EMDRC High Altitude Balloon Launch – 6th November 2022

On the 4th of November 2022, the EMDRC (Eastern & Mountain District Radio Club – https://www.emdrc.com.au) High Altitude Balloon team got together at Ararat to launch their High Altitude Balloon. Ararat (Djabwurrung: Tallarambooroo) is a city in south-west Victoria, Australia, about 198 kilometres west of Melbourne, on the Western Highway on the eastern slopes of the Ararat Hills and Cemetery Creek valley between Victoria’s Western District and the Wimmera. Its urban population according to 2021 census is 8,500 and services the region of 11,880 residents across the Rural City’s boundaries. It is the largest settlement in the Rural City of Ararat local government area and is the administrative centre. It is named after Mount Ararat 10 kilometres south-west of the town which was named by politician and pastoralist Horatio Wills in 1841 (Source – Wikipedia).

The EMDRC High Altitude Balloon group obtained approval (also called flight instrument) from CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) for the launch, including approval from the Ararat council to use crown land for purposes of the launch. This happens to be our second High Altitude Balloon launch, our first High Altitude Balloon launch was conducted on the 4th of September, from Ararat, Victoria. Check out that report at – <EMDRC High Altitude Balloon Launch Report – 4th September 2022>.

Who’s Who in the Zoo – The EMDRC High Altitude Launch team includes includes :

  1. Rohan VK3TRO
  2. Mark VK3MD
  3. Mark VK3IRV
  4. Brad VK3BKQ
  5. John VK3PZ
  6. Mark VK5QI
  7. Trevor VK3TWC
  8. Tom VK3FTOM
  9. Trystan J
  10. Rory VK3ASY
  11. Chris VK3PLS
  12. Greg Boyles
  13. Andrew Lee
  14. Andrew VK3BQ
  15. Nathan VK3DNS
  16. Toby VK3TOS
  17. John VK3WWW
  18. Pete V

Key launch variables include – Here’s a summary of the critical launch variables.

  1. Scientific balloon – Totex 100
  2. Parachute – 36 inch spherachute
  3. Gas – Pure helium gas
  4. Weight of payload – ~400 gm (to be confirmed)
    1. Pi Zero W with camera, LoRA board and batteries – 250gm
    2. Reprogrammed RS 41 radio sonde with batteris – 95gm
    3. 36inch Spherachute – 55gm
    4. Data Logger1 (Pi Pico with PiicoDev BME280) – 225g
    5. Data Logger2 (Pi Pico with PiicoDev BME280) – 125g
  5. Ascent rate – 5 m/s
  6. Descent rate – 3.5 m/s
  7. Burst Altitude – ~16 Km
  8. Payload & radios – Styrofoam box with the following :
    1. Primary Payload –
      • Raspberry Pi Zero with a camera, GPS
      • Lora board connected to the Pi Zero W for purposes of streaming images (over Wenet)
      • 1/4th Ground plane antenna
    2. Secondary Payload –
      • Re-flashed Bureau of Meteorology Radiosonde (RS41) with the HORUS binary
    3. 2 x Data Logger Modules : Raspberry Pi Pico with PiicoDev BME280 sensors
  9. Launch date – 6th of November with 13th of November 2022 as backup
  10. Launch location – Centenary Park Oval, Ararat
  11. Launch time –
    1. 1000 Hrs AEST with recovery to be performed soon after.
    2. Reporting time is 0830 Hrs AEST.
  12. Frequencies in use –
    1. Wenet (image transmission) frequency : 441.200 Mhz
    2. HORUS (RS 41) frequency : 434.200 Mhz
    3. 2m Repeater Ararat for local comms (91.5Mhz CTCSS, +600 Offset)– 147.100 Mhz
  13. Frequencies for monitoring (NO TRANSMISSION ALLOWED)-
    1. YARA (Ararat Aerodrome) CTAF for monitoring prior to release of balloon – 126.7 Mhz
    2. YARA (Ararat Aerodrome) Melbourne FSS (Melbourne Center) for monitoring prior to release of balloon – 126.8 Mhz

Launch Activities – We reached the launch site at 0845 in the morning, were pleasantly surprised to find Tom VK3FTOM and his colleague cooking up sausages for the launch team. The launch team helped themselves to some sausages and then headed off to the centre of the park to prepare for the launch.

The tarp was laid down, gas cylinder carted out to the working area, gas filling assembly setup and equipment readied for filling to begin. The balloon was then taken out, filling commenced with Chris VK3PLS in charge of the filling process. While the balloon was being filled up by Greg, Chris VK3PLS, Nathan VK3DNS and Toby VK3TOS, Rohan VK3TRO and Trystan focused on getting the Primary (Raspberry Pi with Lora module running the Wenet software) and Secondary payload (Re-programmed Radiosonde RS 41) ready for launch. The team ran into some technical issues towards the end which then required Rohan VK3TRO to perform some triage and resolve issues and getting the Raspberry Pi based payload going again.

The initial plan was to launch the Hwoyee 1000 balloon, we had planned to empty 1.5 helium (E-Type) cylinders into the Hwoyee 1000, attach the payload and release it into the stratosphere. However we ran into technical issues just before the launch and had to give up on the Hwoyee 1000. With a large group at the launch site and plans to test out our modified Raspberry Pi Payload (we had technical issues with this on our first launch, was inoperable for part of the launch, only streamed pictures for part of the ascent/descent) we needed to get our act together and see how best to get the show back on to the road. At that point we decided we would go with the much smaller Totex 100, scale back the payload to only include the Raspberry Pi Camera (with Lora module running Wenet) and the Re-programmed RS41 (since the Totex 100 is considerably smaller, able to provide lower lift).

