Saskatoon Amateur Radio Club
High Altitude Balloon

The Flight to Dog River

May 17, 2008
VE5NED's farm, 1/2 hour west of Davidson

Landed, north of Glasnevin.

Distance traveled, 200 km.

Just prior to launch

Final Estimated Track

Google Earth KML

Tom, who found our payload

A view from the top

Payload Pictures

Launch Pictures

The weather on May 17 was just about as good as you could ask for.  It was partly cloudy and the wind was very low.  We departed Saskatoon around 5:30 AM and hit the highway to our launch site.  We arrived at VE5NED's yard shortly after 7:00 and began to set up.  Despite this being our first flight, things went pretty smoothly.  We had the balloon tethered and partially inflated by 8:00 AM.  Since we were ahead of schedule, we decided to break to enjoy a coffee and some of the wonderful baking and fruit that Ned's wife Hazel had prepared.  Once we were fed and watered, we returned to our task.

As 8:30 approached we had the balloon almost completely inflated.  At this point I powered up the APRS tracker and confirmed that it had a good GPS fix.  Next I powered up the ATV transmitter and VE5RGM confirmed reception of a fine picture.  About this time the wind started to pick up.  Although we were scheduled for a 9:00 AM liftoff, we decided to go at 8:55 instead.  Gus phoned air traffic control to update them on our schedule change.

At 8:40 I powered up the cameras.  The cameras are timed to start the video 15 minutes after power up.  I closed the payload lid and secured the lifting straps.  Now we had to wait for our 15 minute time delay to elapse.  As we reached 8:55 we began to let the balloon out on its tether line.  Once it was aloft and the payload was off the ground we released the tether line and the balloon and our payload rose gracefully into the sky.

By now you may have noticed that we didn't check the tracker after the initial check.  Mere seconds after liftoff, I looked at my radio and saw a solid carrier with absolutely no audio.  At first we thought that it was a local radio but it wasn't long before we confirmed that it was the APRS transmitter in our payload.  I just can't describe the feeling that we had, knowing that our payload was floating away and we might never see it again.

After a few minutes of panic, VE5SPI and his wife jumped in their vehicle and VE5LEE and I jumped in ours.  We set out for two highways that parallel our projected flight path.  I was attempting to establish a bearing on the 439.25 MHz video carrier while Gus was tracking a 220 MHz beacon.  We had no idea about the altitude or speed it was travelling.  VE5RGM was still able to receive the ATV signal and gave us updates on what he saw and the bearing from the launch site.  About an hour into the chase, Bob told us that he thought he had seen the chaos that accompanies the balloon burst.  After about 90 minutes, Leigh and I stopped at Eyebrow.  We were able to establish a fairly accurate bearing on the ATV signal and the signal seemed very strong.  A few seconds later it was completely gone.  At about the same time Gus established another bearing on his beacon.  He also lost it moments later.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving the back roads between Davidson and the Trans Canada Highway.  We found a few faint signals, but they all turned out to the false signals.  Late in the afternoon we met up with VE5BBB.  He had heard us on the Eyebrow repeater and offered to help.  We met on the top of the tower hill south east of Mortlach.  It has an incredible view in all directions and is quite possibly the windiest spot I have ever been.  Despite our vantage point, we still heard nothing.  As evening was approaching, were all tired and hungry, and we needed fuel anyway, we decided to call off the search.  To cap the search off, we stopped at the ice cream shop in Elbow.  It was well worth the side trip.

On Sunday, Gus and his son David took another trip south to try another search.  By this time the only thing that would still be operating would be the micro beacon.  The search was once again fruitless.  On Monday morning, as I took my first sip of coffee, the phone rang.  When I answered, I heard a crackly voice on a cell phone say "....... found .... package .......CLICK".  They were gone!  I put my coffee down and waited for my heat to start beating again.  A minute or two later the phone rang again.  This time it was call was clear and the caller said they had found the payload in a ditch beside a grid road.  I asked where, and he said just north of Glasnevin.  As I soon learned, Glasnevin is between Regina and Moose Jaw and about 90 kilometres south of the Trans Canada highway, less than an hour from the U.S. border.  This put our landing point 200 km from our launch.  It was no wonder that we were unable to find it in our search.  Leigh and I drive down and met Tom in the field where he was working.  There in the cab of his 4 wheel drive tractor sat our little orange payload.  We chatted with him for a few minutes and snapped a couple of pictures.  With the payload safely stowed in the back seat, we headed back to Saskatoon.

As we approached Saskatoon both Gus and Bob came on the repeater to get the latest update.  They met us at our house and we all opened the payload together and toasted our success with a glass of sparkling raspberry cocktail.  We watched together as I popped the memory cards in the laptop.  We were astonished at the pictures that we had taken.  After investigating the modules, we are fairly certain that the failure was due to a short circuit in one of the cables in the APRS tracker.  Steps have been taken to prevent this from happening again.

73, Bruce