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Category: 2004
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In the last few days leading up to this launch, the weather forecasts indicated a good chance for very light surface winds for the entire morning of the launch day. So on Friday the 1st, we decided to delay the launch time from the usual 0730 to about 0930.

Another concern in the last few days before launch was our track forecast. They were uncomfortably close to Creston IA and two lakes northeast of there. However, the Friday forecast indicated we could fill the balloon more to shorten the track and use a 1200g balloon to lower our burst altitude, moving the landing site a more comfortable 6-8 miles west of Creston.

We arrived about 0830 on Saturday morning with a lot of frost on the ground, which melted soon after our arrival. Just a hint of cloud cover well to the northwest was the only obstruction in the sky. As I powered on the payloads, it was apparent the VX-2R used for the backup APRS beacon had a dead battery. With no charger handy and no time anyway, I decided to remove the simplex repeater setup and use its VX-1R for the backup beacon instead. The remainder of the checkout proceeded normally.

Suddenly there was a beeping noise from my chase vehicle. The power inverter used to run the laptop was whining about an undervolt condition. I unplugged it and went to start the car to charge up the car's battery. The relay clunked, but that was it. Our host Scott KC0MTH came to the rescue with his truck and a set of jumper cables, and the car was running again. I made a mental note to keep the car running during our various stops, and borrowed his jumper cables for the morning just in case.

Soon after we got the car started, the laptop went to standby. Since I'd unplugged the inverter, the laptop went to its internal battery for power, and the old laptop battery is only good for about 15 minutes of life. The screen won't turn back on for some reason after going to standby, so the only cure is to reboot. With a 450 MHz Celeron running XP, this takes a while. After booting, a new problem cropped up. The USB/serial converter was still connected to an operating GPS unit. XP detected this as a serial mouse and the cursor was uncontrollable. Another reboot and 5-minute wait.

Finally the chase equipment was back to normal and the launch could proceed. Fortunately for us the surface winds had remained very light so there was no risk to our 1200g Kaymont balloon. We got the balloon launched at 0953 CDT.

Everything was running normally after launch, and we packed up to start the chase. We headed east on Hwy 92 to Massena and then south on Hwy 148. I remembered an east-west blacktop county road from one of our previous chases passing near the tiny towns of Mt Etna and Carl. We turned east on this road and stopped to wait on the balloon burst. With the clear sky overhead, it wasn't difficult at all to spot the balloon with the naked eye. However, being nearly overhead made it hard to keep looking at for long periods. I had looked down to rest my neck when Wayne announced it had appeared to burst - he said it looked like it had split in two. Soon the telemetry confirmed the burst at 84,305 ft and 1114 CDT.

We continued east with our chase to a couple miles north of Creston. I was becoming more and more concerned with landing in the lakes northeast of Creston. The lakes are 3-4 miles long and about a half-mile wide and our capsules were heading towards them along their long dimension. Certainly nothing we can do now but wait. As the descent continued, it started to look like we'd land short of the lakes which was a bit of a relief.

Soon we could hear Larry N0BKB on our chase frequency. We managed to avoid a construction area by taking a shorter gravel road over a longer paved one. As the balloon descend through 5000 ft, we were just 2-3 miles away. The balloon was to the south of the road we were driving on, but was moving back to the north.

Tally ho! Wayne and Paul had spotted the balloon, but it took me a few seconds longer. I got my video camera out and started shooting the terminal descent. The payload was swinging and spiraling in a fashion that made it difficult to tell just how it was moving. At first it looked like it would land on the road, then it drifted north again. Uh oh, we have power lines on the north side of the road. The payload made one fortunate swing north again and cleared the lines. It dropped between the road and the cornfield in some grass at 1148 CDT, with the chute draped just over the fence under the power lines.

Since we could reach everything from the road right-of-way, we didn't have to see about finding the owner. We were parked somewhat precariously on the side of the road, and within a few minutes a couple of larger trucks had come by already. A few hundred yards up the road there was a small cemetery with 10-15 cars parked there. However, the people weren't dressed as for a funeral. Soon a couple of them came to see why we had stopped there. They had seen us pick up the parachute and had thought maybe it had been there a while. We explained that it had landed just minutes before and that we saw it come down. We also showed them our chase equipment and explained the hobby. They were impressed that we could launch the equipment to such a high altitude, chase it, and be there right when it landed. I handed them some NSTAR cards and we packed up and headed to Creston for lunch.

The new lithium-ion 6400 mAh pack performed quite well. It has at least a 10-hour capacity and we had used barely 3. Our new Concord EyeQ 4060 digital camera also worked well on its first voyage. The only less-than-perfect aspect was that the camera had switched to standby during the pre-launch delay - when it came out of standby the JPEG quality setting had reset from "high" to "medium". However, 151 pictures were taken during the flight, every time the Basic Stamp had commanded it. Quality was equal or better than the Canon Elph used on previous flights. A modification to the control circuit will be added to keep the camera from going to standby during the pre-launch phase. The camcorder had run for the entire flight from launch to landing. In fact, it was still running as I put it back into the car.

One of the problems with the camcorder and still camera is its orientation during descent. Both point horizontally on ascent, but are tipped up about 30 degrees on descent. This seems to be due to the balloon pulling on the parachute and tilting the stack out of the vertical. Funny how consistent it's been lately - I don't think it's been oriented with the cameras "down" very much. I hope to install a timer cutaway for our 2005 flights.