EMDRC High Altitude Balloon Pre-Launch Test

The EMDRC (Eastern & Mountain District Radio Club) High Altitude Balloon (HAB) group has been working towards it’s first launch here in Melbourne. The launch has been almost three years in the making, with COVID being unfortunately responsible for a lot of the delays. The EMDRC HAB group has obtained approval (also called instrument) from CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority), been in discussions with landowners to secure approval for use of their premises (Country Eastern Victoria) and has been working on putting together their payload for the first launch.

The High Altitude Balloon roadmap can be summarized as follows (timeline is tentative) –

  1. July 2022 – Pre-Launch Test
  2. August 2022 – Test Launch (simple payload)
  3. September 2022 – Pre-Launch Test
  4. October 2022 – Main Launch (complex payload)
  5. November / December 2022 – Next generation payload development
  6. Jan 2023 – Initial testing of next generation payload
  7. Feb 2023 – Pre-Launch Test with next generation payload
  8. March 2023 – Main Launch with next generation payload

Please note that the EMDRC HAB roadmap is evolving and the timeline will change based on challenges encoutered and as our priorities evolve (based on learning gained from the challenges we encounter).

The EMDRC High Altitude Balloon team caught up on the 17th of July 2022 to work through the various Pre-Launch test activities. The objectives for this Pre-Launch test included –

  1. Testing out the filling equipment (balloon) for the initial Test Launch
  2. Stringing together each of the items part of the launch i.e. balloon, parachute, payload box, re-programmed radiosonde, etc.
  3. Working through integration of the HAB payload which includes – Styrofoam box and the equipment inside i.e. radio + raspberry pi, antenna, camera, power supply, etc.
  4. Testing the ground stations, tweaking configuration to suit
  5. Confirming our understanding of any gaps that might exist
  6. Confirming readiness for our launch

The EMDRC HAB team who turned up to support the Pre-Launch test included (Apologies if I’ve missed someone out, please bring it to my attention and i’ll be glad to add you to the list)-

  1. Rohan A / VK3TRO
  2. Luke / VK3UKW
  3. Mark / VK3IRV
  4. Brad Q / VK3BKQ
  5. Mark Diggins / VK3MD
  6. Jack B / VK3WWW
  7. Chris Gommersall
  8. Greg Boyles
  9. Trystan J
  10. Trevor W / VK3TWC
  11. John L / VK3PZ
  12. John B / VK3JWC

Luke (VK3UKW) was kind enough to get there early in the morning on the 17th of July and opened up the EMDRC clubhouse for us. The others made their way soon after. Trevor brought along some sausages, bread while Trystan supplied the onions. John VK3JCW helped setup the barbecue and get things going, which allowed the HAB team to focus on their agreed activities for the day. Here’s some of the pictures we took on the day.

Testing Balloon Filling Equipment
Testing Electronics Part of the HAB Payload
Testing Reception of the HAB Signals
Raspberry Pi & LoRA boards (Secondary Payload) with Pi Camera
Testing the parachute assembly
Members gathered downstairs

The outcome of the testing can be summarized as follows –

  1. Procured and tested out the new analog gas flow meter with the existing helium cylinder
  2. Successfully built and tested out the filling assembly, pipe fittings for the small test balloon
  3. Confirmed that a larger pipe (40mm OD) was required to connect to the filling assembly when working with the larger balloon
  4. Inflated the balloon using the filling assembly that was assembled
  5. Linked each of the different components together i.e. parachute, builders line, reprogrammed radiosonde, secondary payload box with camera, etc.
  6. Confirmed data from the re-programmed sonde was being received by a ground station
  7. Identified gaps with the secondary payload, integration work required (LoRA board, raspberry pi, camera module, etc.)
  8. Confirmed the need to purchase another cylinder just before the test launch

Here’s some lessons we learned from the testing we performed –

  1. Distance between the balloon and the parachute – 2m
  2. Distance between parachute and 1st payload (radiosonde) – 2m
  3. Distance between 1st payload and 2nd payload – 1m
  4. Need to separate ourselves into 3 teams –
    1. Payload integration
    2. Balloon prep
    3. Ground tracking readiness
  5. Finalize checklist, run-sheet and have both printed out so that we have paper copies available
  6. Avoid the need to use electronic devices / tablets during launch prep
  7. Confirm if Rohan requires TW to drop off the 2nd payload box

Here’s a list of items that needed to be worked through post the Pre-Launch test and before the actual launch.

  1. Finalize a date for the launch, kick off the launch countdown – HAB Team
  2. Submit request to Ararat council, request permission for use of the agreed area for launch activity. – Trevor W
  3. Once the above confirmation has been obtained, submit request to CASA for raising the NOTAM – Trevor W
  4. Assemble the payload box, make sure it’s well padded and equipment doesn’t move – Rohan A
  5. Test out wenet reception (payload) – Rohan
  6. Build and test out filling apparatus for large balloon (40mm) – Chris
  7. Send out a notice to the EMDRC mailing list, confirm launch schedule – Trevor W
  8. Prepare write-up for the EMDRC newsletter – Trevor W (this one)
  9. Write up procedure for setting up Wenet tracker, send out to the EMDRC mailing list – Rohan

Here’s a link to all the pictures that were taken on the day – EMDRC Pre-Launch Test Album.

If you are keen on joining the EMDRC HAB group please drop me a note at trevor at hack2 dot live or hab at emdrc dot com dot au. Happy to answer any questions you might have.

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