Picoballoon Launch 18: Almost around the World!

While the previous Lodi picoballoon was floating over Mexico City, we launched another picoballoon from the southeast corner of the Berkeley Marina on November 13th, 2021. The launch party was Martin W6MRR, Robert K6RGG, Kazu AG6NS, and myself KF6ZEO.

W6MRR-21 picoballoon launch

The forecast for the morning was no wind, and when we arrived at 10am the winds felt pretty calm. But after assembling the picoballoon train, it was apparent that even the very light breeze was too strong. The two clear Chinese party balloons were bent over, threatening to scrape against the ground.

We waited almost 30 minutes for the winds to die down enough to release the picoballoon. During a bit of a lull in the wind, we walked across the parking lot while slowly releasing the balloon, kind of an in-motion release. This worked pretty well, and liftoff was at 10:30am local time (1830 UTC).

The tracker electronics were built by Martin W6MRR, and we used two clear Chinese party balloons with hydrogen for lift. The WSPR callsign was W6MRR, and the APRS callsign was W6MRR-21.

W6MRR-21 Flight Results

The first packet was received only 15 minutes after launch at 1846 UTC. In contrast to previous launches, the transmitter and antenna on this balloon worked well!

W6MRR-21 picoballoon flight path

This picoballoon was over Northern California on Nov 13th, rising up to around 11,100 meters (~36.4k feet) by the time it stopped transmitting at 2156 UTC (1:56pm local time). November 14th thru 16th was spent meandering off the coast of Baja California. On Nov 17th, it spent 5 hours floating off the eastern coast of Mexico from Maidenhead grid square EL03aa to EL25re, a distance of 600 km (~375 mi), at a speed of 120 kph (~75 mph).

This balloon spent November 18th and 19th crossing the Atlantic ocean, and November 20th and 21st crossing Africa. On November 22nd the WSPR network received two packets when it was floating over Iran. This was the day with the least packets received, probably due to GPS jamming over Iran.

On November 23rd it awoke over the far eastern tip of India, and crossed over into China. That night, the balloon floated across China, South Korea, and Japan, before waking up on November 24th about 1200 km (~750 miles) east of Tokyo. By the end of the day, the furthest east that this picoballoon went was Maidenhead grid square RM06, which is about 1900 km (~1200 miles) due east of Tokyo.

In the end, this picoballoon floated all the way from CM87, at 123 degrees west longitude, to RM06, at 161 degrees east longitude. This balloon traveled 283 degrees of longitude, which is only 77 degrees short of going around the world. Next time we'll go all the way!

Japanese WSPR Stations

After the flight ended, I was poking around Phil VK7JJ's wspr.rocks website, which is a great resource for interpreting WSPR data. I noticed that on the last day of flight, November 24th 2021, there was only three stations in Japan that received the balloon: JA1NGA, JA5NVN, and JA8XMC/8.

W6MRR-21 picoballoon Japanese WSPR spots

As far as I can tell, there are only a handful of stations in Japan that receive WSPR packets and upload them to the network. This is interesting, as I had assumed that there would be more interest in WSPR given the number of Japanese amateur radio operators that have HF stations.

Also on this last day, two packets were received by the great KFS WebSDR (pdf) in Half Moon Bay, California. The 10 mW transmitter made it 6,929 km (4,305 miles), which is pretty amazing!

Download all of the WSPR spots here.