International Pico Balloon Launch

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Monkton Stargazers

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Jan 15, 2021, 10:56:27 AM1/15/21
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Hi
The Hilderstone Radio Society has been invited to take part in an international pico balloon race. It is organised by Trevor Macduff and Joanne Michael in the USA. I believe it is a race as other countries are involved - Brazil, India and Australia. The launch date is March 20.
I will need help! Lots! total beginner.
How do I go about getting permission?
Thanks
John G7OHO

John Laidler

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Jan 15, 2021, 11:21:12 AM1/15/21
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John,

I'm not sure how much you know about balloons but a good start might be a rummage through this site as a start. https://ukhas.org.uk/

The only permission you need will be from the CAA for launch of the balloon, assuming it will have long wire antenna dangling from it. I suspect not all pico balloon launches follow this in the UK but I'm sure we can't condone law-breaking! The CAA will issue a NOTAM to warn aircraft etc just before the launch.

The problem you will have, if you want to stay legal, is what radio to fit. I launched a pico balloon last year which operated at 868MHz LoRa and its signals were picked up by the Things Network of nodes but this doesn't really work around the globe so I was only able to track mine across Europe - but it was legal.

The main systems which are used on pico-balloons are APRS and WSPR.  The latter is excellent but there is the small snag that you can't run WSPR in the UK as far as I know and you can't use APRS airborne - or so I understand.

One way around this would be some sort of geo-fencing so the WSPR transmitter didn't turn on until the balloon was outside the UK. A simpler alternative might be to launch at night with the expectation the transmitter won't come on until the morning when it is far away.  

There are a few commercially available APRS and WSPR trackers available.  I built mine from scratch using an Arduino mini pro and a LoRa transceiver chip but at 10g total payload weight (including solar cells) it was a shade on the heavy side. It is possible to get down to around 5g or even less.

QRP Labs have developed a WSPR tracker which will be commercially available some time this year.  It has been extensively tested, including a circumnavigation or two, but I don't have any accurate date when it will be launched - so to speak.

John
M7WIV

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Monkton Stargazers

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Jan 15, 2021, 11:27:46 AM1/15/21
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Many thanks John!
All received! I will wait for the US organisers to come back to me with more details. They have done similar exercises there - http://www.arrl.org/news/view/balloons-with-aprs-payloads-to-race-across-north-america-in-educational-challenge
Will keep everyone informed.
John G7OHO

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John Laidler

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Jan 15, 2021, 11:34:52 AM1/15/21
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John,

You can see some of the balloons floating about at the moment on this site:  https://tracker.habhub.org.   

If you look for PS-80 (which has been up for months and I've lost count how many circumnavigations it has made) this is using WSPR and you can see on the map how far it is being picked up from, including one station in the Antarctic which I haven't seen before.

You will also find SP9UOB which is using APRS which seems to be the mode most favoured in the US. 

John 

Monkton Stargazers

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Jan 15, 2021, 11:44:46 AM1/15/21
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Hi John
PS-80 that's amazing!
One of the club members has a US licence - would that allow us to use APRS? or is that too cheeky?
I guess WPRS is the answer.
I'm speaking with the organiser tomorrow, see what she says.
Thanks again for your help
John G7OHO

Steve

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Jan 16, 2021, 5:45:38 AM1/16/21
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Hi John - using a UK amateur license for a pico balloon tracker is problematic because the UK licence specifically forbids airborne operation. As far as I understand it that would apply to operation both within UK airspace and over international waters.  The restriction applies to any amateur radio transmission - so to both APRS and WSPR.

If you have access to a US license then I would recommend you use that.  While it still will not allow airborne operation over the UK, it will allow transmissions over international waters. Many of the pico trackers now turn off transmissions over countries where its is not allowed.

    Steve G8KHW / AJ4XE

Monkton Stargazers

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Jan 16, 2021, 7:05:40 AM1/16/21
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Thank you for your very helpful reply Steve.
Yes, I read somewhere that WSPR can be turned off for the UK, Yemen and North Korea. How it does that, no idea! 
We are right on the south east coast here in the UK, and if we launch from a beach the wind might well take it across to France!
I'm speaking with Joanne Michael KM6BWB tomorrow Sunday, and see what she says. She has organised several launches.
Of course the other complication is Covid. We are not allowed outdoors, period!!
Hopefully by March 20 the restrictions will be eased.

John G7OHO




Leo Bodnar

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Jan 16, 2021, 7:32:55 AM1/16/21
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John,

In simple terms, over UK and France (and their territorial waters) you cannot transmit on any HAM frequencies with any HAM callsign.
Unless you use ISM band (and power) that overlap with HAM allocations.

Leo

Monkton Stargazers

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Jan 16, 2021, 7:39:49 AM1/16/21
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Thank you Leo.
Mmm....ISM bands. I will raise these points with the organiser. 
John

Steve

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Jan 16, 2021, 7:56:05 AM1/16/21
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The trackers use their GPS position and compare that with a geofence database and decide whether to transmit or not - sometimes that's as simple as comparing the maidenhead locator square the payload is in.

The way I read the covid regulations is that your not allowed to leave *home* other than for exercise or work (and then only if you cannot reasonably work from home).  I'm pretty sure Home includes the garden (certainly "dwelling" does).  So I think theoretically you could launch from your garden if that's practical (much less likely for WSPR due to antenna size).

    Steve G8KHW / AJ4XE

Monkton Stargazers

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Jan 18, 2021, 6:46:16 AM1/18/21
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Hi all,
I have found out some more information about the launch.
The balloon is an SBS-13 with a Skytracker (WB8ELK). We have to provide Helium only, as the organisers have obtained a grant.
It will transmit APRS which means it cannot have a UK licence.

John G7OHO

Oliver de Peyer

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Jan 18, 2021, 7:22:58 AM1/18/21
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It is a bit worse than that, you can’t transmit airborne APRS at all in the U.K. It doesn’t matter where you are licensed.
Oliver
M0LVR

Kevin Walton

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Jan 18, 2021, 8:00:20 AM1/18/21
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You are very lucky, that is a great balloon and tracker combination.

Many of us would love to have an sbs-13 or 3 to play with, however at at least 160 usd + 65 usd postage + customs charges it is hard to justify!

Cheers
Kev
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