Pico Balloons - AADARC - KK6MTQ

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Pico Balloons
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Construction. Launching, and Monitoring of Pico Balloons
Brian, N6CVO, and Jed, N6JED have successfully launched several Pico Balloons over the last few years. Through Amateur Radio you can track the progress of the balloons and watch how they travel around the globe. In 2022, Tom, WA2IVD, provided this video of a launch at the Quartzfest event in Arizona.
At Quartzfest 2024, Brian, N6CVO, and Jed, N6JED, launched three pico balloons during the course of the event. All three are transmitting location data on WSPRnet and can be tracked on a number of websites.
Current Balloons Flying
KJ6CPU, 10m, CH412, WSPR
  • Launched 24-Jan-2024, Quartsite Arizona USA
  • Yokohama Balloon with hydrogen lifting gas.
  • Traquito Jetpack tracker
  • PowerFilm 4.8-150 set at a 45-degree angle to the horizon. 12" long carbon fiber rod with neodymium magnet to point panels towards the south like a compass.
  • TL431A shunt regulator added to the Jetpack board to limit voltage to 5.0v
  • Spun slowly upon ascent but must have stabilized at altitude where it started reporting in on WSPR.
N6JED, 10m, CH419, WSPR
  • Launched 24-Jan-2024, Quartsite Arizona USA
  • Yokohama Balloon with hydrogen lifting gas.
  • Traquito Jetpack tracker.
  • Two folded PowerFilm 4.8-150's arranged in a square. Looks like a cube-sat.
  • No diode isolation (tested and no drain from panels that are not in full sunlight).
  • TL431A shunt regulator added to the Jetpack board to limit voltage to 5.0v
  • Started reporting in as soon as it got a little altitude even with the sun low on the horizon.
N6CVO, 20m, CH388
  • Launched 26-Jan-2024, Quartsite Arizona USA
  • Yokohama balloon, U4B Tracker, low power startup program.
  • PowerFilm 4.8-75 set horizontal with a 5.0v shunt regulator.
  • Full 20m dipole from 0.006" piano wire
  • Good launch but payload spun excessively upon ascent and may have tangled up as spots are very sporadic.
 
Balloon Update - 5/5/2024
Two of the three Pico-balloons we launched at QuartzFest 2024 in January have been flying for over 100-days! All three balloons completed 7-circumnavigations around the earth before one was lost. The two still flying, as well as the one we lost have interesting stories to tell.

JED, which is currently flying at 37,000', is working on its 9th circumnavigation around the world. It was recently over eastern Canada when it got kicked due north and flew within a couple hundred miles of the North Pole. It continued its path bringing it straight down from the North Pole and into northwestern Russia where it picked up the easterly winds. As it neared northern Siberia, it got caught in a weather system that is common this time of year. The pressure system took the balloon in a big loop back north into the Arctic Circle, then west, and finally back down again over northwestern Russia. From here it can enter the easterlies or get kicked back north for another loop. Time will tell.

CPU completed its 7th circumnavigation and was flying along at 41,000' over Texas on Monday April 8th. At 12:08cdt it entered the path of the Solar Eclipse and experienced Totality. As the balloon experienced darkness, the signal was lost as expected since the solar panel was no longer producing power. We waited as the sun came back but the balloon was never heard from again. We don’t know what actually happened to it. It is very unlikely that an alien spacecraft took it, and even though there was weather in the area it was not reported to be high enough to affect the balloon. What we did find was an incredible amount of aircraft traffic in the area with commercial and private jets diverging to experience Totality, or even flying along the eclipses path. So, our best guess is the balloon went down due to wake turbulence destroying the fragile balloon.

CVO, which is flying at 48,000', is still having transmitter problems so the spots and tracks are very erratic. Often times we have to use the wind and weather reports, as well as flight prediction software, to fill in the missing spots. That said, it continues flying in the southern hemisphere and has completed a circumnavigation after another loop over Australia.

73, BrianB N6CVO

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