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  1. Picoballoon Launch 9

    With the lessons learned from the failed previous launch, we decided to launch again the next weekend, August 28th, 2021. The launch party was Martin W6MRR, Justin, Robert K6RGG, and myself KF6ZEO. We launched again from the northwest corner of the Berkeley Marina.

    Our major lesson learned from the previous launch failure was there should be no fog or clouds at the launch site. Fog or clouds can condense on the balloon surface or tracker electronics, weighing down the picoballoon so it falls out of the sky. In addition, any winds or downdrafts associated with clouds can push the balloon into the ground.

    This morning there was no fog or clouds, but the smoke from the Caldor and Dixie fires ...

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  2. Picoballoon Launch 7 and 8

    After a short break from the previous launch, we launched again on the morning of Saturday August 14th, 2021. The launch party was Martin W6MRR, Robert K6RGG, and myself KF6ZEO. We launched again from the northwest corner of the Berkeley Marina.

    Martin W6MRR had made some changes to the tracker PCB layout to try and mitigate GPS RFI issues, but since none of the standard layout changes made were helping at all, we decided to use an older board design that flew previously. We also decided to bring two trackers. Each tracker was identical electronics and balloon inflation, just different callsigns.

    Both trackers getting checked out before launch

    Robert K6RGG brought his drone again and took some great video of both launches.

    Launches

    After powering on and ...

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  3. Containerized AIS Decoding with RTL-SDR Dongle

    It's been about 6 months since I started receiving AIS signals using a RTL-SDR Blog v3 dongle. My station is decoding between 35 and 70 ships at any given time, depending on time of day and how many ships there are in San Francisco Bay.

    The RTL-SDR Blog v3 dongle is a really inexpensive software-defined receiver. The "official" version costs about $25, and knockoff versions can be had for $10 or less. However, there's a reason why knockoff versions are less than half price, they use very cheap components and drift like crazy. I have many friends who bought the cheap version only to find that they just don't work, then purchased another knockoff that also didn't work. So save ...

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  4. Kenwood TS-2000 Frequency Calibration

    I've been spending a lot of time recently listening to WSPR beacons. The recent picoballoons that I have launched all used WSPR for to transmit their location and altitude. WSPR is a great for solar-powered picoballoons because the transmit power is on the order of 10 dBm (10 milliwatts), which is extremely low.

    One night, I was just passively watching the WSPR decodes while doing other things on my shack computer. Every once in a while, I would notice a WSPR beacon that was outside of the 200 Hz WSPR band, and therefore wasn't decoded by WSJT-X. I thought this was interesting, who was transmitting out of the band? The transmissions seemed to always be on the high side.

    This ...

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  5. Picoballoon Launch 6

    After the dissappointing results from the last balloon, we decided to respin the boards to try and fix this GPS self-interference problem. We also decided to add a low-pass filter to try and keep the WSPR transmitter harmonics out of the GPS band. The new boards did not arrive in time for the Memorial Day weekend, so we decided to launch anyways.

    After a day delay due to strong winds and high altitude clouds, we launched on the morning of Sunday May 30th 2021. The weather was beautiful. The launch party was Martin W6MRR, Robert K6RGG, and myself KF6ZEO. We launched again from the northwest corner of the Berkeley Marina.

    Bryan KF6ZEO tying the tracker to the picoballoons. Picture by K6RGG

    Martin W6MRR and Bryan KF6ZEO unspooling the 20m antenna. Picture by K6RGG

    The winds were gusting to 5 knots or so, and ...

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  6. Two Radiosonde Recoveries in San Francisco

    The prevailing winds here in California blow from west to east, from the Pacific Ocean towards the Sierra Nevada mountains. Radiosondes launched from Oakland International Airport float in these winds, landing east of Oakland in the Central Valley, or south in the hills east of San Jose. I never recover the ones that land in the Central Valley, as driving 2 hours each direction during rush hour to recover a balloon is a bit too far for me. Only rarely do they land in populated areas in the Bay Area, and almost never on the Peninsula or in the city of San Francisco.

    This map (code below) shows the landing locations of all the radiosondes launched from Oakland since November ...

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  7. Picoballoon Launch 5

    After the fourth launch, Martin W6MRR respun the tracker board to try and fix some GPS lock errors. Unfortunately, the new layout did not fix the self-interference, but we decided to launch the new tracker board anyways on Saturday May 22nd, 2021. The launch party was Rob NZ6J, Martin W6MRR, Robert K6RGG, and myself KF6ZEO.

    This time, Rob NZ6J brought a 20m receiver and speaker so we could actually verify the tracker was transmitting before letting it float away. While we didn't have any software to actually decode the packets, we were able to see that the transmitter on the radio S-meter. This is more of a nice-to-have, as the tracker board also has an LED that lights up when ...

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  8. Argo Floats from the TS Golden Bear: Deployment and Data

    I recently read an article about how a "cold blob" was interrupting the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). This is pretty interesting, as the AMOC takes heat from Florida and brings it to Europe, keeping Europe warmer during the winter. The fear is if this current stops, winters in Europe will become a lot colder than they currently are. Towards the end of the article, they talk about using ocean float data for in situ measurements. That jogged my memory, I actually helped to deploy these ocean floats a long time ago!

    In spring 2005, during my junior year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I participated in the Cal Poly At Sea program. This partnership between Cal Poly and ...

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  9. Picoballoon Launch 4

    The next Saturday after the third launch, Martin W6MRR, Robert K6RGG, and Rob NZ6J got together at the Berkeley Marina and launched another picoballoon. I was away on a much-needed vacation.

    Since the last launch didn't get above 9000 meters, Martin spent extra time measuring the payload and lift of the balloon. To go around the world, it's important that the balloon has enough lift to rise above weather that may push the balloon down, or coat it with water or ice.

    Here's the mass breakdown of this balloon, with the same tracker electronics as the previous launch:

    Item Mass
    2 solar cells & carbon fiber stick 5 g                          
    Beacon PCB w/supercaps 7 g
    Upper wire 1.5 g
    Lower ...
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