The launch crew began arriving shortly after 7am on a clear and relatively cool morning for mid-September - it was in the mid 40s at sunrise.  A very light wind from the north was apparent, but not enough to bother us.  We started preparations at 7:30am.  As we neared our launch time of 0800, we noticed a hot-air balloon to our north and it passed about a half mile to the west.  Later we found this was Matt Fenster's "Third Priority" balloon from nearby Council Bluffs.

Launch date/time:

15 Sept 2002 1304 UTC (0804 CDT)

Launch site:

Scott Clark's farm near Treynor IA

Payload frequencies:

Primary - 144.390 MHz (national APRS frequency)
Callsign N9XTN-11
Backup  - 147.585 MHz call N9XTN-12
Voice   - 446.30 MHz simplex repeater


AX.25 APRS-formatted location and telemetry, other raw text


350g Kaymont balloon

Maximum altitude:

53,212 ft

Payload weights:

4.0 lbs main capsule
6.0 lbs secondary capsule

Helium used:

260 cu ft (approx.)

Flight duration:

1 hour 18 minutes



Equipment manifest



Basic Stamp 2p microcontroller
Kantronics KPC-3 v6.0 TNC (modem)
Alinco DJ-190T 2m handheld radio
Garmin GPS-35LVS GPS unit
12" dual-band whip antenna
Custom 7.2V 4000 mAh battery pack

2 - Yaesu VX-1R dual-band mini handheld radios w/12" whip antennas
2 - custom 7.2V 2700 mAh packs
Radio Shack simplex repeater
JVC GR-AX220U VHS-C camcorder
Motorola Oncore M12 GPS
Synergy Systems GPS mini-antenna


We switched on the capsule's camcorder and release the balloon at 1304 UTC.  As it ascended, we noticed a lot less rotation of the capsules, especially compared to the previous flight at GPSL 2002.  The main and backup beacon were working fine and the simplex repeater was also functioning.

NSTAR 02-E shortly before launch.  
(Shari Conner K9XTN photo)
More photos by Kurt KC0HMI

NSTAR 02-E Flight Summary

Our first stop was near a restaurant at US34 and US59 just north of Emerson, about 20 miles away.  On our way, we heard only a handful of simplex repeater contacts outside of the chase team, the most distant heard from Des Moines.  Soon after we arrived at the stop, we were able to track the balloon with the naked eye and the payloads were visible with binoculars.  Burst occurred about 13:49:17 UTC at an altitude of 53,212 ft.  With perfectly clear skies today and a good position relative to the sun, I was able to see the burst with the naked eye and could even see the cloud of talc for several seconds afterwards.  Other chase team members saw the burst with binoculars and the payload falling away.

The chase team broke into 2-3 different groups for the terminal part of the chase, since the landing was expected to be only a few miles away from our stop.  We got onto some county roads and tried to guess the landing.  Some of the team was able to see the payloads and parachute just under 10,000 ft.  Our group stopped while the balloon was at 5000 ft, but by now it was apparent it would land in the middle of a section and not near any roads.  We saw the payloads spiraling down because the chute was deformed by the weight of the balloon remnants again.  

Landing occurred at 1422 UTC (0922 CDT) in a cornfield about 0.3 miles off the nearest road.  There was a grass trail leading back into the field for most of that distance, but Paul KC0KXR and I hiked the final 200 yards into the corn to retrieve the payload.  The chute remained on top of the corn, which helped us spot the payload before we started in, but once we entered the field we had no visibility beyond about three rows.  We also could not hear the others trying to guide us towards the payload by shouting - only radio comm worked.  We had a good GPS fix on the payload, so we used that mostly.

One of the goals of this flight was to get video from launch to landing.  However, the camera quit about 15 minutes after burst.  I believe the batteries were still good enough to operate the camcorder, so perhaps the cold caused the camera to shut down.  I'll be doing some freezer tests on it in the future.  The simplex repeater did not have as much traffic, though I don't know if it was due to fewer attempts or poor reception.  

I did make e-mail contact with Matt Fenster, the hot-air balloon pilot.  He didn't see our launch, but is interested in attending one in the future.

See the video of the launch and chase here (7Mb Real Video file, about 13 minutes) and this video from the payload (13 Mb Real Video)  Additional photos are at Kurt KC0HMI's site.  

Download data from the 02-E flight (~350 kb)