While we’re flying, we’re still working

We’re still meeting, and building while AA6DY is flying.

Some of our members were able to gather on Saturday September 10th at the home of the Berg’s, who hosted our build session.

One of the most difficult parts of our Pico Balloon Project is building the solar panel package. The Polycystalline solar panels are so fragile, that a sudden touch can break a panel. Jim Janiak, KD9UQB designed a template to hold a single solar panel in place for ease of soldering. Once one side is soldered, it’s then glued to the plate, then soldered and repeated.

Each solar panel is glued to the styrofoam plate and soldered in series. The wires from negative to positive are stripped before soldering. After working on several renditions of this package, Jim KD9UQB had designed our current board. Jim was our Elmer and Guide who patiently worked with each of us.

Joining us for this session were, The Berg’s; Noah KD9RDT, Bob KD9RDU, and Wendy KD9RDV, Ken Daniel K9YO, Cary Willis KD9ITO, Mikaela Streicher KD9VIW, The Mulley’s; Doug KD9TPM, Kelsi KE9LSI, and Gordie KD9TVR. We also had the support of Winston close at hand.

Jim started out with an introduction to the tools, parts and a step by step instruction. We then broke into groups and started cutting out the styrofoam template. We had four soldering stations spread around five tables.

We ended with 3 complete solar panel packages weiging around 4.7 grams each, tested and ready to fly. This session added to the two other solar panel packages that Jim had completed

We’re looking forward to flying Pico Balloons for our three younger Generals, Kelsi Mulley KE9LSI, Gordie Mulley KD9TVR and Mikaela Streicher KD9VIW.

We’ll be updating our Technical page which will provide instructions on how to build and launch Pico Balloons, hosted by Ken Daniel K9YO. You’ll also be able to read and follow Ken’s future Pico Balloon launches here at the NIBBB.

Please enjoy this slideshow from yesterday’s session

August 14th, 2022, KD9TPM, MIA

KD9TPM was launched on July 30th from Willow Hill Golf Course in Northbrook, Illinois and came alive on July 31st over Canada. We last heard from our balloon on August 10th over the North Pacific Ocean. KD9TPM had flown 10 days and 16 hours and we now declare it Missing In Action.

KD9TPM travel map from July 30th 2022 to August 10th 2022 courtesy of WSPR.Rocks

We are in our planning stages for our next launch and will keep an eye out for KD9TPM

Our Technical Team is working on building our Solar Panel and Antenna packages and look forward to many future launches.

73, Cary KD9ITO

August 4th 2022, asleep, 16:22 UTC Grid KO45ko, Belarus

WSPR Rocks has KD9TPM over Belarus at Grid KO45ko near Karpeki Belarus. We slowed down a little bit during this leg of our flight. On our 6th day, around 5 days and 2 hours of flight. We’re at 10,240 meters, just over 33,500 feet in altitude. This has been pretty consistent throughout our flight.

The image below is from HabHub, which shows we have some company in our area. KD9TPM is center top on the Belarus/Russian Border.

To follow where we’re headed, links to WSPR.Rocks, HabHub, Ventusky etc. click on the “Links to Locate and Track” tab on our website. Sunrise is around 5:30 am where we’re headed, add about another hour for our solar panels to wake up our tracker. Wake-up will be around Midnight our time.

I’ll take your Grid Square guesses until 9pm this evening. Winner will be announced tomorrow morning. Click on Contact Us or send me an email. 73, Cary KD9ITO

July 31st 2022, KD9TPM & KD9UQB

We launched two balloons on Saturday July 30th from Willow Hill Golf Course in Northbrook, Illinois. We were waiting to see any life of our balloons and feared they were lost. On Sunday July 31st we heard from KD9TPM at 6:42 am CDT over Canada at Grid EN88LL near Agate, Ontario, Cananda moving slowly north, will be heading east and then south to join the faster Jetstream over the Atlantic. KD9TPM, altitute is about 32,000 feet.

Below are graphics on where KD9TPM is heading, and down a little further is information from yesterday’s launch.

We’ll be monitoring this launch for KD9TPM and KD9UQB

KD9TPM is showing nice movement now in Grid EN98LL near Preston, Ontario Canada at 8:22 am CDT

Saturday July 30th 2022

Many different parts came together for today’s launch. Michael Seedman, AA6DY has been working for months on redesigning our tracker. Our Technical Team has been working on reducing the size and weight of our package. We rely on the support of our larger Pico Balloon community to share information and help in problem solving. We’re very grateful for all the assistance from our many supporters.

