QRZ Logbook

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Amateur Radio balloon crosses the Atlantic

It's finally been done.

Several amateur radio groups, including one here in Knoxville I was a part of, have tried to send an amateur radio high-altitude balloon (ARHAB) across the Atlantic Ocean for several years, and now congratulations are in order to the California Near-Space Project (CNSP) and StratoFox for being able to accomplish what others have been unable to do. And they did it all the way from Silicon Valley, California!

After 2 1/2 days aloft, on what they're saying was a goal to only go trans-continental, K6RPT-11 splashed down in the Mediterranean Sea, 6223 miles from where it was launched in San Jose, CA. It crossed the southern tip of Spain some 109000 feet about the town of Chipiona, north of Cadiz at 0538Z on December 14.

Path of K6RPT-11 from APRS.FI (credit theRegister)
It began to lose altitude about 4 hours later some 50 miles north of the Algerian coastline, the last packet received being about 14k' above the water as it plummeted to its watery demise.

It may never be recovered, but the payload nearly doubled the distance record (set by Spirit of Knoxville IV in 2008) and exceeded the duration record by a few hours. SNOX IV held that record for over a year prior to being bested by a group from Cornell.

While on Spirit of Knoxville, we had one payload (the 4th) that made it about 95% of the way across the Atlantic, stopping some 300 miles from the southwest tip of Ireland. Unfortunately the balloon's helium lost its lift from solar heating as night fell, and a weather system caught up to the payload, which is believed to have weighed the balloon down with water-ice and sent it to its demise in the Atlantic just shy of its goal.

On a personal note I am somewhat disappointed we at Spirit of Knoxville never got to make that push for the final 300 miles, but as with some grassroots efforts, things happen and real life gets in the way of a small-time project with big-time dreams.

Nevertheless, I watched anxiously as word spread that this payload was closing in on Spain and beyond, and stayed up late to watch it happen in real time on APRS.FI. It was bittersweet, but I was happy to see it officially occur.

Spirit of Knoxville's 3360 mile flight proved that it could be done. Had we launched from the coast of North Carolina, or further north, it might have happened. But then again, it wouldn't have been the Spirit of Knoxville, then, would it? Then again, the Spirit of St. Louis didn't take off from St. Louis, did it?

In any case, I'm happy for the CNSP team and everyone who worked hard to accomplish one goal, only to see it turn into so much more. Perhaps a circumnavigation of the globe is now the next big frontier?