Greg, Chris VK3PLS, Rory VK3ASY worked together as a team to fill up the Totex 100 with the remaining helium. Trevor VK3TWC reached out to Mark VK5QI to confirm launch variables, then re-ran the burst prediction for the new setup (Totex 100 balloon with ~400gm of payload), he also re-ran the flight path prediction and confirmed that we were good to launch. The Totex 100 is a much smaller balloon limiting our ability to lift a heavy payload but most importantly allowed us to use the remaining gas and perform a High Altitude Balloon launch.

After the Totex 100 had been filled up, the neck was secured to the line using cable ties, payload secured to the balloon. All of the systems (Primary, Secondary payload) were re-checked to confirm they were transmitting, a final necklift measurement was performed and the payload with the Totex 100 then gently let go. The team then packed up, turned on their Raspberry Pi computers within their cars to start tracking the payload and then hit the road.

There following pictures aim to provide a visual storyline from launch prep to recovery.

Rory VK3ASY and Nathan VK3DNS laying out the gas cylinder and filling assembly
Chris VK3PLS laying out the balloon, with Greg, Rory VK3ASY and Nathan VK3DNS helping out
The launch team works together to fill up the balloon
Nathan VK3DNS, Toby VK3TOS, Greg and Chris VK3PLS finishing up with the filling
Aaron using the Anemometer to check wind speed
Trystan working on getting the Raspberry Pi based WENET payload ready for launch
Rohan VK3TRO trying to triage some technical issues
Raspberry Pi Wenet payload
Trevor VK3TWC re-running the flight path predictions just before launch
Greg, Chris VK3PLS and Nathan VK3DNS – The balloon all ready to be launched
Water bottle being weighed with the right amount of water for neck lift measurement
Balloon with the Raspberry Pi Wenet payload and RS41 released
Pictures taken by the Raspberry Pi Camera at 16.3Km above the earth & streamed down over Wenet
Pictures taken by the Raspberry Pi Camera at 16.1Km above the earth & streamed down over Wenet
Andrew VK3BQ setup to receive at the predicted landing site
Trystan, Tom VK3FTOM, Andrew VK3BQ and the others arrive at the landing site
Payload just before it hits the ground : Courtesy Trystan
Payload has been recovered : Courtesy Trystan
Tom VK3FTOM jubilant in his recovery of the payload with Toby VK3TOS, Nathan VK3DNS, Greg and Aaron : Courtesy Andrew VK3BQ
Toby VK3TOS jubilantly walking across the field with the payload : Courtesy Andrew VK3BQ
The entire High Altitude Balloon team after recovering the payload : Courtesy Andrew VK3BQ

Report and statistics – Here are some relevant and interesting statistics based on the data captured from the launch. The Ascent/Descent rate graphs helps visualize the ascent rate and descent rate for the High Altitude Balloon while the GNSS Satellites in Use graph helps visualize the number of satellites the GPS receiver was able to lock into during ascent and descent. The High Altitude Balloon made it to a height of ~16.5Km on the day. The Environmental Sensor data graph provides a view of the temperatures seen by the High Altitude Balloon on the day with the lowest temperatures hovering around -50 DegC.

Ascent / Descent Rate and GPS Satellites in use
Max reported altitude (16.3Km) and Payload sensor data
Payload transmit frequency and Batter Voltage v/s Temperature

A copy of the detailed report can be access here – <Sondehub report>

Launch schedule for 2023 – Here’s a summary of the tentative launch schedule for 2023.

  1. Feb 2023
  2. May 2023
  3. August 2023
  4. November 2023

The timeline provided above is tentative, will be confirmed as we get closer to the relevant dates.

Come Join the Party – You are invited to join the EMDRC High Altitude Balloon group and participate in the next High Altitude Balloon launch. As part of the High Altitude Balloon team you can help design the next generation payload, test the payload to get it ready for the next launch, be part of the launch team helping launch the balloon and finally join everyone for the chase, payload recovery soon after. Our agreed launch site is at Ararat which is a ~2.5 hr drive from the heart of Melbourne with our launches generally scheduled for 1000 Hrs on the day of the launch.

However, If you would rather stay home or rather grab a coffee and track the payload remotely then that’s great too. Here’s links to the software you need to track the High Altitude Balloon and payload we are launching.

  1. Project HORUS Chasemapper – Plot your position on a map relative to the balloon using a Raspberry Pi and GPS
  2. Project Horus horusdemodlib – Plot a reprogrammed radiosonde used as a payload for Amateur High Altitude Balloons
  3. Project HORUS Horusgui – Windows software to track a reprogrammed radiosonde used as a payload for Amateur High Altitude Balloons
  4. All of the images are broadcasted in real-time from the balloon (over WENET) – https://ssdv.habhub.org/
  5. Link to track the Horus payload in real time – Sondehub

Read more about High Altitude Ballooning and get started with your own High Altitude Balloon journey at https://hack2.live/high-altitude-ballooning/. Drop us a note at trevor at hack2 dot live if you have any questions, suggestions or comments.

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