This mission was the culmination of a whole month long series of activities in Richland Center, Wisconsin.
The Richland Center High School was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, and in effect the first 50 years of space flight!
Teachers and well over 1000 Students from all over southern Wisconsin attended the final day of activities, Known as the "Richland Space Fare", Featuring Honored Guest Astronaut Mark Lee at the Richland Center High School. This event was also open to the public, But at this time we do not have a number of how many of the general public attended. But easily several thousand were there.
Concentrating on our own flights, as well as managing flights for other research groups, and even some retired NASA engineers, It has been well over fifteen years since our last mission that we had a student body to work with,
and to myself, I forgot how much fun it can be working with these young people. To any of the other Balloon groups across the country reading this, find yourself a school to work with. You will not regret it!
While this was Near Space Sciences' 45th flight to the edge of space, it was a flight that we still learned new things.
Like sometimes modern equipment is BAD, and it almost totally ruined the mission for the school! More on this later.
Un-like most flight reports, this flight had so many twists and turns, I feel that it would not justify the mission with just a short re-cap. I'm giving the history from start to finish. I hope you all enjoy the story.
Mission Director and Founder of Near Space Sciences.
19 Years of Near Space flights and Counting!
45 Flights Launched, 45 Flights Recovered!
For several years we at NSS have been thinking of doing a flight with some students again. It was always a blast when we had the students involved. I remember well my time when I taught Astronomy back in the 70's. Hey, it's this teaching of Astronomy that introduced me to Linda Lovatt. Little did she know back then that she would become Mrs. Joe Mayenschein and get involved with all this crazy stuff I do! And this Astronomy connection 30 years later is the main reason this flight even came to be.
For the Driftless Zone Star Party participants, NSS planned a balloon flight for them to watch. That was NSS-42.
At this star party, is where we learned of John's plans for the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.
And we decided we MUST do a flight with the school. Being the first flight in more years than I wish to remember that included students we knew what the payload MUST have onboard!
A Cross Band Repeater, so that the launch crew, The Chase & Recovery teams, as well as the students themselves
can communicate through the payload.
An APRS system, For live tracking and telemetry of exactly where the payload is, and where it's going.
And of course, a MUST since this is a student based flight and viewable to the general public, it MUST also be a flight
that has a FULL COLOR Amateur Television system on board, sending the view LIVE from the payload to the ground below!
Let the construction Begin!
First, we wanted to involve the students as much as we could on this flight. But we knew there was no where near enough time to work with the students on the electronics side of a payload, but we still wanted them to do something, but what?
But we are getting the cart before the horse here. Back onto the timeline.
We talked it over with John Heasley about having the students build the chute and he also thought what a great idea.
I mentioned to him our thoughts of a larger chute was desired. We were using what we called a 5 foot chute, and told John, let's go with a 10 foot chute. More or less all of our chutes were simply a circle of fabric that is "X" feet in diameter and we attach the shroud lines as many as needed to it to make the chute. Simple. yeah right,, NSS do something simple? Sure!
And I have some swamp land in Arizona to sell Ya too!
John asked where the best place to get the material from, and I told him a kite making supply place called Into The Wind.
They have all sorts of colors and weights available as seen HERE. I told him to use the lightest material, and contrasting colors if at all possible. The colors was a easy given, the school colors of course! Orange and Black. The school team names and mascot is a hornet. As seen at the left here is Homer (the larger one) and Buzz, they are Orange and Black.
Well in the middle of this parachute construction project, I found someplace on the web,
(don't remember where) a excel sheet for desigining the best chute there is to maximixe drag,
vs chute weight. A hemispherical chute design.
This was our first error.
Teams Pattern & Parachute consisted of:
Now with the chute worked all out. Now it's time to get the payload started.
The existing payload box from NSS- 43 and NSS- 44 , is still in good condition. It has all the needed external antenna connectors already in place, as well as the APRS system, and our 109 db audible alarm system ready to fly. So it was a simple task to remove the cross band repeater that was flown on NSS- 43 & NSS- 44, and install the ATV tranny and camera system and related support components.
