This flight was scheduled to support the University of Nebraska-Omaha Aerospace Education Workshop with a BalloonSat flight. NSTAR provided two tracking payloads, one of which included a still camera, while the workshop participants provided six BalloonSat experiments that we attached.
The weather forecasts for the week leading up to the flight date promised cool weather but otherwise good conditions. However, the forecasts suddenly changed the day before to include a substantial chance of showers through Saturday morning. We all woke up at 0500 CDT on Saturday to the sound of falling rain. After conferring with Dr. Larson at UNO, we decided to have another phone conference at 1000 to discuss the weather.
By 10am the radar showed a lot of rain in the area, but a hole was opening over the launch site that looked like it might last a while. We decided at that point to go ahead with a 1230 launch since the winds were light, the chase plane was ready, and both NSTAR and UNO would have more difficulty delaying to Sunday. On our 30-min drive to the launch site we encountered a few bands of heavier showers, so I started to despair that we would get the balloon off the ground.
We arrived at the launch site about 1130 and the rain had subsided to a very light drizzle. We found a quiet place next to the school to set up our equipment for filling the balloon. As we began to fill the balloon around 1215, the rain became a little heavier. Soon the surface of the balloon was saturated and a mix of talc and water began to run down the sides of the balloon and onto the balloon neck as we were tying it off. We made sure to keep positive control of the balloon at all times, and when we taped off the balloon we added a zip tie over the tape to help keep it in place. As we were finishing up the balloon train we could see and hear the UNO chase plane orbiting the launch site. With the assistance of a couple of the workshop participants, we got the balloon airborne into the overcast and rain at 1243 CDT.
As we headed back toward the Atlantic area, we made contact with Paul KC0KXR who was in the chase plane. We now expected the landing to be to the north or northwest of Atlantic. We made our way through town and to the northwest edge as the balloon was descending through 10,000 ft and turning back to the west. Our initial plan was to turn east on a county road, but we passed it by mistake. As we went north to the next intersection, I decided the balloon was still making good progress to the west, so instead of turning east we turned back to the south and pulled off the road.
Finally we spotted the payloads passing almost directly over our vehicles at about 2000 ft AGL. There was some swinging back and forth during the descent, but otherwise it was stable. We watched the payload drift down into a safe area over some soybean and cornfields, landing at 1442 CDT about 500 yards off the road. We were able to walk most of the way on a grass vehicle path, but the last 150 yards was through 10-ft tall corn. Paul in the chase plane helped guide us to the landing position, as we could not see the parachute until we were within about 20 ft of it.
All the payloads were recovered intact and the experiments were pretty successful.