1. Picoballoon Launch 3

    On the morning of Saturday March 10, 2021, members of the San Francisco High Altitude Balloon group launched another picoballoon from the Berkeley Marina. Launch location was the south tip of Shorebird Park, and the launch party was Martin W6MRR, Robert K6RGG, Peter W6DEI, and myself.

    Balloon Hardware

    The hardware was very similar to the previous launch. The one big change this time was that the APRS 144.39 MHz transmitter was removed. This 500 mW transmitter took a lot of power, and sometimes RFI would lock the processor up bad enough that the balloon needed to power off completely before it would reset. The only transmitter on this balloon was WSPR on 14.0956 MHz.

    Tracker electronics

    Output power of WSPR ...

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  2. Telemetry from an Oakland Radiosonde Floater

    In the beginning of March, something happened to the regular cadence of radiosonde launches from Oakland Airport. No balloon was launched on March 11th 2300 UTC, nor the next standard launch window on March 12th 1100 UTC (5am Pacific time). The SDM Ops Status Messages had a 10142 error for Oakland, which is ground equipment failure. I'm guessing that something broke or got jammed on their autolauncher, or maybe they ran out of hydrogen gas.

    By the afternoon of March 12th, the issue appeared to be resolved, and there was three launches in quick succession. The first and third balloons, S3231708 and S2321334, were normal, but the middle balloon slowly rose and leveled out around 35,000 meters (~115,000 ...

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  3. March 2021 Berkeley Picoballoon Launches

    As part of the San Francisco High Altitude Balloon group, Martin W6MRR has been experimenting with picoballoons. Picoballoons are different than regular amateur radio balloons in that are designed to be neutrally buoyant at around 40k feet. This requires payloads that are much lighter than traditional balloons, and different balloon materials that won't stretch or break. This altitude was picked because it is above airplanes and weather, but still in the jetstream, where they can float around the world in a matter of weeks. Our goal is to circumnavigate the globe at least once.

    Picoballoons use either Mylar or plastic material in their construction. More traditional Amateur radio balloons, like from our previous launch use latex, which expand dramatically at ...

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  4. An Atmospheric River of Radiosondes

    I recently installed a new antenna (see below), and checking SondeHub a few hours later I noticed a bunch of balloons west of Sacramento. Well, that's pretty interesting. There aren't any regular launches near Sacramento, so this must be something special. They seemed to be launched frequently, because when I stopped receiving one balloon I immediately start receiving the next.

    Radiosondes near Beale AFB

    These balloons were far away! I guess this new antenna works a lot better than the old one. Trying to back out the launch location, it seemed like they were being launched from Beale AFB, which is directly east of Yuba City. Maybe a military project? The military does launch a lot of radiosondes, but those are usually in Arizona ...

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  5. AIS Decoding with an RTL-SDR Blog v3 Dongle

    Update July 2021: Run rtl-ais and kplex in a docker container.

    At the conclusion of my last AIS blog post, I noted that the AIS receiving station I had set up was not sustainable for the long term. It was using a full hardware radio, and the software was running in a Windows 7 virtual machine on my personal laptop. Since AIS decoding is not super useful only when my laptop is powered on, a new station setup was needed.

    One option would be buying a dedicated Raspberry Pi with a dAISy Hat receiver. It's a dual-channel receiver that spits out UART serial NMEA frames to the Raspberry Pi, and costs $70, plus a Pi for $35. But that's a ...

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  6. Listening to Fox-1Cliff (AO-95)

    I recently moved, and while packing up boxes I found my FunCube Pro+ receiver dongle. One of the many Pandemic Positives is that I have a lot of free time on my hands now, so I thought I would see if I could receive amateur satellites with this. Perusing the AMSAT live Oscar satellite status page, the only recently-launched CubeSat I could receive with the FunCube Pro+ dongle is AO-95, also known as Fox-1Cliff. And even then, the satellite appeared to be in Safe mode, with its transponder not working due to a failed receiver.

    Fox-1Cliff is named for Cliff Buttschardt K7RR, who was the amateur radio mentor for the PolySat project at Cal Poly. He was also heavily involved ...

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  7. Two Months of Radiosonde Balloon Reception

    It's been two months since my first radiosonde recovery. In this post, I perform some analysis of the receiving stations at my apartment in San Francisco and my vacation home/parents place in Los Gatos. I also include the python code needed to generate your own plots.

    San Francisco Station

    Immediately after I got home from my first recovery, I converted my regular amateur radio station at my apartment to receive radiosondes. The external antenna is a Diamond X-50NA, which is a great amateur radio 5/8 wave 2m/70cm dual-band antenna. Coax up to the roof is about 80 ft of LMR-400, which is calculated at around 1.5 dB loss at 145 MHz and 2.5 dB at ...

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  8. Two Radiosonde Payload Recoveries, and RS-41SGP Teardown

    I've been watching SondeHub for the past two months to, every day since my first recovery, but the winds have not been cooperating! Lots of radiosondes went into the hills east of San Jose, out into the ocean, into the Santa Cruz mountains, all the way down to Gilroy, or splashed down in the bay, but none have landed in populated areas within an hours drive of my home in San Francisco. I realized how lucky I was that the first radiosonde I successfully tracked actually landed in a populated place.

    In a typical city, approximately 35-50% of the land is dedicated to cars: residential roads, arterials, freeways, and parking lots. So when a balloon lands in populated areas of ...

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  9. SatNOGs Station Construction and LNA Power Modifications

    In September 2018 I built a remote receiving station for the SatNOGs project. This post describes the build process, and modifications I made to allow for coax power of a Mini-circuits ZX60-33LN-S+ low-noise amplifier.

    SatNOGs is a distributed ground station network for amateur radio and university satellites. The idea is to spread a bunch of software-defined receivers around the world to help satellite operators downlink more data from their satellites. The open-source project, running on your local hardware, controls a software-defined receiver, moves directional antennas if you have them, and uploads the audio files and decoded data to a big database. Satellite operators, and other curious people, can see almost-real-time telemetry from the satellites.

    As a historical aside, the concept ...

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  10. W6PW SOTA Activation of Mt. Davidson, W6/NC-423

    After my very successful SOTA activation of San Pedro Mountain the previous weekend, and the San Francisco Radio Club Angel Island expedition at the same time, the club decided to do another SOTA activation on Saturday November 14th. Antonis AA6PP, Jeff KK6JJZ, Rick K6TOR, David KN6HFV, and myself went up to the top of Mt. Davidson and activated the peak under the club's callsign W6PW.

    It was a beautiful day, very clear after the rains the previous evening. We had a total of five stations. Antonis AA6PP and Jeff KK6JJZ ran the HF voice stations, trading off on 40, 20, and 15 meters during our activation. Rick K6TOR ran HF CW, and Dave KN6HFV ran the UHF station on 445 ...

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