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Atlantic Crossing By Amateur Radio High Altitude Balloon 51

First time submitter StatureOfLiberty writes "The California Near Space Project launched a high altitude weather balloon from San Jose, California 4:00 PM local time Sunday afternoon (Dec 11). Over the past 3 days it managed to cross the United States and then the Atlantic Ocean. The balloon passed the coastline of Spain about 12:40 AM (US Eastern Standard Time) Wednesday morning (Dec 14). It has since popped and landed in the Mediterranean Sea. This is a huge accomplishment. The previous distance record was about 3,300 miles. This one traveled about 6,200 miles. Enthusiasts tracked the balloon via the web throughout most of the trip thanks to a ham radio technology called APRS which received data transmitted by the balloon and logged it to databases on the internet. Thanks to APRS stations around the world (some of whom changed their normal listening frequencies to help with the tracking process) data was available for most of the flight."
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Atlantic Crossing By Amateur Radio High Altitude Balloon

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  • by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @01:24PM (#38371906) Journal
    Oh, wait.

    At least three days is a lot faster than eighty days.
  • I read another article on this (possible on The Register), and one of the shortfalls of the project as it turned out (i.e. going further than expected) seemed to be the lack of battery power for the transponder for attempts at a longer journey.

    I wonder how much a nicely paired up solar panel would upset the lift/weight balance on a high altitude balloon, and whether it would be able to charge the batteries well enough to power a transponder over a longer trip.

    • Re:Battery life (Score:4, Interesting)

      by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @01:49PM (#38372308)

      I wonder how much a nicely paired up solar panel would upset the lift/weight balance on a high altitude balloon, and whether it would be able to charge the batteries well enough to power a transponder over a longer trip.

      Thermal problems. Primary batteries might not work as well below -40 as they do at room temp, but they can be made to work. Secondary batteries, however, definitely don't like to take a charge in the deep cold. If you can keep the battery warm enough overnight, then maybe...

      • Also, solar panels have to have the right angle of reception to be at all useful. On a weather balloon with no directional control, you're going to have to seriously overload the envelope/payload with cells in order to get any useful current... and that will add a LOT of weight.

  • by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @01:32PM (#38372044) Homepage Journal

    APRS is "Automatic Position Reporting System" per the creator. Wikipedia has the name wrong.

    Why yes, I am a HAM. I hold a General ticket.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's weird. When I was studying for my general class, I was told that the P did stand for packet, and the claimed source was also the creator. That makes more sense if you think about it. While APRS is used for position data by most people, it's designed to handle allot more.

      From Wikipedia: APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) is a digital communications protocol for exchanging information between a large number of stations covering a large (local) area.

      While the article acknowledges the use of the

    • by jdagius ( 589920 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @02:12PM (#38372686)
      > Wikipedia has the name wrong.

      No, you are wrong. Bob Bruinga, WB4APR, the inventor of APRS has reverted in the naming convention, and now supports the "_packet_ reporting" moniker because he wants to emphasize that APRS is not just for position reporting. For example, it's extensively used for weather reporting from mostly non-mobile CWOP (Citizen Weather Observers Program) volunteers, who include a lot of non-amateur radio enthusiasts who augment NWS mesolevel forecasts with thousands of home-made stations reporting every ten minutes or so over the Internet. (The ham-radio CWOP volunteers can also report weather via amateur RF frequencies).

      Also APRS has been used ("firenet") for reporting brush and forest fires. []
      • ... I love it when people rename things.

        My mistake.

        • If you've met Bob, or worked with APRS for any length of time, you'll know that APRS is a bit of a moving target. (Props to Cmdr. Bruninga for making it a reality, but he does have a bit of a "shoot from the hip" reputation.)
    • APRS is "Automatic Position Reporting System" per the creator. Wikipedia has the name wrong.

      Sorry but the correct name is "Automatic Packet Reporting System". Position information is available in the protocol but not its purpose. In fact, when APRS was young and GPS was still expensive the position information was only a rough estimate of the origination station's location.

      Anyway APRS was designed to send short messages efficiently and is used for tactical information (eg. weather stations, shelter populat

    • by wv5k ( 771543 )
      Amazing they haven't fixed this yet...
  • Upcoming launches (Score:5, Informative)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @01:39PM (#38372146)

    Upcoming launches at []

    Also note that solely transmitting APRS is not the only thing ever done by balloons. Voice repeaters are very popular. TV transmissions both NTSC and slowscan are popular. Simple beacons in multiple frequency bands are popular. Digital telemetry, such as temp / pressure / humidity is sometimes done.

  • Where it was eaten by a whale or dolphin, which subsequently died.

