New Heights for Amateur Radio
Great Plains Superlaunch 2012
This past June, amateur radio high-altitude balloon groups descended on Omaha, Nebraska for the 12th annual Great Plains Superlaunch (www.superlaunch.org). The Superlaunch event kicked off with a balloon launch by the Nebraska Space Grant workshop and a tour of the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, NE.
This yearSuperlaunch was hosted by Mark Conner, N9XTN, and members of the NSTAR (Nebraska Stratospheric Amateur Radio) group . On Friday, we all met at Arbor Hall in Omaha for presentations from a variety of groups about the latest and greatest in amateur radio high-altitude ballooning techniques. Topics included video payload stabilization techniques, using BalloonSats for education research, DF beacon kits and designs for tracking balloons, hydrogen safety, long-duration flight telemetry, EOSSflight from Coors Field with thousands of students in attendance, and a look back at 25 years of amateur radio high-altitude balloons. Mark and the NSTAR group did a fantastic job of organizing the event and the catered food during the conference was outstanding.
Early Saturday morning we all gathered at Glenwood High School in Glenwood, Iowa to inflate our balloons. Mark Conner forecasted light winds until 9 AM, at which point the winds would kick up to 20 to 30 knots. Five balloons were launched. NearSys (Near Space Systems), SABRE (Saskatoon Amateur Balloon Radio Experiments), and NIX-HAB (North Iowa Experimental High Altitude Ballooning) launched shortly after sunrise in light winds. ORB (Oklahoma Research Balloons), Project Traveler, and WB8ELK combined payloads on one balloon and launched an hour later in increasing winds. Shortly after that, EOSS (Edge of Space
Sciences) launched its large 3000-gram balloon in gusting winds.
All of the balloons headed off to the northeast as the surface winds kicked up high enough to blow the hat off my head. We had launched just in the nick of time.
There currently is a worldwide helium shortage, and as a result it was impossible to obtain helium tanks for the launches. This is the first time that hydrogen gas was used by all participants. Hydrogen is safe, plentiful, and very inexpensive as long as you follow a few basic safety rules when inflating. As helium prices rise into the stratosphere, in the very near future hydrogen will be the lifting gas of choice for high-altitude ballooning. A special CGA-350 to CGA-580 adapter is necessary to use helium-gas regulators, as the threads are different on a hydrogen tank, or you can purchase a dedicated hydrogen regulator.
After bouncing around Iowa farmland, we stopped near the predicted landing site and could clearly see multiple balloons high above us appearing like small stars in the stratosphere. The sky was so clear that we could see the balloons pop at peak altitude with the naked eye as they started their parachute descents back to the ground.
After a mad dash down small country roads, we were able to actually see the ORB/Traveler/WB8ELK payloads parachute down just 200 feet in front of our chase car. Mark Conner, N9XTN, was even closer and took a great photo of the landing .Iconvinced that I have a sensor on my payloads that directs them toward any cornfield or the top of a tall tree. I believe that almost all of the payloads landed in cornfields this year. The good news is that since it was in early June, the corn was only a foot tall instead of eight feet tall. Viewing past experiences, you have to be with--
in a few feet to find a balloon payload in tall com.
All of the payloads were recovered successfully, and we met at a great pizza place back in Omaha to trade stories and view the photos and videos taken by the payloads.