The payload container itself is a custom made one piece ( except for the lid ) molded styrofoam box. It's made by Polyfoam Packers. The view to the left here is what it looked like after the gutting of the box after NSS- 44, and before we started to put in the equipment for
NSS- 45 "October Skies"
This box is awesome. incredibly strong, and being one solid piece, no molded seams to worry about coming apart. This one we were planning to use during our long duration flight tests.
It has walls that are 2.25 inches thick! And the lid is a doubly recessed to minimize any air breezes from entering the box.
About all that remains in the box is the main fuse holder, ( seen in the lower right of the box) and a gang of terminal strips for power hookups. In the upper left corner (and seen below here) is the most awesome unit we have yet to find for tracking these payloads. A Micro-Trak 300 made by VHS Products.
Available from Byonics.
Embbeded deep into the top of the box is a Garmin GPS Model 18 unit. It and the Micro-Trak 300 were generously donated to NSS by Brad KB9VMC. This GPS,
As seen HERE worked flawlessley on NSS-43 and NSS- 44. So we had no reason to think anyway else of it.
It ran perfectly on BOTH flights.
But here again was another learning curve to enter into this flight we did not expect.
Out of the image above, embedded into the side of the box is a Floyd Bell Piezo Beeper, NO! Change that,
Change that to an ALARM!. It is claimed to have a 109 DB sound pressure level and it is LOUD!! PERIOD! No way around it! Even with the hole the sound comes out of is covered, you still can not talk around this thing. It is so LOUD that the chase teams once they are withinn a quarter mile from the downed payload they can hear this incredible thing. HERE is a link to Floyd Bells web site for the model we used on NSS- 43, NSS- 44, and installed into NSS- 45 "October Skies" Payload Box. Remember that statement....
Okay, we have our GPS tracking system onboard and running. The alarm is ready, we even added a simple recessed switch to the box to turn the alarm on just before release it so we do not have to listen to it blaring away till it's out of earshot. A simple flip of a toggle switch turns it on as we release the payload, .... Well that's the plan anyway.
Antennas: All simple quarter wave groundplanes. Nothing special at all. All vertically polarized.
This is where we part ways as to compared to what I see most groups using for their Amateur Television Transmitters.
We have from day one of our first video flight almost twenty years ago,
have used a Wyman Research unit. The exact unit is the AM 439 Transmitter.
There are at least two reasons for this.
1- Compared to most other transmitters, this unit has a higher output power,
aproximately three watts.
2- But even if this unit had the same power output as the others, the reason we use it, and honestly I do not understand why any Balloon group would use any other transmitter, is because of a feature that Don made into this transmitter that NO other transmitter on the market has or does. "On Carrier Audio" This is such a awesome idea. I do not know why all ATV transmitters do not do this. What is it? First Lets examine a standard Television signal.
Traditional Analog NTSC TV-RF Signal
Let’s start with a quick review of the current analog NTSC TV signal. As seen in the image at the left.
The NTSC TV signal consists of two independent analog RF carriers.
The carriers are contained in a 6 MHz channel bandwidth.
A video carrier is amplitude modulated. A separate and independent audio carrier is frequency modulated and is positioned 4.5MHz above the video carrier in the 6 MHz TV signal bandwidth.
Sideband signal energy is created above and below the video carrier as it is amplitude modulated with the composite video signal. The sideband signal energy below the carrier is limited to 1.25 MHz by the transmitter’s vestigial sideband filter. (If it has one) Sideband energy above the video carrier extends to 4.2 MHz, and includes sync, luminance and chroma signals. The strongest sideband signal energy is contained near the video carrier.
The audio RF carrier is frequency modulated by the audio signal causing the frequency to deviate above and below its resting frequency +/- 25 kHz. FM audio sidebands are contained in a 200 kHz bandwidth of the carrier frequency. Again, the strongest sideband energy is near the carrier.
