Tag Archives: Space

A High Altitude Balloon Project To Generate STEM Interest And Learning

Several members of our club have been working on a High Altitude Balloon Project to promote STEM interest and learning by young people. Our project team currently includes the following folks:

Other interested club members are welcome to join us.

We want to provide a STEM learning opportunity and project to be planned and executed by young people ages 10 – 16. We are actively seeking engagement and support from local schools, Scout Troops and other youth organization to help us with this project.

Our goals for the project include:

  • Building and launching a high altitude balloon carrying Amateur Radio to near space and back
  • Enabling young people to plan and execute the project with help and guidance from members of the Nashua Area Radio Club and supporting adults from organizations that wish to assist us
  • Helping young people gain STEM-based experience and learnings by handling all phases of the project including:
    • Planning the flight, the balloon, and its payload
    • Building the balloon and testing it on the ground
    • Launching, tracking and recovering the balloon’s payload
    • Analysis of the flight data and the creation of a presentation to be delivered to fellow students and other interested groups

We plan to introduce new technology, experiments, and flight elements and develop team member skills and expertise across multiple launches. Later phases of the project are expected to include design and construction of additional payload electronics, high altitude/longer duration flights, and additional on-board atmospheric science experiments.

Typical High Altitude Balloon System
Typical High Altitude Balloon System

Our goals for the initial flight mission of this project will include:

  • Building a helium filled balloon which carries a payload of < 4 lbs. to altitudes in excess of 90,000 ft (27,400 m)
    • Parachute controls decent rate after balloon bursts
  • Capturing a video of flight using on-board GoPro video camera(s)
  • Flying an on-board APRS transmitter allows tracking from the ground via Amateur 2m APRS and aprs.fi
    • Flight computer plus APRS provides altitude, position and temperature data throughout the flight
    • Anyone with a device that has internet access and a web browser will be able to track the flight
  • Augmenting the APRS system with commercial satellite tracker to assure successful recovery of our payload by the project team
High Altitude Balloon
High Altitude Balloons

The balloon is filled with enough Helium to carry its payload to a target altitude in excess of 90,000 ft and then burst. A parachute will deploy to control the rate at which the payload descends and will ensure a controlled safe and soft landing.

High ALtitude Balloon Payload Components
Payload Components

The payload will be built around a light-weight platform which will carry a Video Camera, a Flight Computer/APRS Transmitter, and a Commercial Satellite Tracker. The camera will capture a video of the flight and the flight computer will record altitude, temperature and position data and relay this information to the ground via APRS on 2m. A commercial satellite tracker would be included to ensure we could locate the payload once it is back on the ground.

High Altitude Balloon Flight Planning
High Altitude Flight Planning

A key part of the project will involve planning the target altitude and flight path for our balloon. There are some good resources available to help us do this. Check out the Balloon Performance Calculator here. Tools also exist to estimate a balloon’s flight path and track based on Jetstream and other flight parameters.

High Altitude Balloon Tracking
High Altitude Balloon Tracking

Once we launch our balloon, we can track it in flight via the Amateur Radio APRS network on 2m. The payload will transmit position and other information via APRS that will be received by the many APRS receiver stations that have been built by Amateur Radio Operators. The data from our balloon will be relayed to aprs.fi in real-time and will be able to be displayed on any device with internet access and a web browser.

High Altitude Balloon Flight Data Analysis
High Altitude Balloon Flight Data Analysis

Once we recover our balloon payload, we will guide our young team members in analyzing the data from the flight to help them to learn about atmospheric conditions and to prepare to share the results along with the video captured with classmates and other interested groups. You can get an idea of the video that we can expect below.

 

We are working to raise the necessary funds to support our project.  We are counting on the generosity of our members and friends to help us.  Please consider making a donation here.

Fred, AB1OC

Our High Altitude Balloon Project Meets Its Funding Goal!

We met with teachers and kids in a STEM club at a second local school this afternoon. The teachers and kids are very excited about our project!

We are working on bringing an additional school on board.

STEM Learning Syllabus for HAB Project
STEM Learning Syllabus for HAB Project

We are also working with teachers in our partner schools to develop a syllabus that combines in-classroom lessons with hands-on learning to plan, build and launch our High-Altitude Balloon carrying Amateur Radio. Our team is also planning a tour of a local Amateur Radio station and other activities for the kids. We hope to reinforce the STEM learning aspects of our project this way. This should also spark further interest in Amateur Radio.

