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[aprssig] Balloon Launch Check-list

Robert Bruninga bruninga at usna.edu
Sun Sep 25 22:31:00 UTC 2005

Here are some lessons-learned to be added to every
Balloon Launch Check-list.  (the Maryland launch
was a GREAT success!, but always there are some
lessons learned)...

1) Pre-Launch WEB and announcements should include:
    a) The DIGIpeater PATH planned W2-2 (to allay fears)
    b) Local talk-in frequencies and/or repeaters
       expected to be used along the predicted path

2) Balloon BEACON should include "BALLOON ALOFT"
    And chase Frequencies.

This weekends balloon crossed into the highest
density APRS area in the world,  Yet from my vantage
point, I saw no other APRS mobiles involved.  Finally
I saw one mobile, and tracked him down to his home
repeater only because I knew him.  Then I was able to
get critical details.

There were a dozen other mobiles within 30 miles 
that I am sure would have liked to chase the balloon,
but because there was nothing in the ballooon beacon
obviously suggesting it was a balloon, when it flashed
on their D7 or D700 displays, I'm sure it did not catch
their eye.    If the 20 byte BEACON had included the
words BALLOON ALOFT!, then I think more mobiles
might have seen it.  As it is, all they see on their radio
front panels are W3XYZ-11 with a /o icon and a simple
course and speed.  Nothing to catch the eye.

Remember, on a saturday morning, not many people 
are just going to randomly see a tiny balloon icon on
their PC's but there are many MOBILES out and about
doing honey-dos that might see it on their radio front
panel... and welcome a diversion!

It was a great flight.  When I found Pat in the briar patch
he was standing over a hula-hoop supporting at least
4 separate payloads.  Many had cameeras and two
had APRS beacons.   It got to over 100K feet and I
passed 14 miles straight up over where I was on a
church camp.  I could see no-other stations apparently
on APRS involved, so I drove to the top of a nearby
mountain to see if I could find out what was going on.

Then as I went from repeater to repeater in the area
(there are over 100 repeaters I can hit from that 
mountian), I saw the payload exceed 100 MPH and
figured It would be too far away for me to play in the
recovery.  But then it slowed to a standstill.   Then I 
finally noticed the altitude dropping by 10k feet with
every packet!

I decided to chase it.  But it took me 1.3 hours to go
30 miles because of the mountainous roads and
blocked interstate..  My last posit was at 14k feet
but Pat N8PK had a position just 300' off a road.
I finally got through all the briars but he was there
first.  But both of us HAMS were there well before
the student teams found it.

It is very rare to get a balloon chase on the east
coast.  I was glad to be in the right place at
the right time...briars and all...


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