  • It "POPPED"? (*cancels reservations*)
  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @01:59PM (#38372464)

    UV is the showstopper as it is very intense above 100K, it was not expected to last more than a few hours in sunlight. They launched it (along with three others) late Sunday afternoon so most of eastward travel is done at night and figured the sun UV will deteriorate the latex following morning causing balloon to pop and land. Objective of two balloons (K6RPT-11 and -12) is distance. These were planned to be floaters (buoyant at 120K or so) but expect to only make it partway across the US, K6RPT-12 popped and landed in Indiana (some hams have tracked it down and will recover). But....... K6RPT-11 kept going throughout the day then crossed the coastline the next night and contact was lost over Atlantic. Then it was picked up the next morning from Azores, now hams on other side of pond got active on tracking this thing. It kept going, survived two days of UV but looks like it didn't survive the UV the third day.

    There's ongoing discussion on QRZ (one claimed all kinds of laws were broken), []

    You all has gots to admit this is one for the books!!!!!!!!!

    Other two balloons K6RPT-12 and -13 were going for altitude record (CNSP achieved a record of 136,545 ft in Oct). These came down in west Nevada close to that shaded area of restricted airspace that has Tonopah Test Range and Groom Lake. Payload of K6RPT-13 is same as the record altitude setter from October and has signatures of CNSP members, I think they should have kept it and enshrined in a plexiglass pyramid. But I guess if it gets lost then may as well lose it in Area 51.

  • &$)(! No one ever said i'd need to book a plane ticket to retrive my phone. It seemed easier in the commercial.
  • by leighklotz ( 192300 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @03:53PM (#38374378) Homepage

    I operate a low-level iGate in Palo Alto, CA. It's built out of a WRT54G running aprs4r (Ruby) and using an Argent Data modem, based on an integrated design by Chris K6DBG.
    I didn't hear the balloon directly, but I did hear it repeated from three mountain-top digipeaters (i.e., one radio hop away) and gatewayed the packet to the internet.

    Here's the first packets I heard; the very first had a bad decode for most of it.

    2011-12-09T17:13:02: K6RPT-13>APBL10,WR6ABD*,WIDE2:!????????/o?O???/???/A=109373
    2011-12-09T17:15:06: K6RPT-13>APBL10,WR6ABD*,WIDE2,QAR,KG6HWF:!3715.25N/12153.29WO140/000/A=000193CNSP-13
    2011-12-09T17:15:06: K6RPT-13>APBL10,WR6ABD*,WIDE2:!3715.25N/12153.29WO140/000/A=000193CNSP-13

    APRS is based on AX.25 unproto, which is kind of the IP equivalent of UDP (as AX.25 is derived from X.25). It uses source routing, so you can see K6RPT-13 directed its packet at the "destination" APBL10, and the destination in APRS is usually a unique software identifier. That got picked up directly by WR6ABD on Loma Prieta mountain near Santa Cruz, CA. WR6ABD retransmitted it ("WIDE2" is a hope count for how to route over RF), and then gatewayed to the Internet ("QAR") by KG6HWF, and my WRT54G picked that up off the internet feed. The third line logs a packet I received directly and correcly from WR6ABD My WA5ZNU-10 iGate would have also done the same after the 3rd packet there.

    • OOPS, that was K6RPT-13, a different balloon . Here's the balloon, K6RPT-11:

      2011-12-11T16:18:25: K6RPT-11>APBL10,WR6ABD*,WIDE2:!????????/?????????O???/??/A=189423V288 CNSP-11
      2011-12-11T16:18:37: K6RPT-11>APBL10,WR6ABD*,WIDE2:!????????/?????????O???/???/A=109373V266 CNSP-11
      2011-12-11T16:20:31: K6RPT-11>APBL10,WR6ABD*,WIDE2:!?????????/????????O???/??/A=109373V255 CNSP-11
      2011-12-11T16:24:31: K6RPT-11>APBL10,WR6ABD*,WIDE2:!3715.57N/12152.44WO328/000/A=000082V255 CNSP-11

      Here's both: http://a []

      • Can't help wondering if the "?????" is NOT a bad decode, but a bad GPS fix. The rest of the frame is quite well-formatted including the / and O. It looks like it still has Altitude (the A=) but the value looks dodgy compared with when it DOES have a fix.

        Nick VA3NNW ... recently been studying APRS101.pdf and oh, my, what a mess, not so much a standard, looks more like a dumping ground of every new format anyone felt like inventing :-(
  • At the risk of slashdotting this limited-resource site, I'll submit this aircraft APRS tracking site [] for a view of the entire track. Scroll down for tabular data showing groundspeed, altitude, etc. The Google map is zoomable and panable in the usual method as well as with a "Zoom" control in the lower left.

    Four balloons were actually launched and an additional one crossed the Rockies but only one crossed the Atlantic. APRS tracks for the three other balloons are left as an exercise for the reader. Hint

  • The APRS tracker used was one from Big Red Bee [].

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27