RRC & Horus 49 – July 7, 2018

OK, so what is Horus 49? The Amateur Radio Experimenters Group Inc. (AREG) periodically launch High Altitude Balloons for experimental purposes. These balloons carry various payloads to near space, in this case over 36000m high. The payloads of this flight included:

  • 20180708_125301RTTY Telemetry – ‘HORUS’ – 434.650 MHz  (100 baud, 425 Hz Shift, 7N2);
  • WENET Imagery – 441.200 MHz (WENET 115kbps FSK); and
  • Experimental Horus Binary Payload – 434.640 MHz (100 baud 4FSK)

And a special passenger named Anstey the Echidna making his second trip to near space. 2018-07-08--02-11-59-HORUS-20359Anstey the Echidna is a project run by the Tea Tree Gully Library to teach young children how to discover information in the library. Anstey is the library Mascot.

For the Riverland Radio Club this was the second time we have had the fortune of being part of this most interesting and exciting part of the Amateur Radio Hobby. The last time was launch Horus 44 from our club BRL Gathering of April 2017 (no Anstey that time though).

Predictions for this flight had Horus 49 tracking toward Loxton in the Riverland, and while various landing models, based on burst (remotely triggered by ground crews) altitudes, were considered, it was determined that the target landing area would be in the Murray Mallee, with somewhere west of Loxton being the most likely.

A few weeks prior to this when it was realised the flight would carry this far East, Mark VK5QI from the AREG team contacted RRC member Ivan VK5HS asking if the RRC would Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 8.23.25 am.pngbe interested/able to assist in the recovery/chase for this flight. Ivan had only a couple months prior started to set up ‘Chase Car’ equipment, primarily for chasing weather Sonde’s. Ivan was sold on the chase straight away but he couldn’t drive and operate the Chase Car equipment by himself. So other active Sonde chasers from RRC included myself (Danny VK5DW), Pete VK5PE, and Andy VK5LA were all contacted and asked if we could help Ivan with the chase. We three had to give this much thought prior to committing, indeed I reckon it took us a collective few milliseconds to confirm.

Our plan was pretty simple… meet up at my QTH for 0900hrs, set up and get the equipment running and go get it… SIMPLES! Fortunately some of the software and systems being used had been used to chase WX Sonde‘s by a couple of us and thankfully with pretty good success. That said there was a bit riding on this chase… our reputation to start!

So Ivan with Pete rock up at my QTH and Andy not far behind. Ivan and Pete had installed all the equipment into Ivan’s Land cruiser, several antennas appeared on the roof consisting of a 70cm 1/4 wave, a dual band hi gain, a crossed dipole and a high gain 20180708_101032phone antennas to improve phone coverage for uploads to the net. A 240 volt inverter to run 3 laptops was also included. One laptop used for Mark’s VK5QI LoRa tracking software, another for RTTY and the last one for WENET which was used to download photos from the payload. I must say Ivan’s car was looking much like an Echidna, which is kinda ironic given the payload we were about to chase. With this setup we had the capacity to track the flight via multiple signals, allowing us to keep the chase up even if we had system failures. Additionally we had hand held GPS receivers, hand held scanners and hand held radios along with Yagi antennas so we could Direction Find (DF) the payloads if the situation commanded so.

Our team consisted of:

  • Ivan VK5HS (driver seat), Driver and Systems Administrator
  • Pete VK5PE (front left), WENET Operator
  • Andy VK5LA (rear left), RTTY Operator and Navigator
  • Danny VK5DW (rear right), Navigator and LoRa Operator

2018-07-08--00-22-24-HORUS-202E0Chase step 1… Loxton Mini Mart for coffee! Then based on our chase system we headed out to Stott Highway and pulled up at the Stott Hwy/Mindarie Rd intersection (Staging 1 (see map below)) to monitor the launch and wait for some signals to poke their head over the horizon. Right about now I started to experience some issues with the GPS engine attached to the tracking laptop, meaning I could see the live predictions OK but couldn’t see my exact location. Thank goodness for my map reading skills I was able to dead reckon our location most of the time. At the same time Andy had issues with getting a good signal from the RTTY payload along with its laptop playing u20180708_105756p. It’s about now we started to get a bit concerned we weren’t going to have enough contingencies up our sleeve… time to get our heads sorted and solve a few glitches! Right… a quick DF, a swap out of a dodgy GPS engine, a couple restarts, and swap the LoRa data for RTTY data into the tracking laptop and we were GO again. While this was going on Pete was trying to aquire signal on the WENET downlink so he could get some pictures coming through, but alas not enough signal yet! By this time Rob VK5TRM had tracked us down via APRS and turned up in his car, playing chase the chasers.

