February 3rd 2022, More about Balloons and updates to our Website

I suppose this is a good time to talk more about balloons, our hobby of Pico Balloons and other balloons.

As licensed Amateur Radio operators, we follow regulations for launching a balloon. Here in the United States we follow the Code of Federal Regulations 14 CFR Part 101 This information is found our our Technical Page

Our Pico Balloons are 32 inch diameter with a 100 inch circumference, pre-stretched prior to launch and becomes full at highest cruising altitude (Between 32,000 feet and 50,000 feet depending on the package weight)

Our Trackers, solar panel, and antenna packages are lighter than a small bird. Our balloons are filled using a gram scale filled at less than a cubic foot of gas, enough to lift the package +- 8 grams of gas, and are exempt from 14 CFR 101

Below are excerpts from 14 CFR 101

This part prescribes rules governing the operation in the United States, of the following:

  • (1) Except as provided for in § 101.7, any balloon that is moored to the surface of the earth or an object thereon and that has a diameter of more than 6 feet or a gas capacity of more than 115 cubic feet.
  • (2) Except as provided for in § 101.7, any kite that weighs more than 5 pounds and is intended to be flown at the end of a rope or cable.

And Part 4

Except as provided for in § 101.7, any unmanned free balloon that –

  • (i) Carries a payload package that weighs more than four pounds and has a weight/size ratio of more than three ounces per square inch on any surface of the package, determined by dividing the total weight in ounces of the payload package by the area in square inches of its smallest surface;
  • (ii) Carries a payload package that weighs more than six pounds;
  • (iii) Carries a payload, of two or more packages, that weighs more than 12 pounds; or
  • (iv) Uses a rope or other device for suspension of the payload that requires an impact force of more than 50 pounds to separate the suspended payload from the balloon.

§ 101.17 Lighting and marking requirements.

(a) No person may operate a moored balloon or kite, between sunset and sunrise unless the balloon or kite, and its mooring lines, are lighted so as to give a visual warning equal to that required for obstructions to air navigation in the FAA publication “Obstruction Marking and Lighting”.

(b) No person may operate a moored balloon or kite between sunrise and sunset unless its mooring lines have colored pennants or streamers attached at not more than 50 foot intervals beginning at 150 feet above the surface of the earth and visible for at least one mile.

(Sec. 6(c), Department of Transportation Act (49 U.S.C. 1655(c)))

[Doc. No. 1580, 28 FR 6722, June 29, 1963, as amended by Amdt. 101-4, 39 FR 22252, June 21, 1974]

§ 101.19 Rapid deflation device.

No person may operate a moored balloon unless it has a device that will automatically and rapidly deflate the balloon if it escapes from its moorings. If the device does not function properly, the operator shall immediately notify the nearest ATC facility of the location and time of the escape and the estimated flight path of the balloon.

I’ve previously wrote about our Team Member, John Walsh, W9BLN who is a member of the Adler Planetarium Far Horizons Project. John volunteers with the GoNet Project that monitors Light Pollution in the Chicago area. They launch weather balloons that get as big as a house at maximum altitude. These balloons carry a 10 lb payload with cameras and other equipment costing thousands of dollars. These High Altitude Balloons with expensive payloads must be recovered. Far Horizons has a launch committee and a recovery committee. I’ve followed a past flight on APRS that usually lasts 5 hours. The Far Horizons group flys a flight plan with the FAA.

The Code of Federal Regulations is a good read, and I hope you follow our link above.

On our Locate and Track page we have several links to follow the worldwide Amateur Radio Pico Balloons in flight that are registered through APRS. One of the links is Amateur Sondehub

From Amateur Sondehub January 31st 2023 showing K9YO and KD9UQB with the group

We are a small group of Pico Balloon enthusiasts.

Sondehub also tracks other balloons flying around the world at Sondehub.org

These are very crowded skies.

Clicking on the Sondehub links above and scrolling out will show all the registered balloons flying around the world.

New from the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade

From the start of our program in June of 2021, besides having fun, our goal was to teach others how to build and launch Pico Balloons. This is a continued work in progress.

