NSTAR Flight 13-A at the Great Plains Super Launch was (eventually) a success, after a delayed recovery due to a double failure of the APRS trackers. The N9XTN-11 tracker failed about two minutes after burst. The NearSys KD4STH-12 tracker flying with us was intermittent, providing its last position reports about 5000 ft AGL. It was eventually spotted visually about 20 feet from the road after about 90 minutes of searching (and was almost overlooked despite the proximity). After recovery, both the transmitter board and the container holding the lithium AA batteries were quite warm to the touch (estimated 130 °F). A more detailed writeup will be provided later.
Last Updated on Monday, 17 June 2013 02:56
Next NSTAR flight
Planned NSTAR flights for this summer:
12-B (July 20): UNO Aerospace Education Workshop BalloonSat flight - Omaha metro area
Last Updated on Monday, 17 June 2013 02:50
Flight 12-B - 14 July 2012
Written by Mark Conner N9XTN
Tuesday, 17 July 2012 21:00
NSTAR Flight 12-B was for one of our favorite customers – the Aerospace Education Workshop at UNO. Paul KD4STH had his usual BalloonSat workshop on Friday, and Saturday was the day to put them in the air.
Because of the expected track to the south, we chose the ballfield parking lot in Weeping Water as our launch site. With light winds and protection from the surrounding terrain, we had almost ideal conditions for filling and launching our 1200g Hwoyee balloon. However, during final payload checkout I noticed that our backup beacon had stopped functioning. The switching regulator that provides 5V to the TinyTrak 3 and the GPS was very warm, so I suspected a short on the 5V supply on the TinyTrak – this had happened before due to the ground and 5V wires getting twisted and shorting out. Our main beacon (a BigRedBee GPS/APRS combo) was working fine and performed without a hitch on its maiden flight in March, so we pressed ahead and launched at 0810 CDT (1310 UTC).
Our flight prediction had the landing west of Tecumseh, so we drove there and set up shop in the Casey's parking lot to watch the flights progress. With practically clear skies we could see the balloon approaching us from the north before turning to the west as the winds shifted above 50,000 ft. Our ascent rate was slower than expected, averaging only 750 ft/min.
With the burst expected not too far west of Tecumseh, our plan was to wait there until the balloon burst. As the balloon passed 100,000 ft, it continued to drift farther and farther away from us to the west. Expecting burst almost any minute, we waited and waited for it to pop. Our last UNO flight in 2011 was a record-setting 112,949 feet but with a smaller balloon and a fairly heavy load we did not expect to match that altitude. However, it lasted 25 minutes longer and 16,000 ft higher than expected, finally giving up at 116,789 feet at 1045 CDT (1545 UTC) and is now NSTAR's present altitude record. A picture snapped just before burst is also our highest photo on record.
Photo from NSTAR 12-B at 116,789 feet
By this time the balloon was 10 miles or so northwest of Beatrice, and we now had a 40-some mile drive to the landing. This meant it was unlikely we could be there in time for the landing, but we gave it our best. As we came out the west side of Beatrice, the payloads landed about 10 miles away northwest of the town of Harbine at 1128 CDT (1628 UTC). As we drove up, a position report was received from the payloads on the ground. This was a good sign because (1) we were still 2-3 miles away so that meant the BigRedBee's signal was a good one even with the payloads lying on the ground, and (2) it would simplify our search greatly.
Thanks to the wonders of 4G coverage, we were able to do some Google Earth recon as we drove up. We were in an area of cornfields, but from the satellite image we could not tell for sure if we were in corn or possibly some grass. Without any farmhouses in the area, we could not tell who owned the land where our payloads were. Even though there was a vehicle path back into the field, we chose to park on the road and head back on foot.
We had some good luck again as the payloads were in some grass along a dry creek bed. We could see the parachute from about 100 yards away and walked right up to it. After getting some pictures, we picked everything up and headed back to the vehicles for the long drive home.
Last Updated on Saturday, 09 February 2013 22:35
Flight 12-A - 31 March 2012
Written by Mark Conner N9XTN
Saturday, 07 July 2012 00:37
After two consecutive years of unfavorable launch weather, NSTAR returned to the Central Plains Severe Weather Symposium for 2012 as a featured event. Winds were very light through the launch preparation north of Hardin Hall and NSTAR 12-A took to the air under a 1000g Hwoyee balloon at 1006 CDT (1506 UTC) before a crowd of about 100 or so.
We chased east out of Lincoln, then headed towards Hwy 50 and Tecumseh. This was the first flight for our new primary beacon consisting of a BigRedBee high-power 2m GPS/APRS unit. Powered by 4 AA lithium batteries, the beacon performed flawlessly with a strong signal throughout the flight. The balloon burst at 94,933 feet at 1114 CDT about 10 miles west of Tecumseh.
Our average ascent rate was nearly 1400 ft/min, so this shortened our chase distance from the expected landing north of Seneca, KS. We continued south and east toward Pawnee City, stopping east of town to observe the descent. The balloon crossed in front of us shortly before touchdown and landed in an empty field east of Pawnee City at 1204 CDT (1704 UTC) about a quarter-mile away from the road.
The payloads were largely intact. In addition to being the maiden voyage of the BigRedBee transmitter, we also used a new Spherachutes parachute for this flight. The parachute also performed flawlessly and the payloads had a very stable ride under the chute. The BigRedBee's transmitter was a stranded wire dipole and one leg of the dipole broke off during flight. The backup beacon's whip antenna apparently broke on landing, as it had good performance right until landing. The still camera did not take any inflight pictures as the battery cover was accidentally opened when the camera was put back into the payload at the start of the mission. The video footage from the Kodak Zi6 ran for about 1 hour 23 minutes, stopping on descent for an unknown reason. The video on ascent suffered from a lot of fast rotation and had to be slowed down to about 1/10 normal speed to be viewable.
Last Updated on Sunday, 03 March 2013 03:28
Written by Mark Conner N9XTN
Friday, 09 May 2008 03:40
Nebraska Stratospheric Amateur Radio (NSTAR) is an Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning (ARHAB) organization. The mission of NSTAR is to:
a) Promote the awareness and use of Amateur Radio through the construction, launch, tracking, and recovery of balloon-borne equipment payloads.
b) Gain understanding of the troposphere and stratosphere by recording meteorological data.
c) Practice the forecasting of mission-critical weather parameters for balloon launches.
d) Learn electronics construction and programming techniques to increase the capabilities of the NSTAR payloads.
We use helium-filled latex balloons to loft small payloads into the atmosphere, GPS to determine the position and altitude, and amateur radio to communicate the data to chase teams on the ground. Typical altitudes reached are from 10-20 miles and the balloon can travel 30-100 miles downwind over the course of 1-2 hours.
The inspiration for NSTAR came from the Kansas Near Space Project (KNSP) run by (Lloyd) Paul Verhage, KD4STH. Click here to see a recap of the 1998-99 flights. Flight testing of the first NSTAR capsule was accomplished with the invaluable help of N3KKM Bill All, formerly of the Near Space Balloon Group in the Kansas City area.