Tag Archives: Space

You Can Talk to the ISS With Nothing But a Ham Radio

You’ve just got to time it right.

Source: You Can Talk to the ISS With Nothing But a Ham Radio

Adrian Lane of Gloucestershire, England, got in touch with the International Space Station the other day. Thanks to impeccable timing and a prime location under the ISS’s path above the Earth, Lane was able to have a brief conversation with space station’s crew via ham radio. It must be surreal to have a casual chat with humans who are floating up there in the void, but technologically, it’s really not even that hard….

This article is a fun read about a man in the U.K. who made a chance contact with an astronaut on the ISS. We are considering working local schools as we did with our HAB project to see if we can secure an ISS contact for a group of local students. If you are interested in working with us on this project, please contact me at via email at [email protected].

Fred, AB1OC

High-Altitude Balloon Project Update #3 – Launch!

Our High-Altitude Balloon made it to the edge of space! The image above was taken from our HAB at an altitude of over 90,000 ft!

After many months of work, raising funds to finance the project, teaching STEM sessions in local High Schools, and an open-house to test the Balloon Platform and to learn about Amateur Radio; our High-Altitude Balloon Project (HAB) Team finally got the chance to launch and track our Balloon. We launched our Balloon from the Elementary School in Winchester, NH.

High-Altitude Balloon - Setting Up Our Gear On Site
Setting Up Our Gear On Site

Students, Teachers and Club Members came out to be part of the launch and to track our HAB. The first step was to move all of our gear to the center of the athletic fields at the school and organize all of our equipment.

High-Altitude Balloon Flight Platform Final Assembly and Test
Flight Platform Final Assembly and Test

Next, we attached the GoPro video cameras, satellite tracker and the battery pack for the Flight Computer and 2M APRS transmitter to the flight platform. We used an APRS capable HT to confirm that the flight computer and APRS transmitter were working.

Rigging the High-Altitude Balloon Flight Line
Rigging the Flight Line

We rigged the 40 ft. flight line which connected the HAB’s flight platform, recovery parachute, and the balloon.

High-Altitude Balloon Inflation
Balloon Inflation

And then came the inflation of the balloon from the Helium tank. The winds were gusting to about 12 mph at this point which made inflating the balloon a little tricky. When filled, the balloon was about 6 ft. in diameter on the ground.

High-Altitude Balloon Launch!

With both GoPro cameras running on the flight platform, we were ready to launch. A 10-second countdown and the balloon was up and away!

Tracking Our High-Altitude Balloon
Tracking the HAB

We watched the balloon from the ground as it soared off into the clouds. The 2M APRS tracking system worked perfectly and we spent the next several hours at the launch site, at lunch, and in our cars tracking the HAB on aprs.fi.

Tracking Our High-Altitude Balloon Flight Path On APRS.fi
HAB’s Flight Path On APRS.fi

Our HAB’s flight path took it across Massachusetts where it reached a maximum altitude of 91,700 ft. above sea level (ASL).

Looking Upward at the High-Altitude Balloon (Near Burst)
Looking Upward at the Balloon (Near Burst)

The balloon reached a diameter of approximately 30 ft before it burst. After the balloon burst, the parachute deployed and the payload descended to a landing in the northeast corner of Rhode Island.

High-Altitude Ballon at Recovery Site in Rhode Island
HAB at Recovery Site in Rhode Island

A combination of the APRS transmitter data and the onboard sounder allowed the landing location to be pinpointed and the flight platform recovered with help from a local resident.

The onboard GoPro video cameras captured some awesome video during our HAB’s ascent! All of the media captured by everyone who participated in the launch as well as the APRS data allowed us to produce the video above. Turn up your speakers and give it a play in full-screen mode to enjoy the experience what we shared!

By the time we had launched, the school year was at an end so we will have to wait until the fall to work with the students and teachers who were part of our STEM project to analyze the data from the flight. All in all, our HAB project has been an amazing experience for all involved. We are planning another HAB STEM experience and launch with additional schools in the fall.

We want to especially thank all of our donors whose generous contributions made this project possible.

