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What goes up usually comes down…

November 09, 2009 @ 14:27 By: gordon Category: Amateur radio

ve3rex-11 map … but not always where you want it to.

I picked up my friend, Ken, Saturday morning and we headed to Perth to watch the LASA group launch two balloons: VE3REX-11 and VE3LCA-11.

VE3REX-11 was the first hydrogen-filled (yes, not helium-filled) balloon to be launched from outside Perth. This balloon carried just an APRS tracking device and was hoped to set a new altitude record. Ken and I decided to follow this balloon, so we took off shortly after launch and left the other people to track the other balloon.

We headed to the border crossing at Prescott, stopping at Subway to grab lunch to eat along the way. After an uneventful clearing customs was uneventful (always a good thing), we picked a route that would take us towards Adirondack Park, which looked like the most likely landing zone.

Jim in Morrisburg (VE3XID) and others fed us location updates as we made our way south. Though my mobile radio was providing us real-time location updates for VE3REX-11, Jim was able to tell us what it was over. This allowed us to refine our destination as the balloon continued along its way.

Eventually, the balloon popped at 127 932′ ASL (about 800′ shy of the world record) and the payload started its return to Earth. A couple of thousand feet above sea level, the APRS network stopped receiving updates. This could have meant that the payload had gotten damaged on landing, landed in the water or was simply too far away from the nearest digipeater.

We continued along, hoping that we would hear it as we got closer to its last known location and sure enough, we heard a location update. Making note of the location, we relayed this information to Jim and punched the coordinates into the GPS. It was in the Adirondack Park, not too far (in the grand scheme of things) from the nearest road.

Naturally, we came across a gate barring the road several miles short of the payload. Stopping to ask a hunter for some advice on how to get closer to it, we tried a different access road, but came across more gates.

By this time, there was about 50 minutes of until sunset. We discussed the feasibility of making the 3.5 km hike in, but decided that this was how news stories that start with the phrase “Two hikers were rescued in the forest…” come to be. One of the other teams chasing VE3REX-11 contacted us and said they had parked at one of the gates and were going to hike in. We pointed out that they’d be doing most of the hike in the dark, but they said they were going to press on anyways.

Ken and I discussed what were going to do. Our options were to leave them on their own and head back, or stay at the trailhead and track their progress and be there to relay messages, if need be. Though we were faced with a three-hour wait, we decided that if something happened to them and we weren’t there, that would be Bad.

So we waited. After a while, a third chase team showed up and kept us company while we waited.

The recovery team checked in with us every ten or fifteen minutes allowing us to plot their progress on the GPS.

Being in the middle of the forest, we didn’t have cell phone coverage, so we couldn’t call Ken’s wife to let her know we were still in the land of the living. But, in true amateur radio spirit, Jim (VE3XID) relayed a message for us.

Eventually, the recovery team reported they had found the payload, but sadly it was 50’ up in a maple tree, so they were returning empty-handed. Oh well, these things happen.

They continued to check in with us every fifteen minutes and eventually we saw their flashlights in the distance. Upon their arrival, we packed ourselves up and convoyed out of the woods. We parted company with them in Tupper Lake where they stopped at a restaurant.

We learned on our way back that the other balloon, VE3LCA-11, was on the ground in somewhere in Vermont, but that it seemed that the teams chasing it had run out of daylight before they were able to recover it.

So, although the payloads are still on the ground or in a tree, we know where they are and we have a good idea of what’s needed to recover them.

3 Responses to “What goes up usually comes down…”


  1. Martin says:

    Hi, Gordon.

    I really enjoyed listening along to the balloon chase.

    Bob VA3QV provided a running commentary as things progressed.

    I was following along on aprs.fi along with many others.

    Congratulations to the team for a new 2nd place record.

    I have a couple of questions:

    The highest altitude I saw on a beacon was 127 932′ ASL but the balloon may actually have gone higher than that before the next beacon. Will the GPSr have recorded the maximum height, so there’s still a chance that it broke the record??

    Also:

    I was still hearing packets from both balloons throughout the day yesterday and through the night although VE3REX seems to have finally quit at 2:30am and 4am this morning (when the battery voltage hit 6.8V), but intermittently. VHF propagation changes maybe, not sure why there were periods with no packets being heard.

    Finally:

    I’d love to tag along when you or whomever else does head down to recover the balloons, unless it is this weekend (Nov 14th) as I am doing a summits on the air activation of Mont Ste. Marie on that day (WX permitting).

    – Martin, VA3SIE.

    • gordon says:

      Hi Martin…

      I heard Barrie (VE3BSB) talking about the maximum altitude issue. He said that the tracker in VE3REX-11 was a basic unit that sent an update at a set frequency, while the unit in VE3LCA-11 is more sophisticated and can increase the beacon rate above a certain altitude. I don’t know what sort of data logging capabilities, if any, the unit in VE3REX-11 has.

      The terrain VE3REX-11 landed in is not terribly VHF-friendly. Combine that with a lack of digis in the are and it’s not surprising that there’s been intermittent reception of packets from it. As I mentioned in my post, we didn’t hear from it until we were quite close.

      I’m not sure what the recovery plans are for VE3REX-11, but they’re going to have to involve tree climbing equipment and maybe a branch trimmer or similar equipment — being 50′ off the ground poses some interesting challenges. Personally, I can’t mount a rescue mission for a couple of weeks, at best, because I have things planned over the next few weekends. I assume that the LASA group is probably going to coordinate this, but who knows? One thing that would make things easier would be gaining access to the gate so that the hike could be shortened.

      If I do decide to mount a recovery expedition, I’ll let you know. 🙂

  2. John Sheehan says:

    Gordon:

    It appears from the map that your equipment landed in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. It is hard to tell from the scale.

    If indeed it is in a tree on public land, leave your trimmer behind. It is illegal — unconstitutional specifically — to destroy or remove any tree, living or dead, on the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Even cutting branches will earn you a ticket and a fine.

    That said, rangers will likely help you get it down without running afoul of the law. Check in with the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation before your next trip. The DEC Ranger School is right there in Cranberry Lake, as is the local ranger for that area. The school may WANT to send a team to help get it down, perhaps even as a class project.

    If it is on private land, and you have permission to enter, but need help, let me know and I will try to seek some assistance for you.

    Best of luck.

    Let me know if you need contact numbers or further information.

    John Sheehan
    Director of Communications
    The Adirondack Council
    Defenders of the East’s Greatest Wilderness


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