Our Team Member, Jim Janiak, KD9UQB has designed and started to teach our team members how to build our solar panel packages. Jim has updated our website on the solar panel builds.

When you visit our main page https://nibbb.org/ you’ll read about the introduction to our program and our members. The heading on each page show the links for more information.

Two recently added links are information on how to build our Low Sun Angle – High Power solar array with Bill of Materials and the Standard Array with Bill of Materials. The Low Sun Angle High Power array was designed and built by Jim for the Antarctica launch on November 24th 2022, now on the 71st day of flight and getting ready for the 6th circumnavigation.

Our Pico Balloon K9YO after missing in action for 30 days, made the 6th circumnaviation on January 31st 2023, and is expected over Finland around February 4th.

For updated information on our balloons in flight, please visit our Locate and Track page. For posts starting with the most recent please visit our Blog page.

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions. I can be reached through my QRZ page or the Contact Us link on our website.

73, Cary KD9ITO

January 27th 2023, Pico Balloon K9YO, Returns

Pico Balloon K9YO was missing in action after last reporting December 26th, 2023 after the 5th Circumnavigation and 76 days and 23 hours of flight. We were hoping for the best for a safe return.

On January 26th 2023 K9YO came back and reported at Grid ON25LL over Mongolia at 03:08 zulu.

It was Ken Daniel, K9YO that alerted our team that Pico Balloon K9YO reported just passing Japan on January 27th 2023 and asleep at Grid QN74LL at 04:08 zulu.

We did an 84 hour NOAA Hysplit Trajectory seeing a move over the North Pacific Ocean towards Alaska, but waiting for today’s report to confirm.

After 109 days and 5 hours Pico Balloon K9YO has reported on January 27th at Grid AO01LL at 22:38 Zulu flying at an altitude of 12,000 meters

Pico Balloon K9YO reporting Grid AO01LL January 27th 2023 now flying for 109 Days and 5 hours

The 84 hours NOAA Hysplit Trajectory is showing Pico Balloon K9YO heading north into darkness and over Canada preparing for another circumnavigation around January 31st, 2023

Our Locate and Track page has been updated for Pico Balloon K9YO and Pico Balloon KD9UQB with the 84 hour NOAA Hysplit as seen above, Ventusky for windspeed and direction, and APRS for the world view for both our balloons. We’ll continue to follow these balloons and will update the Locate and Track page.

Also, our Technical Team has updated our website with information on how to build our solar panel packages. These pages are still a work in progress, please visit https://nibbb.org/standard-solar-array-instructions-and-bill-of-materials/

The Low Sun-High Power solar panel is being used on our Pico Balloon KD9UQB for Antarctica with build pictures coming soon, please visit Power Solar Panels

Welcome back to our Pico Balloon K9YO now reporting on January 28th 2023, at Grid AO12bv, 00:20 zulu.

73, Cary KD9ITO

January 26th 2023, Pico Balloon KD9UQB, Fifth Circumnavigation, 05:34 Zulu, Grid IE75ri

Pico Balloon KD9UQB was launched on November 24th 2022 from Neumayer Station III, Antartica

The cyclinder solar panel array, Low Sun Angle-High Power using a flexible film for the panels was designed by Jim Janiak, KD9UQB specifically for this launch.

Low Sun Angle-High Power Solar Panel Array

On January 26th, 2023, at 05:34 zulu, Pico Balloon KD9UQB, Circumnavigated the World a 5th time in 62 days and 23 hours, reaching Grid IE75ri at an altitude of 11,240 meters, 36,878 feet.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB, completed the 5th Circumnavigation on January 26th 2023 at Grid IE75ri, altitude 36,878 feet

We are predicting by using the 84 hour NOAA Hyplit Trajectory, that Pico Balloon KD9UQB will be south of Tasmania around January 29th 2023.

Best Guess, January 29th 2023, Grid QE33dw, 18:00 zulu

Our Locate and Track Page has been updated for the 84 hour NOAA Trajectory, Sondehub for Float, Ventusky for wind speed and direction and APRS for location on the world map.

In addition, our Technical Team has provided two new Headers to our website with information on how to build our solar panels.

