Hamfest HAB Flight – Mission Debrief

The National Hamfest high altitude balloon flew on Saturday and Pinky Pig reached a maximum altitude of nearly 26km (25,927m / 96,873 feet) as pictured above.

The flight originally planned for Friday had to be postponed due to wind direction and restrictions but I had sort approval for both days and was able to fly on Saturday. The conditions were perfect on launch day, clear blue sky with little cloud and almost no wind.  Flight prediction put it landing around 25km away.

Both payload trackers worked flawlessly, PINKY the high speed RTTY successfully sent SSDV as well as telemetry and the backup tracker PIGLET sent the slow speed RTTY telemetry. Trackers from all over the UK as well as France, Holland and Poland received data and uploaded data to the UKHAS website.

The received SSDV images can be seen at http://ssdv.habhub.org/PINKY

The flight path can be seen below

The flight can be seen visualised in Google Earth below and while the 26km altitude was impressive it was around 4km less than I’d planned.

 
The launch certainly created a great deal of interest at the Hamfest, on the Friday we setup the club tent for South Kesteven ARS with a tracking station and demonstrated the payloads to interested visitors. Stewart (M0SDM) used his Land Rover with a push up mast for a pair of collinear X-50s so we could receive and decode.  The mast and the Land Rover generated just as much interest.

 

On the Saturday I was assisted by my brother David (M6GTD) and just before noon began filling the balloon watched by a large crowd, as can be seen on Dave’s (M0TAZ) blog http://m0taz.co.uk/2015/09/national-hamfest-2015/
Picture by Dave M0TAZ
Once filled to give the correct lift I sealed it off and checked everything was working then without a breath of wind slowly let the balloon rise, taking the weight of the payloads and once I was sure there were no aircraft flying nearby I let her go. The sky was clear and the balloon went up near vertically and could be seen for quite a long time as it ascended. Representatives of the RSGB and RadCom were in attendance to take photos and did a quick interview. 
The tracking station was then full of people as the telemetry and pictures started to be received. It was great to see the huge interest in the balloon. 
As the balloon started to near the planned maximum altitude I began to get ready to set off to recover it then suddenly I was told it had burst sooner than expected. I got a hurry up at which point the laptop and mobile connection decided to stop working! However I knew where to head off with my poor brother trying to sort it out as I drove.
Stewart telephoned and gave me directions of where the live prediction and tracking had put the landing spot. My wife also set off from home to come and assist. In the car we were receiving a signal but were struggling to decode and couldn’t get on the internet to check the tracking. 
I eventually pulled up near the landing zone, while trying to decode the weak signal another car pulled up with two radio amateurs who had been tracking the balloon. I was a little preoccupied and they eventually said they were off and wished us luck. I then realised we were the wrong side of the hill and turned around and drove up to the top and the signal strength increased.
Stewart had phoned to tell me to find the Viking way footpath, as we reached ground zero we saw the other amateurs car and they were setting off down the footpath! It was my flight I wanted to be the first to find it!
My wife then pulled up and was about to set off after them! Then I started getting successful decodes! With the new landing position in the GPS my wife raced off in hot pursuit as I sorted out the car and then followed her with my brother. It was a reasonable walk of around 800m and as we got near it became apparent the other team had been using the online tracker and had only got the last received position which had been sent from around 254m altitude. However the payload was still transmitting strongly and we were decoding it and it was reporting it was in fact at 115m altitude – they were therefore several hundred meters in the wrong direction.
Our accurate location gave us the edge and a quick hop up a bank into a stubble field and a 200m jog my brother spotted the parachute… we had found Pinky and Piglet and got there first!
 I was surprised to find most of the balloon still attached, it hadn’t so much burst as split in a single tear
  
The payloads had no damage, other than the antenna being bent by the landing
PIGLET had landed as planned and tested, I had put the battery pack at the top of the box the top heavy center of gravity causing it to roll on landing so the antenna would be upright. It was in a perfect orientation hence the strong signal.
The other chase team turned up and congratulated us then left…  my apologies but I was in my own little happy place to be sociable. We then then had the obligatory team photograph before setting back to the Hamfest.
It has been an excellent experience and adventure.  The pictures are better than I could have hoped for! Thanks to my understanding wife, my brother David and Stewart for setting up the antennas for the tracking station and manning it on his own while we went off to recover the payload.
Thanks to the organisers of the National Hamfest and Graham Boor (G8NWC) for asking me to do the flight and helping fund the venture and I hope it succeeded in publicising the event and the hobby.
I have now downloaded all the photographs from the onboard camera and they can been in my Flickr album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/nerdsville/sets/72157658732989849
Updated – I realised I didn’t put the actual landing position on this post, so here it is

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