With enough glitches sorted, but still not at 100%, and signals picking up we headed off toward Wunkar with confidence we were still on track. We got to Wunkar and turned South onto Curtis Rd (Staging 2), pulling over again to monitor Horus 49 for a short while. 20180708_113914 (1)Very shortly after we moved on further and turned East onto Farr Rd (Staging 3). Here we pulled up again, by now very confident we were on the money for a recovery, there was no way we weren’t going to track this thing!!!. That said we weren’t yet 100% operational. So while Ivan and Pete were working on getting more signal to support the required band width of WENET, Ivan seen here with a 3 element Yagi, Andy and I were working on getting other systems sorted. What a team the four of us make!

Cross Dipole w Pre AmpAt some point about here the elevation angle of the flight was at 25 degrees so we swapped to the crossed dipole with a Mini Kits 70cm Pre Amp installed, the predicted landing location was fairly stable now so we moved in closer and pulled up waiting for the balloon to burst. And burst it did at 36306m (36.306kms) up.

We had to run RTTY into the tracking laptop for a while as we lost the LoRa signal, but after a few more kms down Farr Rd and a software restart back onto LoRa all was good again. Cool… we had everything, except internet service, running as required. All was good again! Failure was still not in our thoughts, we were going to win!


About 7.5kms East down Farr Rd we identified a track to the South… this was going to be our best access for the recovery, we had less than 10 minutes to get to the predicted landing site. OH NO… lost the GPS again. With total calm, OK maybe a little panic, we pulled up on a small rise (Staging 4), did a bit more DF while we rigged Andy and the RTTY laptop for ‘Moving Map’ onto OziExplorer so Andy and I could work together to guide Ivan into an area adjacent to the landing site (Staging Final). Pete in the meantime was downloading some amazing images via WENET. Rob still in train, albeit very dusty by this time.

20180708_122534We now moved again to the predicted landing spot, with very low cloud and not being able to see the balloon we used a combination of the tracking software, our direction finding antennas and skills we were able to look in the right direction to see Anstey appear out of the clouds and land about 300m West from us in some Mallee scrub (Landing Site). Mark VK5QI and Will VK5AHV called us on HF radio and asked us to wait for them as they were about 3 minutes away, Danny informed them we had just watched it land,

Map Generalsoon Mark and Will arrived, followed by Marcus VK5WTF.

With DF gear in hand and a GPS or two we set off only to find Anstey 8m up a Mallee 20180708_125921tree. Mark had Map Landing Satbrought a squid pole along to our amusement, not initially knowing what that was for we soon found out… Mark had obviously done this before. Anstey needed a bit of gentle prodding with the squid pole to be persuaded from the tree, falling to the ground only to be safely caught by Danny.


Marcus then took several group photos of the recovered gear, vehicles and the chase teams. We then packed Anstey 20180708_130050and all the gear away and departed. The AREG members headed back towards Adelaide stopping to recover  a Sonde from the mornings launch. Peter had recovered the Saturday night Sonde earlier. The RRC members headed back to Loxton for lunch, catching up with Bob VK5FO and Ray VK5RR. We then all departed and headed home where Peter and Ivan decommissioned the tracking equipment from Ivan’s vehicle.

We had a lot of fun, watched Anstey safely land, recovered the payloads, and recovered 2 Sondes, learnt a lot and most importantly had heaps of fun. A special thanks to Ivan for his chase car and Pete for assisting Ivan with the setup and decommission thereof.

This story is a combined effort of the RRC Chase Team.

Thanks for reading…



Setting up a modern APRS mobile station…

This is a post about my journey in getting a compact portable APRS station going for portable and emergency use…it will be over a few posts as I try a few different methods of implementing my system…enjoy!

APRS stands for “Amateur Packet Reporting System” – APRS has been developed since the late 1980s by Bob Bruninga, (call sign WB4APR), He still maintains the main APRS Web site. The initialism “APRS” was derived from his call sign.

First a brief history of my packet and APRS setups…

I have run packet Radio, off and on since 1995, when I was first licensed as VK5XAW. My first Packet Rig consisted of an Apple Mac Plus, a VK7TM (Sadly, long now a Silent Key) “Pocket Packet” modem I built from a kit, and my first 2m Radio, an Icom IC2GXAT 7watt handheld radio,  plugged into a pole mounted vertical up at about 10m high.21DA2C36-D048-4DEB-A013-974BD1EBE7A0

Everyone said it wouldn’t work, but work it did. As far as I knew I was the only one in SA using a Mac for Packet.

D0B662F1-8C16-485B-A430-D062F18D7BBBThe VK7TM kit modem worked
well and the software for the Mac impressed. I had a lot of fun on the VK5TTY bulletin board, and many direct contacts with Stef, VK5HSX.

I went to my first PC, a 486DX100, (!) and then a PK232 – a 424A8507-D7A7-4CE8-95B3-B45B0F806CD6real proper modem. The 232 soon got relegated to RTTY duties in contests, so I graduated to the PK88 and the MFJ TNC2 clones. I’m sorry to say I can’t even remember the name of the terminal software everyone used to use, written by a French ham? It was a long time ago.