  1. Power Solar Panels, showing the build of the Low Sun Angle- High Power Solar Panel used in this Antarctica Launch
  2. The Standard Solar Array with Instructions and Bill of Materials.

Please feel free to contact me at the link above “Contact US” clicking on the link will forward to my email. Questions and Comments are welcome.

73, Cary KD9ITO

January 16th 2023, KD9UQB, 4th Circumnavigation

Pico Balloon KD9UQB was launched from Neumayer Station III, Grid IB59UI, Antarctica, on November 24th 2022. After 53 days and 1 hour of flight, Pico Balloon KD9UQB made its 4th Circumnavigation around the world.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB had reached Grid ID65LE at 07:32 UTC flying at an altitude of 10,840 meters, 35,566 feet, completing the 4th Circumnavigation around the world.

With several more hours of sunlight and flying north over warmer temperatures. Pico Balloon KD9UQB has been reaching altitudes of 11,100 meters.

The 84 hour NOAA Hysplit Trajectory model and Ventusky shows Pico Balloon KD9UQB traveling in a faster Jetstream arriving south of New Zealand around January 20th 2023.

NOAA Hysplit Model for 84 hours
“Best Guess” Pico Balloon KD9UQB around January 20th 2023, Grid RC54HJ

Our Locate and Track page has been updated for Pico Balloon KD9UQB showing the 84 hour NOAA Trajectory, Ventusky for windspeed and direction, and APRS for current location on the world map. The WSPR Spot Database updates automatically. We are seeing Radio Station KFS reporting at 09:22 UTC from Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco California, 15,137 Km or 9,406 miles from our balloon.

Also on our Locate and Track page is the Sondehub link showing all Pico Balloons in flight around the world. Below is from Sondehub showing the past 3 day path and forward projected path based on different altitudes.

Sondehub Float showing past 3 day path and forward projection of Pico Balloon KD9UQB

Congratulations to the NIBBB Team, and many thanks to our followers.

73, Cary KD9ITO

January 14th 2023, KD9UQB, Falkland Islands

How time flies when you’re having fun. Pico Balloon KD9UQB has moved a little north enjoying more scenery. Pico Balloon KD9UQB reported on January 14th, 20:04 UTC at Grid GD08EN, Falkland Islands, South Atlantic archipelago. KD9UQB is now enjoying an altitude of 10,900 meters, 35,752 feet and flight time of 51 days and 13 hours.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB at Grid GD08EN, altitude 35,752 feet

We’re expecting Pico Balloon KD9UQB to circumnavigate the world a 4th time around January 16th 2023, at 15:00 UTC.

The 84 hour NOAA Hysplit model shows Pico Balloon KD9UQB continuing around Antarctica passing Heard Island and McDonald Islands around January 18th 2023 at 06:00 UTC near Grid ND38tt

Best Guess Pico Balloon KD9UQB, January 18th 2023, Grid ND38tt

Our Locate and Track page is updated at least once a day for the 84 hour NOAA Hysplit model showing the projected path at altitude. The Ventusky link shows the wind speed and direction, and APRS for current location on the world map. The Sondehub link shows all Pico Balloons in flight around the world. The WSPR Spot Database updates automatically with every 1st packet received, showing among other data, the reporting station and their distance to our balloon.

The WSPR Spot Database is showing that on January 14th 2023 at 11:52 UTC, Seto, JA5NVN received our signal at a distance of 17,201 Km or 10,688 miles. Thank you Seto for finding our balloon.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB is flying with a low sun-high power solar panel package operating on 20mW, or .02 watts. The actual solar panel and tracker used for this flight is shown on our Locate and Track page in the Pico Balloon KD9UQB section.

73, Cary KD9ITO

January 9th, 2023 KD9UQB flying around Antartica

It’s been a while since I posted. Pico Balloon KD9UQB is flying south of Australia, altitude 10,360 meters, 33,981 feet, flight time, 45 days and 19 hours. Spending time south of the Day/Night Change Line will allow for more reporting time.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB January 9th 2023, 02:34 UTC at Gid PC80UO, 33,981 feet

The 84 hour NOAA Hysplit model shows Pico Balloon KD9UQB spending another day south over Antarctica then heading back over the Southern Ocean preparing for the 4th Circumnavigation.

