Two Aussie Balloons Carrying Ham Radio Payloads Launched from California


Foil party pico balloon launcher Andy Nguyen, VK3YT, couldn’t resist the opportunity during a work assignment on the US West Coast to release a couple more balloons carrying Amateur Radio payloads. Working for a month at San Jose, Nguyen on September 12 released his out-of-sequence PS-54 mission, carrying a solar powered APRS/Olivia payload feeding a 10 mW transmitter, to test the local environment. He thus became the first to launch such balloons in both the Southern and Northern hemispheres. Nguyen described his debut US flight as “zooming right past the San Francisco Golden Bridge at 8000 meters before spending a day bouncing along the West Coast of California.

“The weather was a bit too rough,” he said. “The tiny balloon took a few dives before gaining altitude again at sunset, then went silent again, though possibly due to antenna damage from the beating it took during the day.” Nonetheless, PS-54 popped up again 3 days later. By 2300 UTC on September 16, the balloon was at 29,238 feet over Kansas and moving east at 45 MPH. This northern hemisphere APRS-only maiden flight was followed by another.

Nguyen released mission PS-53 on September 13, this time carrying a payload transmitting WSPR and JT9 on HF. During a period of favorable propagation, it was tracked by US stations as well as by trackers from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Upon leaving San Jose it drifted north to Sacramento, then east across the border into Nevada, covering some 725 km. That balloon now appears to have been lost in desert country, however, due to envelope failure.

Nguyen’s exploits and expertise have captured the imaginations of many US trackers, who mainly follow latex weather-type balloons until they burst and crash to ground. — Thanks to Jim Linton, VK3PC