NSTAR joined with the Near Space Balloon Group (NSBG) from the Kansas City area and Treasure Valley Near Space Program (TVNSP) from Boise to hold the Great Plains Super Launch 2001.  The launch site was the former site of the Kansas Near Space Program launches near Manhattan KS.  It was a memorable experience, to say the least.  Weatherwise magazine and a local newspaper were on hand to cover the event.

The chase crews arrived shortly before 6am.  It took us a little over an hour to make the necessary introductions, formulate a plan, and check out the equipment before we began filling the balloons.  The weather was almost perfect with only the slightest breeze and a few high clouds, so we were not in a hurry.  We began filling the balloons around 0715 and began taking them outside shortly after 8.

We released the balloons at 0836 CDT (1336 UTC).  NSTAR and NSBG went up almost simultaneously, but the TVNSP stack hung up on its release lanyard and was 30-45 seconds behind.  After all three were in the air, it was obvious that the TVNSP balloon was ascending much more slowly than the other two.

We packed up and headed towards Junction City for a fuel/food/supply stop.  During that time, it became apparent the SSTV and 70cm simplex repeater were no longer working.  After Junction City, we headed south on US 77 to Herington.  We were able to see the TVNSP payload pass overhead at about 30,000 feet, but could not see the NSBG and NSTAR payloads because they were lost in the sun's glare.  

The NSBG payload burst at 1455 UTC at an altitude of 78,282 feet.  Shortly afterwards we noticed the telemetry for the payload had stopped at 1501 UTC when descending through 60,700 ft.  Near that time, the NSTAR balloon burst at 91,365 feet at 1506 UTC about 4 miles north of Herington.

Since we figured the NSBG payload would come down near the NSTAR payload, we decided to recover NSTAR first, then search for NSBG.  We headed south on US77 about 10 miles, then turned west onto some gravel roads.  We overestimated how far south the landing would be, so we had to backtrack north to the launch site and were not quite in range to see it land.  The landing was at 1545 UTC about 5 miles WSW of Lost Springs in a harvested wheat field.

We made contact with the landowner and walked out to pick up the payload.  During that time, the owner came out with his pickup and gave us a ride back to our vehicles.  Some of the crews spent some time going over the purpose for our launches with him and his family while the rest were deciding on how to recover the other two capsules.  We decided to split the crews into two groups - one to head south and recover the still airborne TVNSP and the other to search for NSBG a few miles east of the NSTAR landing site.  The crews chasing the TVNSP payload left the NSTAR landing site about 1645 UTC.

Just before we left, the TVNSP balloon burst at 1640 UTC about 4 miles NW of Peabody at an altitude of 83,006 ft.  We got back on US77 and headed for Newton.  At the time, we didn't know that Dan KD4STH was well ahead of us and was in position for the TVNSP landing at 1728 UTC about 7 miles SSE of Newton.  This landing was also in a harvested wheat field.  The rest of us arrived about 20 minutes after the landing.

On the way back to the launch site, we made contact with the crews searching for NSBG.  They had not had any luck and were ready to end the search for the day, so we all convoyed back to the Junction City Cracker Barrel for a very late lunch and an opportunity to swap stories.

Epilogue: The NSBG package was found on July 3rd about 5 miles SE of Herington, KS and N3KKM picked it up later that evening.  The parachute was no longer attached to the capsule.  Some, but not catastrophic, damage was done to the electronics.  The landing site is consistent with a parachute separation near the time of the last telemetry report about 60,000 ft.

Update:  The Weatherwise article is in the Nov/Dec 2001 issue.  For an on-line version, click here.