“Best Guess” Pico Balloon KD9UQB, January 12th 2023, Grid CB08AA

We use the Northern Tip of Antarctica as a landmark for circumnavigation. Neumayer Station III is located between South America and Africa at Grid IB59ui.

Neumayer Station III, Grid IB59ui

Just north of the tip are a set of Islands, and Fun Facts

The Machu Picchu Scientific Base is a Peruvian polar scientific research facility in Antarctica, established to conduct Antarctic research on geology, climatology and biology. Wikipedia

Northern Tip of Antartica

King George Island is the largest of the South Shetland Islands, lying 120 km off the coast of Antarctica in the Southern Ocean. The island was named after King George III. Wikipedia

Elephant Island is an ice-covered, mountainous island off the coast of Antarctica in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands, in the Southern Ocean. Wikipedia

Elephant Island, Antarctica, is named after the elephant seals that make their home there (as well as for its elephant-like shape). The island is located 150 miles off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands. Covered in ice and towering above the surrounding Southern Ocean, it’s truly a sight to behold. https://www.hurtigruten.com/en-us/expeditions/stories/elephant-island-facts/

The Flight of Pico Balloon KD9UQB is updated at least daily on our Locate and Track page. Clicking on APRS will show the current location along with the last known locations of Pico Balloons K9YO and AA6DY. Ventusky will show the wind speed and direction, by hovering your computer mouse over the map. The NOAA link shows the projected 84 hour balloon travel in 6 hour increments of time. The WSPR Spot Database updates with every 1st packet report received showing the 4 Grid Maidenhead, location of reporter, distance from the reporter to our Balloon and altitude in dBm and Watts.

Our Technical Page provides additional information on Tracking our Balloons, Calculating Altitude, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR part 101), Finding the Right Balloons and Gas, pictures of our two Solar Panel packages (Horizontal Polyscrystilline on Styrofoam and Low-Sun High Power Cylinder) and our Tracker and Antenna package for Pico Balloon AA6DY getting ready to launch.

We’re still preparing for our next launches of Pico Balloons KD9TVR and KE9LSI our youngest Generals, so stay tuned.

We’re liking your Likes and Comments!

73, Cary KD9ITO

January 2nd 2023, Pico Balloon KD9UQB completes Third Cicumnavigation around the world

Happy New Year to all and congratulations to the NIBBB Team for another feat, our 3rd Pico Balloon to Cirumnavigate the world at least three times.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB was launched on November 24th 2022, from Neumayer Station III, Antarctica as part of a larger group effort. For this launch we were testing a new tracker that would provide consistent reporting and a new solar panel package that would power up near sunsrise and stay awake at the lower sun’s elevation.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB has made it around the world three times in 39 days on January 2nd 2023.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB, 3rd Circumnavigation at Grid ID88QP, 34,178 feet

Using the 84 hour NOAA Hysplit Trajectory model, we are predicting that Pico Balloon KD9UQB will be near Grid MC50AA around January 6th 2023 at 06:00 UTC

Best Guess for KD9UQB around January 6th 2023 06:00 UTC

Our two solar panel systems we have been using are a mulitple polycrystilline package which is horizontal, fragile, thin and light and the film solar panel which is a vertical cylinder, sturdy and heavier.

We are also testing a pyramid shaped polycystalline solar panel package for a future launch.

The horizontal polycrystilline panel weighs around 4.2 grams, the film cylinder panel weighs about 18 grams.

Gordi Mulley, KD9TVR holding the Polycrystillne Solar Panel 4.2 grams
The Film Solar Panel designed and built by Jim Janiak, KD9UQB for the Antarctica Flight, 18 grams
From our Breakfast meeting December 17th 2022, showing the Fim solar panel package for Gordie KD9TVR and Kelsi KE9LSI launch in early 2023

The Polycrystilline package similar to the one shown by Gordie, KD9TVR was used for Pico Balloon AA6DY reaching an altitude of over 47,000 feet, and circumnavigating three times around the world in 82 days.

