Australian “Pico Balloon” Piques Ham Radio Interest
A foil “party balloon” released in late December from Melbourne, Australia, carrying an HF Amateur Radio payload, ended its journey on January 16 off the east coast of Africa near Madagascar. Andy Nguyen, VK3YT, of Kensington, Victoria, Australia, released his PS-30 “pico balloon” on December 27, hoping that it might circle the globe. Its 13 gram Amateur Radio payload included a solar-powered 25 mW transmitter, sending telemetry on 30 and 20 meters using WSPR and JT9 digital modes. Many radio amateurs tracked the balloon’s progress during its 20 day flight.
“There was some bad weather in the region, but speculations also include the possibility it was brought down (attacked) by the naughty penguins on the Island,” Nguyen quipped, referring to the 2014 animated movie comedy, “Penguins of Madagascar.” Several radio amateurs in South Africa reported that PS-30 was down.
Following its launch, the balloon had traveled east across the southern tip of New Zealand, across the Pacific Ocean to South American and then to southern Africa. To return home, PS-30 would have had to cross Madagascar, the Indian Ocean, and part of Australia.
“The level of interest from all around the world has been amazing,” Nguyen said. “The trip would not have been so successful without the collective effort of the like-minded community built up along the way.”
Transmissions from the balloon at times were plagued by poor propagation, and its progress was impeded by the fact that it circled on a few occasions along the way. Nguyen said the balloon looped for an entire day at one point while over the Pacific.
“HF propagation has been different from previous flights,” he commented during the flight, noting the lack of long-range WSPR spots. “Reception of JT9 packets so far generally requires some type of directional antenna with some gain,” he said.
Nguyen said planning for PS-31 is already under way. “See you at the next trip,” he said. — Thanks to Jim Linton, VK3PC