Funding For Our Project

We have met our initial funding goal for our project! Many thanks for the very generous donations from club members, member families and support from folks who found us via the internet. Stories about our project have been featured on qrz.com and eham.net and we have received support and well wishes from many HAMs via those sites.

We are hoping to raise more than our goal. If this happens, we will be able to invest in additional equipment. We will then also add some more science experiments to our balloon flight.

Thanks again to everyone who has helped us!!

Fred, AB1OC

A Portable Satellite Station Part 3 – 2.0 Station Radio and Supporting Equipment

With the Antenna System for our 2.0 Portable Satellite Station complete, we turned our attention to assembling the Transceiver and supporting equipment. The equipment used for this part of the project includes:

The Icom IC-9100 provides 100W on 2M and 75W on 70 cm which is more than enough power for our application. It also has some nice satellite features such as support for synchronized VFO tracking between the 2M and 70 cm VFOs on the radio. This radio also uses a single USB connection to allow computer control of the radio and creation of a sound card interface on the host computer. A Heil Proset 7 will be used for operator audio to avoid feedback due to our audio coming back from the satellite. The Icom SP-23 speaker is included to allow observers to hear satellite contacts while they are in progress.

Satellite Station - Radio Management via MacDoppler
Radio Management via MacDoppler

The MacDoppler software provides automated control of the IC-9100 including mode selection and automatic correction of both VFOs for Doppler shift. These features greatly simplify the operation of the radio, especially when satellites with SSB/CW transponders are used.

The video above shows MacDoppler’s management of the IC-9100 Transceiver during a pass of AO-73. The constant adjustments of the VFOs take care of Doppler shift correction and ensure that our signal stays at a fixed position in the transponder passband of linear transponder satellites.

Satellite Station - Preamp Sequencers and Output Monitoring
Preamp Sequencers and Output Monitoring

M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers are used to provide control of the Advanced Receiver Research low-noise preamps on our portable tower. One of the nice features of the Icom IC-9100 is that it can be configured to provide separate keying lines for the 2M and 70cm VFOs. This allows a preamp to remain enabled on the receive VFO while the other VFO is in transmit mode with its preamp shut down by the sequencer. This arrangement is very useful during tuning when one needs to hear your own signal coming back from a satellite. A custom-made cable assembly was made to interconnect the S3 Sequencers with the ACC socket on the IC-9100, the Weatherpack connector on the tower preamp control cable, and DC power.

We used the excellent WaveNode WN-2 Wattmeter again in our portable satellite setup. This is a modular output monitoring system which has a sensor for VHF/UHF use as well as voltage, signal quality, and other monitoring functions.

DC power for the setup is provided via a Powerwerx SS-30DV Power Supply and a RigRunner 4007U distribution unit. We use this power supply in all of our portable setups. It is light weight, provides plenty of power for a 100W station and accessories, and is quiet from an RF perspective.

Satellite Station - Equipment Packing and Protection
Equipment Packing and Protection

With the transceiver test of the station complete, we turned our attention to transporting the setup. Proper protection of the equipment during transport was provided via a large case from Pelican. We combined this with a roller bag and an inexpensive storage bin for documentation and accessories which are not very fragile. We also included our RigExpert antenna analyzer in the setup to make testing of the station during setup in a portable environment easier.

Satellite Station Packed and Ready for Transport
Station Packed and Ready for Transport

With all of the assembly and testing of the components of our 2.0 Portable Satellite Station complete, we packed up all the components. We used an inexpensive furniture dolly to allow us to roll the tower around to load and unload it.

We are ready to test our new station in a portable application. More on that in the final article in this series. Other articles in the series include:

You may also be interested in the satellite station at our home QTH. You can read more about that here.

Fred, AB1OC

A Portable Satellite Station Part 4 – 2.0 Station First Contacts!

With our new 2.0 Satellite station built, tested, and packed; we were ready to try it in a portable environment.

Satellite Station Packed and Ready for Transport
Station Packed and Ready for Transport

Fortunately, the Nashua Area Radio Club had a Technician License class coming up and we thought that the new station test would be a great way for our students to learn about Amateur Radio Satellites.