Packet usage began to decline and started to go the way of the Dodo, When it was well and truely elbowed by the newly emerging all singing all dancing APRS.

I believed my first system, from (fuzzy) memory was a MFJ TNC2 clone with a custom ROM, not even a GPS, just  home lat/long entered in to the software as a home station. Quite boring really!

I then moved on to a couple of mobile setups, including a BD5C7FD5-A29C-4063-B62D-F3DCC85FDB52Byonics Tiny Trak3 with a Garmin GPS and Yaesu VX6R 5 Watt handheld, then neat system with an Alnico DR135 Mk111 2M Rig with an Argent Data Systems T2-135 internal modem fitted, with data display and FFD3BA14-A8D5-4189-9EC0-2EA0962494BEmapping/messaging from a dash mounted Garmin c510 StreetPilot in-car GPS/navigation unit. Luxury!!! The argent data setup used the proprietary Garmin sentences to do the overlays on the Streetpilot.

That system served me well despite its warts. It tended to D5C72EFE-8F88-44B7-B238-C16CD45AFCE8be erratic with keeping my own path on the GPS map, but did quite a good job of updating other stations. I found the Alnico Radio to be a good performer with bomb proof front end.

I hadn’t run packet for a number of years until recently. My needs with APRS have now changed, and as I’m quite often out doing Park Activations for the WWFF program, so I like the ability to map for two reasons.

A) As proof that I was where I said I was…and

B) Safety. If I’m lost, it should be easy to find me!

After doing a bit of trawling on the ‘net, it seems that there is quite a few options for APRS these days.

Kenwood and Yaesu both seem to have full function units, both high power mobile and Handheld, that are ready to go out of the box – just put your callsign and SSID in and you’re  away. These are a few generations in now, and have matured into 1 box solutions. Both have limitations with the information that can be displayed

As tech has moved on, so has software and by far the best 3571B18B-5DAF-4681-908F-A37F5C756F6Away to display yours and others APRS data is on aprs.fi, a web based app that uses google maps to plot positions and  track stations world wide in a web page.

Tablets have revolutionised mobile computing and this is the way I have chosen to go as a display for my vehicle APRS system that I’m currently putting together.

I have recently acquired a Samsung Galaxy Tab A, as the dash mounted Display for my APRS set up. It is simply Velcro’d to the dash surface, when in use, and removed when not required to reduce the risk of sun/heat damage or theft. It seems to work extremely well. The tablet doesn’t have to be flash, as long as it has an inbuilt GPS, most reasonably recent ones do, it should be suitable. not that you can even use an Android phone at a pinch. 20180706_163906

It is a perfect size for this application, and is a bigger, brighter and clearer display than any currently available out of the box APRS Radio, and can be used as an Android tablet when not pressed in to APRS duty.

The software that makes this all modern day APRS happen is an Android app called APRSDroid. It is a free download from the Google Play store. There is no equivalent iOS app, as iOS lacks support for Bluetooth Serial Port Protocol (SPP). The software supports the following connections…

1.via TCP/IP ( needs an internet connection), 2. via AFSK ( audio in and out using the headphone socket to a Radio, 3. via a Bluetooth to a TNC (like the Mobilinkd TNC) and finally, 4. Kenwood (NMEA waypoint)

At the moment, to get my position on the APRS network, my setup is operational with the2018-07-06 22.14.00 Samsung tablet > an ASFK connection via a simple interface> Yaesu FT7800R mobile radio.  APRS RX displays the incoming packets from the 2M Radio, and everything is displayed on the Galaxy tablet in the APRSDroid app. The only disadvantage is that it is not a wireless solution from the Tablet at present, but it’s cheap and it works. The goal is to have say a Pelican style case, with a 2M mobile radio and a Bluetooth capable TNC and all connections ready to go. Just plug it in to some power and an antenna and you’re on APRS, using the Bluetooth connected Tablet as a remote display. A picture tells a thousand words… I have started on the case for the setup, adding an auxilliary USB charging port shown here being tested on the way to help out on a Horus ballon launch with the club…

Until the next instalment on this build, here are a few links to the software and hardware I’m using…

Mobilinkd – http://www.mobilinkd.com/?gclid=CjwKCAjwj4zaBRABEiwA0xwsPwKCAQ68kaig3HeXiN_SCh4bcOryoV-f3G_yN9r2dX8ZgxSLVvXx1RoCXFgQAvD_BwE

APRS.FI – https://aprs.fi/#!lat=-33.86670&lng=151.20000

APRSDroid – https://aprsdroid.org/

Samsung Galaxy Tab A6 – https://www.samsung.com/au/tablets/galaxy-tab-a-7-0-2016-t280/