Fred, AB1OC

Hashtag: #N1FDHAB

Crossing A HAB Off The Bucket List….

Back in 2010, I was a postdoc in the particle theory group at National Taiwan University in Taipei. I was working with a buddy, a German fellow, and in the middle of talking about made up particles (actually they’re real) in imaginary time (this is an actual “thing”), he showed me a neat YouTube video that he found. As we watched, we saw two young fathers design and launch a high altitude balloon (HAB) to stimulate interest in their very young sons. Of course, the best part of this entire endeavor was the video footage they recorded during the ascent/descent. It was awesome; in the original definition of the word. I immediately developed HAB envy and wanted to do this myself. I told my future XYL, Anne, about this and she said if I came back to the U.S., she would help me design one.

Fast-forward to 2011. I came back home, and though Anne offered to help, I was adjusting to a new job in VA and had zero time to dedicate to it and coupled to that, zero money. The dream would have to wait.

Fast-forward to early winter 2016 (I think it was early 2016). Fred, Anita, Jamey, Tony, myself, and others were sitting at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock facility during one of our Youth Days. We had just finished lunch and were brainstorming ideas to engage young people in amateur radio. Fred had mentioned, how about a high-altitude balloon carrying APRS? Bing. Bang. Boom.  That was all I needed to hear. This was the opportunity literally right in front of me to check the box. So, as you can guess, I was in.

The team had a lot of work in front of us. Some of you have heard us proselytizing the good word at our meetings. This whole project would not work if it were just about a solitary, singular balloon launch. There had to be a hook; had to be something that would allow us to continually interact with the potential participating students. What we had decided was to create a STEM opportunity in the classroom. For those of you unfamiliar with STEM, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It represents a body of activities and teaching to foster and nurture this type of education in students. It takes the form of FIRST robotics, programming courses for kids, DIY electronics for kids. You name it, it’s probably a “thing” already. So this is what we tasked ourselves with.

To move forward, we had to establish a potential curriculum and target schools that we could work with and hopefully engender a long-lasting partnership with. The ideal case scenario we envisioned would be, to begin with, students as freshman and work with them until graduation; maybe even getting a senior thesis out of it.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but to name a few, we had bi-monthly WebEx conversations to discuss how to move forward, solicited schools, developed a presentation schedule, created a TON of PowerPoint slides to be presented in the classroom, ordered and tested the HAB and its components, organized an Open House at Fred/Anita’s QTH, and of course figured out a launch date — let’s talk about that next.

Ah, launch time. The culmination of 7+ years of waiting was actually going to happen. I could measure time by prepending the phrase “T-minus” to my system of units — Pretty cool. The morning of, many of us gathered at the requisite spot; the anticipation was pretty palatable. After the exact launch locale was ascertained, we prepped and began to inflate the balloon. Spoiler alert: We under-filled the balloon due to a misunderstanding of the instructions from the company which led to a longer flight time. The moment I let the balloon go, I swear my mind went through all the charts I made, all the prep work the team went through, and an overwhelming sense of pride at the accomplishment we achieved.

We quickly cleaned up and adjourned to a local restaurant where we viciously ate our food and just as viciously scoured the interwebz (aprs.fi) to get the latest update of the balloon’s telemetry. Since the update time was about one minute, it was obvious that Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity was at work; each minute felt like an eternity in my reference frame.

Finally, touchdown! In RI. Ok…sure. We predicted SE of Worcester, but it was RI. Fred called me a few times to update me on the HAB’s status after recovery. I asked him to let me know when the data would be available in the Dropbox. When I saw this, I instantly turned to MATLAB and created the following plots from the telemetry data on the flight computer. (Note: It’s update time is every 6 sec, so we get more accurate updates than APRS)

IMHO, I think the most interesting plots are those of the pressure vs altitude of the HAB and the temperature vs altitude. These are fascinating since:

  1. We have theoretical models from NASA with which to compare with.
  2. It’s unfathomable we can record this data THAT HIGH UP with such simple tools.

Below, I’ll only show the results from the ascent. (The descent essentially looks the same). Also, for posterity, I included the NASA predictions which for those of you who are more mathematically minded (all of you, right?!) can sink your teeth into.

