ERGO Balloon Launch

The first (planned) ERGO Balloon Launch happened 8am (EDT) Saturday morning, August 17, 2013.  Many of the ERGO interns where there to help and share the excitement at the Virginia Key causeway launch site east of Miami.  The balloon quickly rose as it headed toward Miami, reaching a final reported altitude of 40,000 ft.  The actual altitude was expected to be 60,000 ft, but altitude data was limited by a firmware setting in the GPS receiver.  We tracked the balloon over Miami and out into the Everglades, when signals were lost around 11am.
A lot of things worked, and we learned a lot of lessons to improve the next launch:
What worked:
1.  The 900MHz telemetry radio worked pretty well with an omnidirectional receiving antenna in the van.  A directional antenna could improve reception a lot.
2.  The 434.920MHz ham-radio beacon (beeper) transmitter worked perfectly, sending data to a handheld transceiver with only a short “rubber duck” antenna.
3.  The 433.920 MHz ham-radio APRS (automated position reporting system) sent out data which was easily received with a directional yagi antenna, though we were unable to record much of the data.
4.  The balloon worked great (5-ft diameter weather balloon filled with helium)
5.  The batteries worked for at least three hours
6.  The Virginia Key Launch site worked well, though it would be nice to launch farther east, out in the bay.
What needs to be improved:
1.  The APRS system needs to be set up properly, so a track can be recorded on the ham-radio APRS system
2.  The payload box needs to be bright orange and bigger (but not heavier).
3.  The parachute needs to be smaller (or replaced by a streamer) to reduce drift on descent
4.  The GPS units need to be set up for aeronautical use rather than automotive mode to eliminate 40,000-ft altitude limit.
5.  We should have extra data-receiving stations farther west, along the  projected track.
6.  Wouldn’t a helicopter be great?!
Here’s the Google Earth track of the ERGO Balloon:  Download the file “Path A.kmz”:

Then, open it with Google Earth installed.

balloon takeoff 2

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