NSTAR Flight 13-C launched from Treynor IA at 0803 CDT on Saturday, August 31. This flight reached a maximum altitude of 125,073 feet under a 1600g Hwoyee balloon and landed southeast of Red Oak, IA. This is a new altitude record for NSTAR.
The SD card for the Canon still camera was not initialized properly, so it could not take pictures automatically at intervals and was removed before launch. The Kodak Zi6 video camera ran to about 100,000 ft altitude and still photos will be captured from that video later. A panorama image from a series of stills, using Microsoft ICE to stitch them automatically, is here.
Next NSTAR flight
Planned NSTAR flights for the rest of 2013:
13-D - We are considering a pre-dawn launch in early December in an attempt to capture images of Comet ISON after perihelion
Last Updated on Monday, 23 September 2013 17:57
NSTAR Flight 13-B - 20 July 2013
Written by Mark Conner N9XTN
Sunday, 21 July 2013 20:41
NSTAR Flight 13-B was our annual UNO Aerospace Education Workshop BalloonSat flight, flown in cooperation with Paul Verhage KD4STH of NearSys. The weather was nearly perfect, a little cooler than previous days and almost no wind. Our setup proceeded quickly and we launched our 1000g Hwoyee balloon from Treynor High School in Treynor IA at 0751 CDT (1351 UTC) with 10 lbs of payload and two pounds of free lift.
Our initial chase plan called for stopping in Red Oak to wait for the balloon to burst. However, as we headed east towards US59, it became apparent our track was bending farther to the north than planned. We stopped in Carson for a while, then again in Griswold. At both locations, we were able to spot the balloon with the naked eye when there weren't clouds in front of it.
For this flight we had two trackers, a BigRedBee 2m unit and an OpenTrackerUSB paired with an Alinco DJ-190T that has been a longtime veteran with NSTAR. Both performed very well during the ascent, providing solid tracking information on 144.39 and 144.36 respectively.
The balloon burst at 94,189 ft at 0926 CDT (1426 UTC) about 10 miles southwest of Griswold. This was a concerning time for us, as we had lost tracking information on some previous flights at burst - sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. We were monitoring the audio of our 144.36 signal and were relieved that the transmissions were occuring on schedule. However, the flutter in the signal was preventing proper decoding. We were also monitoring Internet reception of our 144.39 signal and it was obvious that the BigRedBee transmitter was having difficulty both maintaining GPS lock and being heard. After a few minutes, we heard nothing more from our BigRedBee transmitter but the 144.36 payload did give us good reports.
We headed towards Grant and considered stopping again, but decided instead that we were too far in front of the projected path. We backtracked to the west on a gravel road and stopped in a few miles as the payloads were falling below 6000 feet and should have been below the cloud cover. It took a few moments to spot the parachute but we finally saw it off to our south. After a quick drive to the south, we observed the payloads land at 0959 CDT (1459 UTC).
Just south of the landing site was a farmhouse with a horse lot and a barking but seemingly happy dog on the front porch. We made contact with the owners and got permission to search for the payloads. There were some tall trees on the property but we saw the parachute miss them. It turned out they landed in some grass between the cornfield to the north and the horse lot. Once again we managed to avoid a tall-corn landing in the summer in Iowa.
We checked over the BalloonSats and they were mostly intact. The covers for one camera payload had come off but the camera was still inside. One of the payloads had a sealed water bottle with two goldfish inside - they survived the two-hour ride to near space. We got a recommendation from the property owners to go to the Rainbow Cafe in Red Oak for a fine lunch, where we exchanged video and pictures and talked over the day's flight before returning to Omaha.
NSTAR Flight 13-A at the Great Plains Super Launch was (eventually) a success, after a delayed recovery due to a double failure of the APRS trackers. The N9XTN-11 tracker failed about two minutes after burst. The NearSys KD4STH-12 tracker flying with us was intermittent, providing its last position reports about 5000 ft AGL. The flight train was eventually spotted visually about 20 feet from the road after about 90 minutes of searching (and was almost overlooked despite the proximity to the road). Landing site was about two miles south of Thornburg IA.
After recovery, both the transmitter board and the container holding the lithium AA batteries were quite warm to the touch (estimated 130 °F). My initial bench testing at first indicated no problems, then the board went dead. It was sent back to the manufacturer but it powered up and functioned normally there. After it returns to me, I'll be conducting more tests before returning this hardware to flight.
Both the still and video cameras ran from launch to landing. Screen captures of the video showed several instances where the other flights were clearly visible.
A more detailed writeup will be provided later.
Last Updated on Sunday, 14 July 2013 13:26
Flight 12-B - 14 July 2012
Written by Mark Conner N9XTN
Tuesday, 17 July 2012 21:00
NSTAR Flight 12-B was for one of our favorite customers – the Aerospace Education Workshop at UNO. Paul KD4STH had his usual BalloonSat workshop on Friday, and Saturday was the day to put them in the air.
Because of the expected track to the south, we chose the ballfield parking lot in Weeping Water as our launch site. With light winds and protection from the surrounding terrain, we had almost ideal conditions for filling and launching our 1200g Hwoyee balloon. However, during final payload checkout I noticed that our backup beacon had stopped functioning. The switching regulator that provides 5V to the TinyTrak 3 and the GPS was very warm, so I suspected a short on the 5V supply on the TinyTrak – this had happened before due to the ground and 5V wires getting twisted and shorting out. Our main beacon (a BigRedBee GPS/APRS combo) was working fine and performed without a hitch on its maiden flight in March, so we pressed ahead and launched at 0810 CDT (1310 UTC).
Our flight prediction had the landing west of Tecumseh, so we drove there and set up shop in the Casey's parking lot to watch the flights progress. With practically clear skies we could see the balloon approaching us from the north before turning to the west as the winds shifted above 50,000 ft. Our ascent rate was slower than expected, averaging only 750 ft/min.
With the burst expected not too far west of Tecumseh, our plan was to wait there until the balloon burst. As the balloon passed 100,000 ft, it continued to drift farther and farther away from us to the west. Expecting burst almost any minute, we waited and waited for it to pop. Our last UNO flight in 2011 was a record-setting 112,949 feet but with a smaller balloon and a fairly heavy load we did not expect to match that altitude. However, it lasted 25 minutes longer and 16,000 ft higher than expected, finally giving up at 116,789 feet at 1045 CDT (1545 UTC) and is now NSTAR's present altitude record. A picture snapped just before burst is also our highest photo on record.
Photo from NSTAR 12-B at 116,789 feet
By this time the balloon was 10 miles or so northwest of Beatrice, and we now had a 40-some mile drive to the landing. This meant it was unlikely we could be there in time for the landing, but we gave it our best. As we came out the west side of Beatrice, the payloads landed about 10 miles away northwest of the town of Harbine at 1128 CDT (1628 UTC). As we drove up, a position report was received from the payloads on the ground. This was a good sign because (1) we were still 2-3 miles away so that meant the BigRedBee's signal was a good one even with the payloads lying on the ground, and (2) it would simplify our search greatly.
Thanks to the wonders of 4G coverage, we were able to do some Google Earth recon as we drove up. We were in an area of cornfields, but from the satellite image we could not tell for sure if we were in corn or possibly some grass. Without any farmhouses in the area, we could not tell who owned the land where our payloads were. Even though there was a vehicle path back into the field, we chose to park on the road and head back on foot.
We had some good luck again as the payloads were in some grass along a dry creek bed. We could see the parachute from about 100 yards away and walked right up to it. After getting some pictures, we picked everything up and headed back to the vehicles for the long drive home.