In the NTSC signal transmission, the audio RF carrier is normally reduced in level compared to the video carrier. Good practice is to reduce the audio carrier level by 8-15 dB compared to the video carrier. This is commonly known as the A/V ratio and is expressed as a difference between two levels simply in dB.
So when you think about it. if the television transmitter is running say 3 watts output. That means the audio part of that signal is running about between 300 milliwatts at best , to as low as 94 milliwatts! No wonder when the signal starts getting weak, the audio starts to get all noisey!
So, what's so special about the Wyman Research transmitter? It has a FREE second transmitter built in!
In these balloon flights, every ounce of weight matters, every milliamp of current drawn matters. If you were able to have an additional three watt NBFM ( The same as a standard FM modulated transmitter ) onboard at no additional weight or power draw, why wouldent you?!
If you were to look at the signal of one of Wyman Research's transmitters signals, it for the most part would look just like the signal of any standard TV signal. Just like above. And to a television viewer they would not in any way be able to tell that something different is also going on. And what is that?
Wyman Research's transmitters take the same audio input, and createts the same sub audio carrier as needed for the Television signal to have audio on the Television. But then it also takes that audio input, and FM modulates the main full power AM modulated VIDEO carrier! HUH? Yes it's true! Don, actually FM modulates the full power three watt video carrier. And the Television never even knows this is happening! For a good reason. As seen above the average television signal is a WIDE monster, SIX MHz WIDE!! And a standard FM ( NBFM ) modulated signal when fully modulated is only 5 KHZ wide. So at the worst case the video carrier gets FM modualted to a 5 KHz amount. to a SIX MHz wide signal, and a reciever looking at that SIX Meg wide signal with a passband that is probably wider than that even. A 5 KHz FM modulation, is just NOT there!
It's only 0.000833333333% of the passband at the worst case!
So This Wyman Research Transmitter not only is it the Video transmitter, with the usual sub-carrier audio for all the Television viewers. But it is also, the cross band repeaters audio downlink transmitter! A full power 3 watt NBFM transmitter, that is a tottally freebie. Does not add one single gram to the payload weight, or use a milliamp of extra power!
Why would you use anything else?
For the video camera we used a camera we got from Super Circuits, a Model aparantly they no longer carry for it is no longer on their webpage. But they have many more that are very similar. It is a Model PC195XS. it's description is as follows.
Here is another Supercircuits price/performance breakthrough! Imagine, a tiny 1.5" square color CCTV mini video security camera w/ micro lens for under $60! Using the very latest new generation CCD imagers, the PC195XS delivers a sharp 380 lines resolution. Advanced chipset includes digital signal processing with automatic electronic shutter and auto backlight control-- the result is sharp and clear video performance in almost any lighting condition. Exposure and gain control are set automatically by the camera for trouble free performance.
Comes with plug and play cables. Power requirement is 12 volts DC at 80 milliamps. Comes with easy connection instructions, pre-installed plug and play video cables, one year warranty and a 30 day money-back satisfaction guarantee.
# 1/4" Sharp CCD imager
# 380 lines of resolution
# 1 low lux rating
# Built-in 3.6MM lens
# Auto gain control, white balance and electronic shutter
# 12 volts DC
# Low 80mA power consumption
One more addition to be added to the payload. I HATE an unsteady payload that is a video flight. From the very first flight we did here at NSS that had video onboard. We were in a constant battle for image stability. Swinging side to side was an easy fix.
For this is a motion exactly the same as a pendulum. And the speed of side to side motion of a pendulum is determined by strictly the length of the pendulum. The pendulum swings with a period that varies with the square root of its effective length. The longer the pendulum length, the slower the swing. A pendulum with a 39.1 inch length has a "Period" of one second.
Our typical payload "Train"or "Pendulum" Balloon to Payload is about 100 feet long. This makes a swing "Period" of close to 11 seconds long! And a very small amount of actual swing distance. So the side to side motion is all but eliminated.
