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 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

December 19th 2022, K9YO and KD9UQB

After a few days of silence, K9YO reported on December 19th at 01:30 UTC at Grid PN64HA near Vladivostok, Russia, at an altitude of 11,900 meters, 39,032 feet. K9YO is now at 69 days and 11 hours of flight time. The NOAA Hysplit model shows K9YO heading east then northwest over 84 hours. The Sondehub Float shows K9YO heading east. We should see another reading tomorrow and will update our Locate and Track page

K9YO at Grid PN64HA altitdue 39,032 feet

Pico Balloon KD9UQB has been close to the Day/Night Change Line with longer wake times. Reporting below at Grid NC21LV at 14:14 UTC December 19th 2022. Pico Balloon KD9UQB is flying at an altitude of 10,600 meters, 34,768 feet, for 25 days and 8 hours of total flight time.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB Best Guess location on December 23rd, 00:00 UTC Grid OC88aa

KD9UQB Best Guess December 23rd Grid OC88aa

Tracking our balloons on one page using APRS for December 19th

K9YO near Sea of Japan, KD9UQB Antarctica, (AA6DY missing since November 24th)

Our Locate and Track page has been updated for Pico Balloons K9YO and KD9UQB for APRS, Ventusky for wind speed and direction, 84 hour NOAA Hysplit model, Sondehub for tracking Float direction and other Pico Balloons around the world.

It may be a few days between posts, the Locate and Track page will be updated as new information is received. We encourage you to check this page and the links available for tracking all our balloons.

73, Cary KD9ITO

December 16th 2022, K9YO and KD9UQB

Pico Balloon K9YO woke on December 14th over Russia and then went north into darkness and silent.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB launched from Neumayer Station III, Antarctica is reporting on December 17th at Grid LC99EH over the Southern Ocean at 01:32 UTC with plenty of sunlight ahead. KD9UQB was within the Day/Night Change Line and getting some sleep.

The 84 hour NOAA Hysplit model shows the general direction will be east and then south for longer reporting times. The Sondehub Float below shows a continued direction east.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB is flying at an altitude of 10,540 meters 34,571 feet

KD9UQB at Grid LC99EH altitude 34,571 feet

Our Best Guess for KD9UQB on December 20th 2022 based on the 84 hour NOAA Hysplit Model

Best Guess December 20th Grid NB08MA 12:00 UTC

The Sondehub link from our Locate and Track page under Pico Balloon KD9UQB, the Float track longer than 84 hours.

At the top of our Locate and Track page, the Sondehub link is currently showing 41 Pico Balloons in flight around the world.

Our Locate and Track page has been updated for Pico Balloon KD9UQB. Information of this flight has been moved to the top of the Locate and Track page including a picture of the solar panel package Jim, KD9UQB built for this launch.

The Ventusky link shows KD9UQB in a slow moving system for the next few days. The WSPR Spot Database updates automatically showing the reporting station and their distance to the balloon.

Station VE6JY from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada was received at 01:32 UTC, 19,112 Km, 11,876 miles away.

Please bookmark our Locate and Track page for continued updates between posts.

73, Cary KD9ITO

December 14th 2022, KD9UQB 2nd Circumnavigation, K9YO awake over Russia

Pico Balloon KD9UQB, launched on November 24th 2022 from Neumayer Station III, Antarctica, completed the 2nd Circumnavigation on December 14th after 20 days and 4 hours of flight. KD9UQB is flying at an altitude of 10,720 meters, 35,162 feet.

KD9UQB 2nd Circumnavigation December 14th 2022

Best Guess, KD9UQB December 17th 2022

Best Guess KD9UQB December 17th 2022

Pico Balloon K9YO last reported on December 6th, making a 4th circumnavigation over Quebec Canada. We believed that K9YO stayed north of the Day/Night Change Line, traveling around the North Pole, we were waiting for K9YO to travel south. K9YO reported on December 14th at 02:10 UTC at Grid PN78XK near Khabarovsk, Russia at an altitude of 11,720 meters, 38,422 feet.

We believe K9YO will travel northwest on December 17th 2022

Best Guess KD9UQB December 17th 2022

Our Locate and Track page has been updated for KD9UQB for 84 hour NOAA Hysplit, Ventusky for wind speed and direction, APRS and Sondehub.

73, Cary KD9ITO

December 11th 2022, K9YO and KD9UQB, Special addition CQ Ham Radio Magazine, Japan

Pico Balloon K9YO had circumnavigated the world a 4th time on December 6th 2022. The NOAA Hysplit model showed K9YO traveling northwest, north of Alaska around December 10th. Another NOAA model was taken and showed K9YO traveling east around the North Pole. If that direction and location is correct, we won’t be hearing from Pico Balloon K9YO until it heads back south. Until then, we’re calling K9YO, Missing in Action.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB which was launched from Neumayer Station III, Antarctica had been traveling east, made a detour southwest to the South Pole and northwest towards the Southern Ocean.

Pico Balloon KD9UQB is south of the Day/Night Change Line and still transmitting. Below is from December 11th 2022 Grid HB62SS at 21:32 UTC flying for 17 days and 14 hours at an altitude of 10,600 meters, 34,768 feet.

We’re expecting Pico Balloon KD9UQB will make a 2nd Circumnavigation around December 13th.

Best Guess for KD9UQB on December 15th, 06:00 UTC

Best Guess for KD9UQB, December 15th 2022

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

We will report when we hear from Pico Balloon K9YO or AA6DY. The WSPR Spot Database always reports current reports for all our balloons.

We would like to recognize, Hisami Dejima, 7L4IOU an NIBBB Follower, who wrote an article for CQ Ham Radio Magazine, Japan, November 2022 Edition. This article is on the flight of AA6DY flying over Japan, transmitting on WSPR mode, the NIBBB project and our success with the 32″ Sphere balloon from Yokohama Balloon, Yokohama, Japan.

Below is a 2 page slide show of the cover page and article from CQ Ham Radio Magazine with QR codes linking to the NIBBB website and Yokohama Balloons.

Our Technical Page has information on tracking our balloons, calculating the altitude, where to get the balloons, and a slide show on the launch of Pico Balloon AA6DY on September 3rd 2022.

73, Cary KD9ITO