This year's UNO Aerospace Education Workshop flight started from the Douglas County West High School in Valley. We used the soccer field north of the school, which is a great spot - in fact, a few weeks earlier I was there for a hot-air balloon flight with Rich Jaworski as pilot.
I arrived around 7 and noticed a bit of a breeze, so I went to the southwest part of the school looking for a little shelter from the wind. Unfortunately that was no better, so we all went back to the soccer field. Paul Verhage KD4STH came up the day before launch to help the teachers make their BalloonSats and was there that morning to assist them with their setup. I started unloading, setting up the chase vehicle, and began testing payloads.
The backup beacon would not transmit and the TinyTrak 3 showed no power light. I had an issue on Flight 09-A where I had accidentally run the batteries down by leaving them connected the night before after a test. Thinking this happened again, I got a spare battery pack and connected it. Still no luck, even though the battery had a full charge. Inspecting further, I found the battery and power cord were warm to the touch, so I suspected a dead short somewhere on the TinyTrak3 board. With no time to diagnose the issue, we decided to press on with the launch using a single APRS beacon (the primary) and a simplex repeater to use for DF work should that become necessary. Not ideal, but we didn't want to disappoint the teachers.
The rest of the fill and launch prep went fine and NSTAR 09-B got off the ground into an overcast sky at 0809 CDT (1309 UTC). The winds had even dropped off for us allowing a near vertical initial ascent.
Our plan after launch was to drive to Red Oak, expecting the landing several miles farther east. With the additional weight, our ascent rates were lower than usual, around 1100 ft/min below 50,000 ft and 700 ft/min above that. We arrived in Red Oak before burst, but with the high overcast it was impossible to spot the balloon. Burst of the Kaymont 1500g balloon occurred at 0957 CDT (1457 UTC) at 94,354 ft.
The winds above 80,000 ft or so were stronger from the east than expected, and with the lower ascent rate at that altitude our burst location was driven farther west than planned. We waited in Red Oak after burst a little while, then once it looked like we would land west of Red Oak instead of east, we drove south and then west on a county road, figuring that would be better for stopping than using the much busier US34.
As we went west of Red Oak, we stopped as the balloon descended through about 10,000 ft. One of the teachers was the first to spot the payload and eventually we were all able to see it. However, I chose to stay there a little too long and we weren't as close as we could have been for the landing at 1033 CDT (1533 UTC).
None of us had actually seen the payloads touch down some distance from the road and behind a ridge. After checking the landing site on the map, I presumed it was not far beyond a ridge and in a soybean field. I didn't bring a GPS or radio, but instead just chose to walk the 200 yards or so out to the ridge to take a look.
No such luck - we couldn't see it. There were more ridges with tall grass around, and a tree line farther away. So I walked back to the Jeep and got a handheld GPS and punched the payload coordinates into it. Still didn't have a radio with me as we walked out into the field again.
It turned out I had underestimated the distance from the road. The GPS showed a distance of almost 500 yards to the payload. We struck out on the bearing the GPS provided us. As we got closer, the beans became a grassy area with a creek and trees beyond that. Within about 100 yards I could hear the beeper quite clearly, which was unusual. As the grass yielded to trees I could tell the beeping was above me rather than below, so I started looking up.
NSTAR's first tree landing
"Aw, sh**!" It was about 30 ft up in a tree. Nothing was particularly in reach from the ground, and of course the tree it landed in was on the far side of the creek. The creek itself was in a ravine about 5 ft deep with steep sides and no easy crossing.
We examined the area looking for a suitable crossing and to decide if we needed anything else from the chase vehicles. Wayne KE6DZD had been carrying a fiberglass pole for just such a contingency. I was going to have him or someone else from the chase team bring the pole to us, but I didn't have a radio on me or my own cell phone with his number in it. Nor could I remember what his number was to call him on someone else's phone. So this meant a hike back.
Ugh. It wasn't flat terrain on the way back, and was now my fourth pass through one of the fields. Need more treadmill time. Even though it was only in the 70s that morning, I was sweating and pretty well wiped out when I got back to the Jeep and reported to the rest "it's in a ****ing tree".
Looking at the maps more closely, we could see another road that would bring us closer to the landing site. We drove to that road and there was even a strip of grass through the corn leading right to the landing site. At least this part would be easier. I pocked my cell phone and and HT and headed back to the landing site.
In the meantime, Paul KD4STH had decided to start climbing the tree in an attempt to get the payloads. He was about halfway there when I arrived with the pole. The backup payload was snagged pretty well, so we decided the first thing to do was to sever its load line. Larry N0BKB taped a knife to the end of the pole and handed it to Paul, who cut the load line. The backup beacon fell free and Larry caught it. We told him that didn't count because he was supposed to catch it in the back of his pickup like he promised. Paul snagged the other payloads and we pulled the whole works down without any damage.
Flight 09-B Track
We all headed back to our vehicles. Because the creek was so deep, the teachers had to walk back the long way rather than risk the drop and steep climb to cross it. We all made it back, winded but safe.
The backup beacon was put on the bench the following week. Nothing obvious could be spotted, but the power connection to the board looked suspect - the two conductors could possibly be touching if the wire were twisted a bit. This was redone with a little more attention paid to ensure the conductors were well separated.