Fully sastifactory! But now we have the other possible motion,,,,
Spin, AKA: Rotation along the payloads train axis, this has been even more troublesome to all groups. Sometimes I've seen videos that spin so fast you can not see anything!
Most if not all groups ( including us here at NSS ) have tried the "Wind vane" theroy. Where we attach a large "Fin" to one side of the payload. in hope it actcs like a Wind Vane, and keeps the payload facing one way. But this we have learned has one major flaw in it's working. IT DOESN'T WORK! So we are, No on the fins, When we started doing these flights almost 20 years ago, that was the thought, something like a wind vane. And many groups still think it's the way to go. We even did it on our first flights, but then began to think,, what is this wind vane doing, technically there is no wind, HUH? no Wind? You say the winds aloft are peaking at over 100 MPh today, What do you mean there is NO WIND!?
If there is a 100 MPh wind the balloon is moving along with the wind at 100 MPh. Relative to the balloon there is zero wind speed. Except for the vertical motion, and that's not small when you think about it. The nominal 1000 feet per min rise rate equals out to a little over a 11 MPh breeze in the vertical plane. So when you think about it unless you have absolute perfect vertical alignment of this "Fin" it's going to act like a wing and cause rotation! So much for stopping it.
Plus on the few flights we did try with it,, it really didn't slow rotation a lot,, but it DID make the payload WAY MORE susceptible to GUSTS!! It would suddenly jerk one way or the other,, REALLY BAD! And this had to be from wind gusts hitting the wind vane.
So we had to try something different. What do the BIG PRO's do with their airborne TELESCOPES!? Flywheels and Gryroscopes.
Well, we can not go above a total payload weight of six pounds so using technology like the big guys with the flywheels, and gyros and all that are JUST way too heavy!
We went with a lightweight inertia type of effect..
The thinking was like this. When you were a kid in school you may have even done this,,
You took your 12" ruler and stuck the center hole on a pencil and made a propeller,,
Ok,, now think how hard was it to start and stop that propeller?
Now if you were to do the same thing, but with a yard or meter stick instead..
Now how hard is it to get started and or stopped moving! a LOT harder,, well that's the threrory,,
Our last video flight almost ten years ago we tried this idea, and it showed incredible promise! On that flight we added two "Arms" to the payload. They stuck out both sides so of course it ended up being balanced. That flight had arms that were about 16 or so feet long tip to tip. Here is a image of the NSS- 45 "October Skies" payload shortly after release. It shows these arms nicely.
So this flight for the school we thought lets take it to an extreme and see what happens.
Those arms, on this flight were from tip to tip close to 38 feet long.
Later in this report you will be able to see how well it actually worked. Far better than we ever expected! There was absolutely no Rotation at all! It was so awesome!
But diddn't the arms add a lot of weight to the payload? Not at all! Again here comes Into The Wind. to the rescue!
On this page HERE, you will see fiberglass tubing that is used to construct HIGH performance kites.
We just got sizes that would telescope into each other, and made a set of arms as long as we could.
Every video flight we will ever do from now on will have this technology as a major part of the payload system.
way cool,, and simple!
Well, I bet you never thought the payload would have finally be finished. Now for the testing. Not wanting to waste the power of the internal battery pack. We used some older packs from other past flights to test things with. Even the GPS tracker unit we just attached a 9 volt battery, to fire it up. See something wrong here? Hindsight sure is 20/20. UG!
I fired up the tracker with the 9 volt battery, and checkout my UI-View. And it's still thinking it's located where it was when it landed after the hamfest flight. But shortly after that it jumped over to my home location. GREAT! That works just fine.
Fire up the Television tranny, and the up-link reciever. Check to see what the video looks like, um, where's that down converter? Can't find it. Oh well fire up the cable ready TV to channel 60. BAM there it is,, WOAH, way over driven, a simple twist of the video gain pot and cool,, perfect video picture.
