Want to Join a Weather Balloon Launch?

Launch and Recovery.

by Robert Brand.

This is not about OTC, but since there are many that are interested in HAM radio and technology, I am posting this as a general interest post. If you want to take part of find out more or even track the flight, you can find out more here:


This post is straight from my WotzUp website:

I mentioned to many people that I would like to launch a high altitude balloon flight in the next School Holidays here in NSW, Australia. I had thought that it would be an experiment in stability and camera work, but it appears that another opportunity has arisen and the experiment has changed – more on that later

So why the change? well I am actually being paid to do a commercial launch earlier in the morning. Same site, but different systems and requirements. Their flight has nothing to do with mine other than it stimulated curiosity and some science questions that I could not answer. So in good scientific style, I just HAD to do the experiment myself. (Hey, that picture above is the balloon fill for UpLift-1 from Rankins Springs about 9 months ago)

I had lots of details bout the variables, but a definitive answer? – NO! So time to find out about this chilling question. UpLift-2 was thus born.

I plan to launch a Medium Weather balloon simply to be able to comply with the rules CASA has to police. The rules are ancient and the light balloon section has, what I would call, an error. Last time with UpLift-1 we had an exemption simply because the balloon would expand well past the 2M limit imposed in the rules. A party balloon would do this too if it did not burst. A light balloon in the regulations is supposed to be able to carry 4Kg. Well, it would be over 2m on the ground to do this. It took time and effort last time to get an exemption for UpLift-1 and this time it may have even taken $600 to $800. The simple way to overcome the error in the Australian rules is to launch a “Medium’, size balloon.

There are extra regulations here to observe and they can be found in section 101 of the regulations. I do not want to print them here, but go to Table 101.165 in the following document. Click the link below to open a new page and then click on the document number “F2011C00451VOL03” – it is the only one on the page.

Click Here for Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 F2011C00451VOL03

If you are not launching in a secondary radar site area (usually remote country away from capitals, but check with CASA), then a transponder is not required. We will be taking a lightweight radar reflector, more on this in a future post.

Here is my request for permission to launch lodged with CASA. They are required to approve the launch within 2 days unless the request is incomplete or there is a safety issue. Please allow CASA time to reply and you have time to make a correction.

Here is my request to CASA for a “Medium Balloon” flight. They need time to issue a warning to aircraft in the vicinity (called a NOTAM).

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your time on the phone last week. I am submitting the outline of my Balloon flight request for your approval. I am supplying the following information as requested in the appropriate CASR document for an unmanned free “Medium Balloon”.

  1. (My Name) Robert Brand
  2. (My Address) …. NSW 2203
  3. (My phone number) 02 9xxx xxxx
  4. (Time of Release) The release will be at 10:01 am on Tuesday 25h September 2012
  5. (Location of Release) Rankin Springs, NSW, Australia. It is located at -33.8333° [latitude in decimal degrees], 146.2500 [longitude in decimal degrees]
  6. The mass of the payload and balloon is about 1kg and is made up of a polystyrene box (being made) 15cm x 10cm x 10cm made from 1.5cm thick sheet of foam.
  7. There will be only one balloon launched by me, but others in the area may submit a proposal for approval for the same day and a different time.
  8. Further information: I will be using Totex / Kaymont 350g weather balloon that will be overfilled and is only expected to reach approximately 20Km.
  9. The equipment weight is approximately 700 grams. Radio Transmitter/Receiver 145MHz 250g and 1 camera of around 145 grams and 300 gram of …. . The parachute, capsule, etc is less than 150g
  10. The flight will last for approximately 2 hours
  11. It will return to earth 20km West of Condobolin -33.05139 and 146.91528
  12. I will be releasing a single balloon under this proposal, but a proposal by others may request a balloon release from the same site at 8am
  13. The balloon is forecast to track NNE
  14. The rate of climb is approximately 5m / Second
  15. The balloon will not have a float level and is expected to climb until either the balloon bursts or the payload is commanded to release/burst the balloon envelope
  16. The balloon is forecast to reach 60,000 feet at-33.37583 and 146.67611
  17. The Balloon will have a radar reflector suitable for frequencies above 200MHz.

We will be in a Telstra coverage area or have crew in coverage that area and radio communications with the chase vehicle for the entire flight according to maps and predictions and we will be able to both track the flight real-time using amateur radio APRS system and maintain contact with CASA as and if required. The expected drop zone is about 20km West of Condoblin.

My flight will be carrying a science experiment ……. at altitude that will be used in an educational way. It is non-commercial, although inspired by the work of the expected earlier balloon launch that day. Both have scientific research that will be eventually made public for mentoring students and interested parties.

Your help in this matter is truly appreciated.


Okay? Simple enough. You do not need to copy my request, but adding it here may give others an idea of how to do this for the future. The difference between a light balloon and a Medium balloon primarily is the fact that you can destroy the balloon on command and to be able to do it 2 independent ways. Not this is possible via a mobile device, a radio system or a few other innovative ways, but I will concentrate on the way I will do this via amateur radio. The simplest system is a hot wire wrapped around the neck of the balloon. Radio the command and the wire bursts the balloon or at least puts a large hole big enough to instantly deflate it. More on this soon.

Below is Jason about to launch Uplift-1 from Rankins Springs. He is holding the payload and you can see the parachute.

Jason launching releasing UpLift-1 from Rankins Springs

There will be a commercial earlier flight on the same day as I mentioned and in the same location. I will try and get details of their system and publish the methodology here after the launch. They expect a shorter flight and may not have public tracking of the unit. Mine, like before will be tracking via APRS and you can watch on line to see the progress. We will also (from the ground) broadcast live the preparations for both flights. I will add details of this shortly.

As for Amateur Radio (HAM radio), Liz VK2XSE, a local operator to the region will drive in to assist with a portable APRS Digipeater if the launch remains on a Tuesday. There should be enough coverage in the local vicinity, but as we found out before, we only got coverage at 500m elevation above ground at Rankin Springs and at 700m elevation we lost the signal as it landed. The most important thing is to get a good ground fix on the landing.

Interested HAMs will likely be tracking it from their radio rooms at home, but it might be a great opportunity for those motivated enough to help in the recovery. I will not be providing anything other than a waiver that any risks that you take are your own. I can’t afford to cover you with insurance!

Tracker3 model T3-301

One of the radios I will be using is a Tracker3 with a 5w transceiver by Friendcom FC-301/D. It uses smart beaconning and can even act as a digipeater when I am located at home. The unit is made by Argent Data in the US


The T3-301 is a combination of the Friendcom FC-301/D VHF data radio and a Tracker3 daughter board. All of the Tracker3’s standard functions are present in the T3-301. In addition, the transmit and receive frequency and RF power output can be set through the Tracker3, including by remote command.

While the rated power output is 5 watts, the maximum power setting can be as high as 8 watts, depending on supply voltage. The radio has FCC Part 90 and CE certifications, making it legal for use on commercial frequencies (from 136 to 174 MHz) in both the US and Europe. (Note that the power output must not be set higher than 5 watts for commercial use.)

Because it can also receive, I can instruct it to release / burst the balloon to allow the payload to return to earth.

Recently Jason (VK2FJAB) and I (VK2URB) did an interview for Australia’s Channel 9 and the Today show. The video is only 3 minutes and I have not been able to get it off my DVR, but this 12 minute video (below) that I shot while they were filming and it will tell you more about the Jason’s involvement in Space and HAM radio than the 3 minute TV version!

The whole interview took 3.5 hours for a 3 minute spot.

3 thoughts on “Want to Join a Weather Balloon Launch?

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