We’re meeting at Willow Hill Golf Course in Northbrook, Illinois for the launch of two Pico Balloons, KD9TPM for Doug Mulley and KD9UQB for Jim Janiak. In preparation for this launch, Jim Janiak, KD9UQB designed and built the solar panel packages we’re using for today’s launch. We started using the Polycrystalline Solar Panels used by Tom Medlin, W5KUB. Tom is currently flying W5KUB-112 coming on 49 days in flight. You can follow his flights at W5KUB

Below is the preparation of the balloons, tracker and solar panels for this flight

  • 7 Polycrystalline SOlar Panels and the Tracker on piece of Styrofoam aproximately 4" square
  • Wiring of the Solar Panel Package on the backside, wired in series from positive to negative and 4 lb. fishing line for support to connect to the balloon
  • Solar Panel package wired on a gram scale, showing weight of 7 grams
  • July 30th Launch weights, Tracker and Solar panel package 7 grams, 33 ft. antenna 1.6 grams, tape .6 grams, total 9.2 grams plus 6.5 grams excess lift. Balloon will be filled to at least 15.7 grams of gas
  • 1st Balloon is filled with Hydrogen weighed using a grams scale showing 16.13 grams of total lift lift
  • 2nd Balloon is filled with Hydrogen weighed using a grams scale showing 15.76 grams of total lift lift
  • Balloons are prepped, secured with glue and a weight the day before launch.

It’s a beautiful sunny day here at Willow Hill Golf Course in Northbrook, Illinois.

Willow Hill Golf Course, Northbrook Illinois Mild Day with a still Flag

We had a nice gathering this morning, with a couple of new visitors. Joining us today were Loren AD9AY, Chris KD9TVT, George KD9TLS, Jim KD9UQB, John W9BLN, Michael AA6DY, Stewart KB9LM, and Cary KD9ITO. We officially used the Icarus Device for our two launches. The Icarus is a Timer on a PCB attached to a Pico Servo with a lever, a battery and a 30 foor pole. We push the timer and raise the pole, after 10 seconds the lever is tuned and the balloon released. We have 10 seconds to raise the pole for the balloons release.

June 28th, 8 days and 23 hours into flight 11:58 UTC 6:58 am

W9BLN was awake at Grid FM05sb near Salemburg, North Carolina at 11:38 UTC, 6:38 am CDT. Over almost 9 days we took a nice trip over a big circle over of the United States and we’re ready to move on. W9BLN is now heading east near Kenansville, North Carolina, about 70 miles to the Atlantic Ocean.

We’re going to be watching this carefuly today, expecting to move a little south over the ocean then change direction and go northeast towards Paris, France or Southeast towards Casablaca. As we are getting closer to the Atlantic Ocean, we lost a little altitude and are now rising to 22,000 feet.

Tomorrow morning’s Jetream looks a lot smoother over the Atlantic Ocean which you can view here June 29th 7:00 a.m. Jetstream over the Atlantic Ocean

After my report last night, we were seeing some activity for KB9LM, at 00:32 UTC June 28th, that was 7:32 pm June 27th, still in the Grid of DL79 over northern Mexico, but reporting up to 6,000 feet in altitude. We are still watching KB9LM. The reporting started closer to 10:00 am yesterday, so we’ll be watching for more activity from KB9LM later this morning.

Till this evening, 73, Cary

13th Launch, KK9H/2 April 1st 2022

I want to get this out to everyone and will share pictures of our balloon prep and launch

After a long dry spell, we were able to get together to launch KK9H/2 for Don Whiteman. We met at Olson Park in Highland Park, IL at 2:30 p.m. with a small group of avid supporters. As I mentioned in the previous post, though we hadn’t launched in a while, we have been busy preparing. We had a successful launch at 3:00 p.m.

We’ve been looking at getting a balloon that would give us that sweet spot of an altitude close to 40,000 feet. With the research from Tom Medlin W5KUB we purchased a package of the Yokohama 32″ Sphere pictured below.

This is the 4 panel 32″ Yokohama Sphere balloon which will provide a larger volume and higher altitude

We purchased 10 of these balloons at $22.00 each, and used one of them to test the best way to seal the valve shown on the lower left hand side. John, KD9THB part of our Technical Team suggested using Kapton tape which is used in the space program. All of our balloons are used in the party industry and are not intended for long flights. The Yokohama we purchased has a small neck coming right up to the body of the balloon, on the end of the valve which we will tape over, seal and punch a hole through the tape to hold our tracker package.

