The 2009 Great Plains Super Launch was held in Topeka this year, and fortunately NSTAR was able to participate once again, our sixth of nine Super Launches.  After a great set of presentations on Friday, we were fortunate enough to be able to launch from Washburn Tech right in Topeka thanks to some great coordination by Zack W0ZC with Topeka/Billard and Forbes Field. 


Saturday dawned with temps in the upper 50s, a near record low for Topeka on that date.  Skies were almost clear and the winds were very light from the west during the launches.  During our chase receiver setup, we discovered some problems with the TNC not wanting to talk to the USB-to-serial converter.  This was the same setup used just a week before for 09-B and nothing had changed.  After about 20 minutes of rebooting, swearing, and wire jiggling, we were able to cobble together a working setup by using some spare equipment Wayne KE6DZD brought with him.  The rest of the setup and fill went uneventfully and we launched our 1500g Kaymont a few seconds before 1300 UTC (0800 CDT).


Our pre-launch forecast put the landing about 10 miles southeast of Garnett.  Most of the balloons were launched before ours, with only WB8ELK following us.  We headed south of Topeka on US 75 to US 56, then east to US 59.  Both our primary and backup beacons were operating fine and we made some occasional contacts on the simplex repeater, including one to Ralph W0RPK in Indianola, about 200 miles distant.


We headed south on US 59 and stopped just south of Princeton to wait for burst.  While we were waiting and scanning the skies for our balloon, a pair of uniformed state park rangers pulled into the parking lot and asked what we were doing.  We explained that a group of us had launched weather balloons with tracking equipment from Topeka that morning and were waiting for them to come down.  They said they had seen several vehicles with multiple antennas in the area and wondered what was going on.  I suppose since we were stopped at a convenient parking lot, they decided to pull in and ask.


Burst occurred at 1421 UTC (0921 CDT) at 92,119 ft.  We were hoping for a slower ascent rate but didn’t want to undershoot our gas fill too much.  We left about 300-400 psi in the T cylinder and still got over 1000 ft/min for the average ascent rate. 


We stuck around near Princeton for a while after burst, trying to gauge how far south we’d go.  Based on where the other balloons were already going, we thought we’d end up somewhere just east or south of Garnett.  As the payloads passed to our west, we could see it while it was still at 25,000 ft or so, which was unusual on descent.  The payload seemed to brighten and dim periodically, also unusual.


We headed south towards Garnett, and it became clear our landing would be somewhere east of town.  We turned onto the main east-west street on the north edge of town and headed east.  We thought for a while the low-level winds would take us a couple miles out, but then the balloon slowed and we had to turn around and head back to the west. 



The payload was now a couple thousand feet off the ground and some distance north of the road we were on.  Even from this distance we could see a lot of balloon had fouled on the payload lines, but the chute was left pretty clean and open.  We had a nearly perfect photo opportunity as the payloads drifted towards us and finally landed about 100 yards north of where we stopped at 1506 UTC (1006 CDT).




Flight 09-C about to land safely in the pasture.



The landing site was a cow pasture ringed with a fence topped with barbed wire.  However, the corner of the pasture had a spot where we could climb over the fence easily enough.  Because the pasture had no associated farm house, nor livestock currently in the pasture, I just hopped the fence and walked the short distance in to retrieve the payloads.


After our recovery, we decided to chase Bill WB8ELK’s balloon to its landing.  We weren’t in too great of a hurry as we estimated his landing would not be far from Garnett.  But his balloon was decending much more rapidly than expected and we raced west out of Garnett to get near the landing.  We weren’t quite fast enough and the landing was a couple minutes prior to our arrival.  After a quarter-mile hike into the soybeans and a quarter-mile back, we had Bill’s payload too.


The GPSL group met at the Garnett Pizza Hut for our victory lunch.  The restaurant crew took the arrival of about 40 people in stride, giving us a party room and were very efficient in providing our lunches.  Afterwards, most of us returned to Topeka and had yet another celebration at the nearby Cracker Barrel before saying our goodbyes until next year’s Super Launch. 



Ground photos:



Aerial photos: