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:
- RTTY 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. Anstey 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 be 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 phone 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
Chase 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 up. 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. 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!
At 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.
We 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,
soon 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 tree. Mark had brought 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 and 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…