The Film Solar Panel was made for the Antarctica flight and testing winter launches for the lower sun’s elevation reaching an altitude of around 34,000 feet.

Our Locate and Track page has been updated for Pico Balloon KD9UQB with the 84 hour NOAA Hysplit model. Ventusky for wind speed and direction, APRS tracking and Sondehub for tracking all Pico Balloons in flight around the world.

Our next test for KD9UQB is how long the Film solar panels last with the UV coating. While this is an ongoing test, we are working on our next launches for January 2023 from Northern Illinois, stay tuned.

73, Cary KD9ITO

December 31st 2022, K9YO and KD9UQB

Pico Balloon K9YO last reported on December 26th for the 5th cirumnavigation after 77days and 23 hours of flight. We believe that K9YO has traveled north of the Day/Night Change Line and not able to report.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB went to sleep on December 31st at 22:34 UTC at Grid GD98WC, northwest of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands over the Southern Atlantic Ocean. KD9UQB reported at an altitude of 10,600 meters, 34,768 feet.

KD9UQB at Grid GD98WC, altitude 34,768 feet

We are now predicting that Pico Balloon KD9UQB will make the 3rd circumnavigation around the world on January 2nd 2023. Pico Balloon KD9UQB has been flying for 37 days and 16 hours as of December 31st 2022.

Using the 84 hour NOAA Hysplit Trajectory model, below is our best guess location for Pico Balloon KD9UQB on January 4th 2023 at 06:00 UTC

Best Guess for Pico Balloon KD9UQB, January 4th 2023

Our Locate and Track page has been updated for Pico Balloon KD9UQB with the 84 hour NOAA Hysplit model and Ventusky for wind speed and direction.

The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and look forward to our new and exciting projects for 2023.

73, Cary KD9ITO

December 26th 2022, Happy Boxing Day, KD9UQB and 5th Circumnavigation of K9YO

What a great way to celebrate our Holidays.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB was first to report on December 26th at 12:42 UTC after last reporting on December 19th. Pictured below at 13:22 UTC Grid CD10BC at 10,480 meters 34,374 feet, and nearing a 3rd circumnavigation around the world on January 1st 2023.

We are predicting Pico Balloon KD9UQB will be near the Falkland Islands around December 30th 2022

Pico Balloon KD9UQB near the Falkland Islands around December 30th 2022

Pico Balloon K9YO was last heard on December 20th over Russia and believed to be heading towards the North Pole. Pico Balloon K9YO was launched on October 10th 2022 from Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville, Illinois. Now after 76 days and 23 hours of flight, Pico Balloon K9YO has made the Fifth Cicumnavigation around the world.

Our first report of Pico Balloon K9YO came from our WSPR Spot Database on December 26th at 15:48 UTC at Grid EN78 near Dubreuilville, Ontario Canada. Pico Balloon K9YO is flying at an altitude of 12,180 meters, 39,950 feet.

Pico Balloon K9YO Fifth Circumnavigation December 26th 2022, altitude 39,950 feet

Best Guess for Pico Balloon K9YO on December 30th 2022, Grid KQ51DH

Best Guess, Pico Balloon K9YO, December 30th 2022, Grid KQ51DH

Our Locate and Track page is now updated for Pico Balloons KD9UQB and K9YO for APRS, Sondehub, 84 hour NOAA Hysplit Model, WSPR Spot Database and Ventusky for tracking wind speed and direction. The WSPR Spot Database provides realtime tracking of all our balloons.

73, Cary KD9ITO

December 23rd 2022, Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade Update

We are waiting to hear from our Pico Balloons K9YO and KD9UQB. K9YO was last heard on December 20th over Russia after missing for 5 days. We believe K9YO had traveled north away from sunlight. We’re looking forward to K9YO coming back into the sun and around for the 5th Circumnavigation.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB which was launched on November 24th from Antarctica has circumnavigated twice and is now believed to be circling the South Pole at 5 miles per hour. It may be another week before KD9UQB finds a faster moving wind and direction east.

