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  1. Picoballoon Launch 10: First Two Weeks

    After the previous three picoballoons did not turn on, we were really struggling to launch another. Was it worth it to build trackers, inflate balloons, and get up early to launch a balloon that never turned on? Luckily, we powered thru and launched another picoballoon on Saturday, Sept 4th, 2021, from our usual spot in the Berkeley Marina.

    The team met at 9am, which is a bit later than usual. It was still very cloudy, so the actual launch didn't happen until 9:50am Pacific time (1650 UTC). The launch party was Martin W6MRR, Rob NZ6J, and Robert K6RGG.

    Tracker electronics

    Tracker electronics

    The tracker was released in full sunlight without getting wet in the bay.

    Predictions

    Running HYSPLIT predictions on the morning of ...

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  2. 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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  3. 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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  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. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. 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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