John did some weather and trajectory projections using NOAA HYSPLIT Models see below

Watching and Waiting and Watching Some More

It’s been a while since I’ve written about our project. While we’re waiting for the winds to subside. We’ve been busy ordering balloons, Michael has been busy building trackers and we’ve been watching one of our hero’s in the Pico Balloon community.

I’d like to introduce you to Tom Medlin, W5KUB, who is currently flying his 110th Pico Balloon. I understand Tom is famous for his Helmet Cam at Hamvention, and has been very successful at flying Pico Balloons.

One of the biggest obstacles we have found in our launches is the balloon. We were able to purchase what is known as a 36″ Chinese made balloon for around $2 each. Starting with our flight on December 22nd 2021, KD9ORR flew for 19 days on one Chinese balloon.

Though we conquered flight time, we were still hampered by altitude. KD9ORR with one balloon averaged around 24,000 feet. We next flew KR9T with 2 Chinese balloons and averaged 28,000 feet.

Now back to W5KUB. Tom Medlin acquired what he referred to as an experimental Yokohama 32″ Sphere balloon which flew for 22 days for twice around the globe. Tom is currently flying #110 with the Yokohama reaching an altitude of 41,000 feet. Though the 32″ balloon in smaller, it’s completely round holding more volume of gas compared to our 36″ round pillow shaped balloon.

Did I mention we we’re flush with balloons. We now have in stock around 70 Chinese made balloons and 9 Yokohama’s (we experimented on one of them to figure out how to seal it, we’ll talk about Kapton tape in another post). We’ll be looking to our next launch with a Yokohama balloon, hopefully soon, weather permitting.

And while we’re waiting, please visit Tom W5KUB and his current launch at https://ham-tv.com/balloon/

73, Cary KD9ITO

March 7th 2022 Whether to launch is all about the weather

We can’t seem to get a break. Since February 8th we’ve been looking for a good day to launch. On February 8th we launched KC9RP/3 which flew for 27 hours. On February 28th we launched KC9RP/4 which went about 200 yards and transmitted for two days from a tree. We were hoping to get a balloon up tomorrow but the weather just isn’t cooperating. We only have a few sunny days in the next couple of weeks and with these sunny days we have wind gust up to 55 miles per hour. What we do have is a great Technical team with John KD9THB who is able to give us our launch window up to 3 days in advance. John told us our best opportunity for launch was between 7am and 8am tomorrow March 8th. We have a saying here in Chicago, if you don’t like the weather wait 15 minutes. Although that works well if you’re planning a walk but with the hour or so it takes to get a balloon or two ready before a launch makes it really difficult to plan. In like a lion and out like a lamb, March 20th is the first day of Spring, looking for better days.

11th Launch KR9T and 12th Launch KC9RP Updates February 11th 12:00 p.m.

It’s been fun watching these two balloons. KR9T our 11th Launch, was launched on January 26th from Highland Park, IL and traveled nearly around the globe. KR9T was last seen sharing a border with Alaska and Canada on February 5th 2022. We started in North America and ended in North America in 10 days of flight.

KR9T traveled from Highland Park, IL on January 26th to Alaska/Canada Border on February 5th 2022

Our 12th Launch was KC9RP/3 was launched on Tuesday February 8th from Highland Park, IL and traveled to the Atlantic Ocean just East of Newfoundland and South of Greenland for just over 27 hours. We believe we lost our Pico Balloon KC9RP due to heavy storms in the area. We were not alone and shared our fate with W5KUB-107 last reported on February 10th 2022.

KC9RP launched on February 8th 2022 in Highland Park, IL to February 9th 2022. Here pictured with W5KUB-107 thank you for the company.

Since starting our launches in September of 2021, we have had two balloons that traveled nearly around the globe. KD9ORR our 8th Launch was launched on December 22nd 2021 traveled for 19 days, passing the International Dateline going East, then turning and passing the International Dateline going West spending 8 days around the Marshall Islands before lost around the Federated States of Micronesia on January 13th, 2022. Then our 11th Launch KR9T taking the more direct route, nearly around the globe in 10 days.

While we are hoping to launch 2 balloons each month we are dependent upon the weather. Not only for the perfect day to launch, but now having flown KC9RP, we will be looking for the NOAA HYSPLIT Model for weather 84 hours ahead for possible storms that would effect our flights. We lost KC9RP in the same weather pattern that lost W5KUB-107 which launched from Mississippi on February 9th and lost on February 10th. We hope you’ll continue to follow, the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade.

73, Cary KD9ITO