet LAN installed in our home.

RS2323 Over TCP/IP Device

RS232 Over TCP/IP Device

With these steps, our APRS Station is complete. We are currently iGate’ing about 7,500 packets per month to the internet. You can see some real-time information on the performance of our station by clicking here.

– Fred (AB1OC)