Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Seabrook Intermediate School Balloon Launch

My daughter attends the Science Magnet at Seabrook Intermediate School.  Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with a large group of her teachers and classmates about one of my obsessively favorite hobbies, which is building, launching, and chasing high altitude amateur balloons.  After the talk, we all went to the football field to launch a floater balloon, but had to abort due to a tracker failure (good GPS lock, but it just would not transmit...)  So, we sent a bleacher full of kids back to class and I went home to troubleshoot the problem.  

The Pecan Pico 5 tracker is usually flown with a LiPo and solar cells, but this tracker's onboard power supply had failed and I had kludged together a make-do supply out of a CR123A battery, a 5V up converter & a 3.3V regulator.  Not efficient, but good enough for a few days of service.  The "failure" was all my doing, as I forgot to disable the battery protection code that keeps it from discharging below a certain level.  Once I made that change...boom, the GPS locked and it transmitted in less than a minute.  Now, just have to wait for the weather to cooperate.

After a weeks delay, we finally were able to launch the mylar floater balloon and tracker payload.  We had a much smaller gathering of teachers & students, but everyone was excited...they all love this stuff.  My daughter released the balloon and it rose slowly in the sky, heading North until it was out of site.  We continued to monitor it's flight on and on  A little over 5 hours into the flight, it descended and landed somewhere east of Orange, TX, just short of the Louisiana border.  Maybe it didn't have a Cajun Visa?  Or more likely the thunderstorms in East Texas were too much for the balloon resulting in a slow leak and a much shorter flight that we'd hoped for. 

As background, this all started when I invited two of my daughter's teachers, Chris Lowe () and Joe Miller, to come out to the Wharton Intergalactic Spaceport for the South Texas Balloon Launch Team's BLT-42 flight last August.  They took it all in and even participated in the chase, which was awesome!  Afterward the flight, we thought it would be a great experience for the students to participate in a smaller scale balloon launch at their school. Chris even wrote about the experience on his site.

The next flight will be BLT-44.5, another floater, to be launched as part of the Great Plains Super Launch 2016 ( on Saturday, June 18th @ 9:00am.  Right now, only myself and Bill Brown, WB8ELK, will be launching floaters.  Everyone else is launching high altitude latex balloons.  Now, I just need to finish building the payload and write my presentation :)

73 de John

South Texas Balloon Launch Team

Sunday, May 29, 2016

I'm planning to attend the Great Plains Super Launch 2016 this year in Granbury, Texas ( for the first time and I'm really looking forward to it!  Previous GPSL events have appear to be well attended and had great presentations!  On Saturday morning, many are planning on launching balloon missions, most are latex balloons, but I'm planning on launching a floater balloon.  It will be a 36" Qualatex helium filled balloon carrying a Pecan Pico 5 tracker configured with LiPo battery & solar cells for what is hopefully a long duration flight.  More to come on that in future posts, but it will look something like the one we launched at the Greater Houston Hamfest this year (picture below).

73 for now, de John

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

W5RRR Digipeater Antenna Replacement

It's not everyday you get roof access to one of the tallest buildings at JSC, but today was one of those days.

View from the roof looking East
The JSC Amateur Radio Club has it's packet radio 'digipeater' and 1.2 GHz repeater located in Bldg. 32 and sometime last year, we noticed the digi's signal strength was not so good anymore.  The antenna was the likely culprit since it has been up there since the mid-90's and it's survived tropical storms Allison & Erin, hurricane Ike, and nitrogen and ammonia fumes (since it's attached to a vent pipe from the high bay vacuum chamber).

John, AB5SS, with new antenna
(old antenna is in the background)
David Fanelli (KB5PGY) and I finally made on the roof about 9:30am, after JSC Security verified we really had authorization to be on the roof and they unlocked the access hatch.  We walked over to the antenna and sure enough, it was in really bad shape.  After a liberal dose of WD-40, we convinced the rusty old bolts to let go and were able to swap out the old Comet GP-98 antenna with a shiny new Diamond X6000A 2m/70cm/23cm tri-band antenna.

Since there was construction on the floor where our radio cabinet is located, we were not able to check out the antenna or re-install the digipeater radio equipment.  That will be another trip...
Diamond X6000A installed on vent pipe
David Fanelli, KB5PGY, with the new antenna

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Under Construction

This is my first venture into blogging, so it's definitely going to be a work in progress while I figure out how to layout my blog.  I plan on using this space to capture what I'm working on at the time, what I've done in the past, and an occasional rant :)  This should be fun!