The NIBBB met last Saturday for our occassional breakfast meeting. Jim, KD9UQB shared the two solar panel packages he built based on the design for the Antarctica launch. During this show and tell, Jim also shared another solar panel design that looks like a 6 panel pyramid or spaceship that would catch more sunlight for the winter months. Jim KD9UQB and John W9BLN will be testing these panels.

We also discussed whether we needed to seal the balloon valve with glue. All the balloons we use have an internal valve that closes once the balloon is at full volume. Full volume occurs when we pre-stretch the balloon or when it reaches its steady high altitude. We have also experienced a loss of Hydrogen from the time the balloon is filled and sealed till it’s launched, usually the next morning. The delay in launching was needed to allow for the glue to dry.

Michael Seedman, AA6DY and Stewart Spies, KB9LM, earlier tested the effectiveness of all glues, and different tapes at -67 degrees Fahrenheit using a Laboratory Oven at MHub in Chicago.

At our meeting, we went on to discuss if a condiment such as mayonnaise or mustard would be as effective as glue.

Listening intently on the science of sealing and the discussion were the Mulley Family, Doug, KD9TPM, Kelsi, KE9LSI, Gordie, KD9TVR, and Kyli. John Walsh, W9BLN, Jim Janiak, KD9UQB, Michael Seedman, AA6DY, Stewart Spies KB9LM, and Cary Willis, KD9ITO.

A future experiment we may be testing through actual flights, and answering the question, Which is better? glue, no glue, mustard/mayonnainse with and without Kapton tape and/or heat sealed.

As we work through these various questions, and test our new trackers we are getting ready to launch our next Pico Balloons early in the new year.

Below are pictured with their Dad Doug Mulley KD9TPM, two of our younger members, Gordie KD9TVR and Kelsi KE9LSI, brother and sister who received their General license together last summer in preparation for this upcoming launch.

We mentioned that one of our followers, Hisami 7L4IOU had wrote an article for CQ Magazine Japan that was published in the November 2022 issue. I asked some friends of mine, Mina and Kyogi Nakano to translate this article.

Below, from Hisami, 7L4IOU

On 9/3, high altitude balloon AA6DY was released in Illinois. By 9/14, it reached Japan and by 10/4 it has circled around Japan for the second time. This Balloon is managed by the group called “Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade” and this was their 24th launch to date.

The balloon is powered by a tiny and ultra light solar panels, GPS, One Chip Microcomputer Si5351A Clock Oscillation IC.

14.0956 MHz WSPR transmitter is attached to a party balloon and it continues to fly while the transmitter is exposed to the sunlight.

Since it is a good “On The Job” skill training for electronic circuit, programming, gas and pressure management, radiowave propagation and upper air charts

the group has gained wide popularity especially among young people.

By the way, the group blog and email conversations often mention the phrase “Yokohama Balloon.”

We were curious so when we asked, the group replied by saying the balloons manufactured by Yokohama Balloon Co. are highly regarded by the balloon enthusiasts.

We are very honored to learn about the Japanese toy makers’ meticulous effort being recognized. At the same time, we are also frustrated and very envious of the American balloon enthusiasts because in order for Japanese people to launch such a project, we must acquire licensing and legal system clearance! Sigh! 

We wish to thank Hisami and all our followers of the NIBBB.

We have since lost Pico Balloon AA6DY, last heard on November 24th 2022, after circling the world three times. Pico Balloon AA6DY had traveled for 82 days, spending most of the flight time around the Pacific Ocean. Reminiscing back in time, below is from our Blog dated October 3rd 2022.

October 3rd 2022, Day 32, 22:32 UTC, East of Yokohama, Japan, North Pacific Ocean

It’s Deja Vu all over again. AA6DY woke at 22:32 UTC, 5:32 pm CDT at Grid QM14MJ just east of Yokohama, Japan over the North Pacific Ocean. Our altitude is 14,420 meters, 47,298 feet.

QM14MJ, east of Yokohama Japan

The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has made all this possible. Wishing you and your families, Happy Holidays and a prosperous New Year.

We will continue to update our Locate and Track page throughout our flights.

73, Cary KD9ITO