Now transmit some touch tone tones through the system, Ignore what comes out of the downlink for now. Just be concerned with how well it decodes the touchtones, and adjust the audio level coming out of the up-link reciever so a good and solid decodeing happens on every attempmpt.
With that set, now adjust the audio level driver pot on the TV transmitter so it has perfect audio.. cool everything works and is ready for flight!
Dave N9TUU and his converted ambulance emergency communications van volunteered to be the downlink recieve station.
So I started gathering the equipment for him. The plan since getting the video signal into "Mission Control" will need a extremely long run of coax ( A bad thing on a weak atv signal ), Dave decided to do all the downconverting out in the parking lot and use a 900MHz link to send it into the building and mission control.
A week or so later we tested this 900MHz link and learned how well glass and concrete is at blocking this signal! But eventually between the 30 loop element beam transmitting to the Mission Control room, and a gain collinear antenna inside we learned we had a reliable strong signal. "WE HAD" Well another learning curve here will pop up. But on with the mission!
ATV antenna, CHECK, the awesome M squared best ATV antenna out there! Click HERE to read about it.
GasFET Pre-amp, CHECK, of course the best out there the ARR unit P432VDG. Again click HERE to read all about it.
Still can not find that ATV downconverter! Here it is about a week from launch, and no reciever! Luckily Bill KA9QFJ had one handy and mailed it on up to us.
Get this, Dave N9TUU as far as I know has never done ATV before. He is an awesome emergency communications person, doing emergency net communications not only for the Vernon County ARES/RACES group, but also a similar position with the Wisconsin National Guard. Dave also ran many of the recent crossband repeater flights for us also with the Communications van. But ATV is brand new to him.
The Downconverter arrives, it's now Friday, "T minus 4 days to launch" ( Launch is next Tuesday ) And that Friday afternoon i run over to Dave N9TUU, & Melody's N9ZWZ house to set up the ATV recieve station in the communications van.
Steve N9UDO in Baraboo fires up his ATV station, as well as the ATV repeater on the high Baraboo bluffs we think ahh great two good signals to test the system out. Remember way in the beginning of this story where I said new equipment is BAD?!
And it saved the day, or I should say the Mission! A` as cheap as possible video capture card for a computer. the super el-cheapo ones didn't have the "Squelch" circuits built in. If they see no signal they pass snow! whoo ya! The final configureation was as follows. You'll love the path the signal took to finally be viewed in Mission control.
The signal is transmitted from the payload. And recieved on the ground. This alone is not a minor feat. Ponder this.
Madison WI. is our local TV stations, it's ohhh, about 50 miles away. On this flight we watched the balloon POP when it was over Watertown, WI. Which happens to be 85 miles away. The signal diddn't start to get bad till it was over 130 miles away!
The amazing part is transmitter powers. We are transmitting with a whopping three watts.
UHF TV Stations in the USA can run up to 10 megawatts. That is TEN MILLION WATTS! It's truly amazing we see our little 3 watter at all, never mind at three times the distance to the commercial stations! Ok abck to the signal path..
1-The balloon Payload transmits it's signal. And the antenna in Richland Center picks up the signal.
2-The Pre amp at the antenna gives it a boost.
3-From the Pre amp it goes into the TV to PC TV converter. this rids our going to blue screen problem.
4-From the computer it again now goes into a now PC to TV signal converter.
5-This output from the computer now goes into a DVD recorder to be recorded.
6-The compositite line output from the DVD recorder, now goes into the 900 MHz link Transmitter,
7-and then the 30 element loop antenna.
8- it gets inside to be picked up by the vertical antenna inside
9-and then into the 900MHz link reciever,
10- the output composite signal from the 900MHz reciever now finally goes to the projector and is projected on the wall.!
We even has a second station setup about at the half way point with a omni vertical antenna that was gong to recieve the payload and stream it onto the net, hmm more learning curve again!
WELL WE ARE FINALLY SET, AND FLIGHT DAY IS HERE!
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