Satellite Status from AMSAT Website
Satellite Status from AMSAT Website

Final preparations included checking the operational status of potential satellites on the AMSAT website. The page shown above is like a spotting cluster for LEO Satellites – it shows satellite activity as reported by HAM satellite operators. Using this information, we configured MacDoppler to track the active satellites.

Satellite Pass Predictions
Satellite Pass Predictions

Next, we used MacDoppler to generate pass predicts for the weekend of our Technical Class. We assembled this data for all of the potential satellites and color-coded the available passes to identify those which had the best chance of producing contacts.

With this done, we loaded our portable tower, antennas, and all of the rest of the gear into our pickup truck and transported it to the class site.

Satellite Station Antennas Setup Portable
Satellite Antennas Setup Portable

The first step at the class site was to unload all of our gear and move the portable tower to a suitable location. We used a compass to orient the tower to true north and leveled it. We used the weight bags that we made up to anchor the tower securely and then installed the antennas, rotator loops, and control cables. The antenna system worked out very well in the portable environment and was easy to set up.

Satellite Station Antenna Details
Satellite Antenna Details

Here’s a closer to look at the LMR-400 UF coax cables which connect the antennas to the rest of the system. The loops just behind the antennas are necessary to keep the coax from affecting the pattern of the antennas. The coax cables shown were made long enough to allow the antennas to be rotated through their full travel in the azimuth and elevation directions without binding.

Satellite Station Portable – Radio and Supporting Equipment
Satellite Station Portable – Radio and Supporting Equipment

The final step in the portable setup was to put the IC-9100 Transceiver and Supporting Equipment together in the building and check everything out. As soon as we got everything hooked up and working, we heard an ON4 station through FO-29 which was near the end of a low angle pass. A very good sign!

We took some time to fine-tune the calibration of our rotators and to check the operation of the computer controls – everything checked out fine. The video above shows MacDoppler controlling the Azimuth/Elevation rotator and the IC-9100 Transceiver during the testing.

First Contact using New 2.0 Satellite Station (via AO-85)
First Contact using New 2.0 Station (via AO-85)

With all the setup done, it was time to try to make our first contact. Fortunately, we did not have long to wait. We caught a medium angle pass of AO-85, a U/V Mode FM Easy Sat. With MacDoppler setup and tracking, we immediately heard contacts being made through AO-85. I gave a whistle and adjusted my uplink VFO until I heard my signal coming back through AO-85. I gave a quick CQ call and immediately got a response from Jonathan, NS4L in Virginia, USA! It took on a few seconds to exchange call signs and grid squares and our first contract with our new station was in the log.

Explaining Satellite Station to License Class
Explaining Satellite System to License Class

Our Technician License Class students were very interested in the station. We spent some time explaining the setup and demonstrating how it worked. We made more contacts between our class sessions using AO-85 and FO-29 (a V/U Mode Linear Transponder Satellite). Our most interesting contact was with Burt, FG8OJ in Guadeloupe through FO-29. It was great to work DX using the new station during the first time we used it.

We learned several things during our first use of the new station. First, while the 35 ft. maximum separation allowed between the antenna system and the rest of the station is adequate in many applications, the antenna system’s close proximity to the building we were in blocked passes to the west of us with this separation. We have subsequently made up an additional set of feed lines using a pair of 100 ft. long 7/8″ hardline coax cables to allow for a greater separation in portable deployments such as this one.

We were glad that we had the Heil Pro 7 Headset with us and we used it for most of our contacts. The separate speaker allowed our students to hear the contacts well and the boom microphone on the Pro 7 Headset eliminated feedback due to our own voice coming back through the satellites. We improvised a mono to stereo converter cable to connect the Heil Pro 7 Headset to one of the two speaker outputs on the IC-9100 Transceiver. This allowed the radio to drive the separate speaker and the headphones at the same time.

We were glad to have the low-noise preamps available. These were especially useful during low-angle satellite passes and the sequencing setup that we built worked well.

All in all, our first test of our new 2.0 Portable Satellite station was a success. Our license classes students enjoyed learning about Amateur Satellites and had fun along with us making contacts through a few of them. Our next goal will be to get packet modes and APRS working with our setup. We plan to do another article in this series when this part of our project is completed. Other articles in this series include:

We are planning to add larger antennas and switchable polarity to our portable satellite station in the near future. This will enable us to make contacts with Satellites and the ISS in more difficult conditions.

You may also be interested in the satellite station at our home QTH. You can read more about that here.

Fred, AB1OC