High Altitude Balloon

High Altitude Balloon

High Altitude Balloon

What I find fascinating is that the pressure the HAB recorded (shown in blue) lies essentially on top of the NASA predictions (shown in black). Moreover, the temperature shows good agreement qualitatively: namely a sharp decrease until a particular altitude, then it levels off, and finally begins to increase again. Where those boundaries occur differs between NASA and our local measurements from Winchester, NH. But, the trends are the same. Very encouraging. The next most interesting plots are those derived from the telemetry data. The first is the ascent altitude vs time:
High Altitude BalloonThe vertical speed seems to be essentially constant. This makes sense so long as the vertical lift force from the Helium balances out the downward force of gravity. And this is essentially what we are seeing here and is what is modeled by our HAB prediction website. On the way down, the curve looks a bit more interesting:

High Altitude Balloon

Initially, the HAB seems to be accelerating (since there is some curvature to the line until about 240 min of elapsed time), but after it encounters more air as it falls, it seems the parachute is deployed and therefore reaches terminal velocity (e.g. constant speed)


The upshot of all this stuff is I made a TON of plots on launch night (from the APRS data) and the following morning (from the flight computer data) which I have shown here. I won’t bore you with the other results, but there is a wealth of info one can calculate and learn about.

This entire experience has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of on many, many levels. I just hope we, the HAB team of NARC, have begun to inspire some kids in STEM and amateur radio due to our efforts.

Best and 73,

Brian, AB1ZO

Hashtag: #N1FDHAB

Ten Meter Radio and the Oscars by Ayat Ahadion

What makes Ham Radio such a wonderful hobby are the diverse and myriad of directions available. Contrary to popular opinion 10 meters is NOT DEAD! … LAYNE AE1N

Ten Meter Radio and the Oscars by Ayat Ahadion June 05, 2017

No, I’m not talking about the Academy Awards. Amateur radio has its own Oscars, but they’re not awards given to glamorous movie stars, directors, and writers. In radio terminology, an Oscar is a satellite.

OSCAR stands for Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio. These satellites allow amateur radio operators all over the world to communicate with each other.

The world’s very first satellite – Sputnik 1 – was launched in 1957. It was the opening event and defined the start of the space age. The most exciting event was, of course, the Moon Landing, but although travel to the moon stopped after only a few flights, there have been more and more satellites and the vast majority of these are designed for communication.

OSCAR-1 was launched on the Twelfth of December 1961 – only four years after Sputnik and was a huge hit with ham radio operators all over the world. So far there have been at least 70 OSCARs launched by twenty-three different countries. In many cases, these are small scale projects built by Universities and similar institutions and the satellite is available for use by the amateur radio community free of charge.

Amateur Radio and Space exploration go hand in hand. A large number of astronauts hold amateur radio licenses and many enthusiasts enjoy contacting the International Space Station using two-meter radio equipment. Shuttle Atlantis carried the first radio equipment to the International Space Station in 2000 leading to the first amateur radio contacts by Commander William Shepherd in November of the same year. Since then there have been a huge number of calls between organizations such as schools and colleges and astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS. In 2010 this has averaged over 1 per week.

Working with NASA, AMSAT and ARRL have formed ARRISS (Amateur Radio and the International Space Station) which coordinates contact between the Space Station and school assemblies, science museums, space camps and other similar public forums. The objective is to foster interest in science, technology, space and amateur radio.

Today the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (usually known as AMSAT) publishes information about the OSCARs available on its website at http://www.amsat.org. To encourage amateur radio operators, AMSAT has a number of certificates and awards available to those who make certain numbers and types of radio communication. The organization also holds a number of symposia and conferences, usually open to all amateur radio operators with an interest in space and space exploration.

A large number of OSCARS operate on the ten-meter waveband, making ten-meter radio an ideal introduction to this fascinating aspect of radio communication. Operating on 10-meter bands does require a license from the FCC. You can get help in the pursuit of your license from the ARRL. The Amateur Radio Relay League can offer testing information, studying supplies and a variety of other aids to help.

source: http://goodherald.com/ten-meter-radio-and-the-oscars/