NSTAR Flight 13-B was our annual UNO Aerospace Education Workshop BalloonSat flight, flown in cooperation with Paul Verhage KD4STH of NearSys. The weather was nearly perfect, a little cooler than previous days and almost no wind. Our setup proceeded quickly and we launched our 1000g Hwoyee balloon from Treynor High School in Treynor IA at 0751 CDT (1351 UTC) with 10 lbs of payload and two pounds of free lift.
Our initial chase plan called for stopping in Red Oak to wait for the balloon to burst. However, as we headed east towards US59, it became apparent our track was bending farther to the north than planned. We stopped in Carson for a while, then again in Griswold. At both locations, we were able to spot the balloon with the naked eye when there weren't clouds in front of it.
For this flight we had two trackers, a BigRedBee 2m unit and an OpenTrackerUSB paired with an Alinco DJ-190T that has been a longtime veteran with NSTAR. Both performed very well during the ascent, providing solid tracking information on 144.39 and 144.36 respectively.
The balloon burst at 94,189 ft at 0926 CDT (1426 UTC) about 10 miles southwest of Griswold. This was a concerning time for us, as we had lost tracking information on some previous flights at burst - sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. We were monitoring the audio of our 144.36 signal and were relieved that the transmissions were occuring on schedule. However, the flutter in the signal was preventing proper decoding. We were also monitoring Internet reception of our 144.39 signal and it was obvious that the BigRedBee transmitter was having difficulty both maintaining GPS lock and being heard. After a few minutes, we heard nothing more from our BigRedBee transmitter but the 144.36 payload did give us good reports.
We headed towards Grant and considered stopping again, but decided instead that we were too far in front of the projected path. We backtracked to the west on a gravel road and stopped in a few miles as the payloads were falling below 6000 feet and should have been below the cloud cover. It took a few moments to spot the parachute but we finally saw it off to our south. After a quick drive to the south, we observed the payloads land at 0959 CDT (1459 UTC).
Just south of the landing site was a farmhouse with a horse lot and a barking but seemingly happy dog on the front porch. We made contact with the owners and got permission to search for the payloads. There were some tall trees on the property but we saw the parachute miss them. It turned out they landed in some grass between the cornfield to the north and the horse lot. Once again we managed to avoid a tall-corn landing in the summer in Iowa.
We checked over the BalloonSats and they were mostly intact. The covers for one camera payload had come off but the camera was still inside. One of the payloads had a sealed water bottle with two goldfish inside - they survived the two-hour ride to near space. We got a recommendation from the property owners to go to the Rainbow Cafe in Red Oak for a fine lunch, where we exchanged video and pictures and talked over the day's flight before returning to Omaha.