May 1, 2004
High-Altitude Balloon Launch
This launch was supposed to be a multiple balloon launch held in conjunction with the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium. However, due to weather concerns, they scrubbed their participation. Paul Verhage opted to fly his capsule, with recovery assistance provided by the University of Idaho Amateur Radio Club, W7UQ.
With a balloon burst height of 85,000 feet, preliminary predictions showed a Rosalia, WA launch would drop the balloon somewhere between Pullman, WA and Moscow, ID. Morning winds were expected to be low.
We commenced launch preparations at the Rosalia public pool parking lot. It was a little chilly, but there were no complaints about the cloudless sky or absence of wind!
Liftoff time was 6:14am.
Ground tracking was done via beacons on the nationwide APRS frequency, 144.39MHz.
The winds were so slight that the balloon went nearly straight up 15,000 feet before catching any kind of draft! And the sky was so clear that my passenger/navigator was able to keep an eye on the balloon continuously through the sunroof!
In fact, the crystal sky afforded us a rare opportunity: Shortly before apex we stopped in Colfax, WA to reconnoiter. And when the balloon burst at approximately 80,000 feet, the entire crew was able to watch it happen! Those of us with binoculars, especially, were treated to a unique view!
Paul was kind enough to allow a couple of hitch-hikers on his balloon. One was my experimental capsule containing a 4 Mega Pixel digital camera and a custom timing circuit. The other was a capsule designed by high school students and originally scheduled to fly on one of the canceled NASA flights.
When we arrived at the W7UQ ham shack Saturday morning, we found the high schoolers' capsule in front of the door with a note giving preflight instructions and asking if Paul would mind flying it on his balloon!
You can see the Snake River and Canyon exiting the lower edge of this shot.
Whoops! The fluorescent string in this and other photos was part of a lanyard used in launching the balloon. I will have to watch more closely in the future to make sure the camera has an unobstructed view!
The balloon cruised over the town of Moscow, Idaho at several thousand feet—enough to top Paradise Ridge south and east of town (which has a digipeater on top!). The capsule continued beaconing after hitting the ground, and was easily located by the search teams. It was a short walk across a relatively flat field.
Moscow is the home of W7UQ, so recovery only a few miles south of town allowed us to get home before 9:30 in the morning! Usually, we take the photos to a one-hour developer in the mall and catch lunch while we wait. This time, we returned to town before the mall even opened for business! The film was dropped off at Wal-Mart and we caught breakfast down the road at the Pantry instead.
The digital camera caught 183 4MP photos before running out of SD memory card space! I have 13 shots on the ground after landing, with photos being snapped approximately 50 seconds apart. I inadvertently left the video monitor on, but even with that running, the battery level indicator (2 AA Lithiums) shows a full charge remaining.
It is difficult to imagine a more more perfect launch!
This page hijacked with permission from Kyle Thoreson.