ReMOAR

Posted by JonM on 12 May 2008

Woke up with a start at 6 am. Up and out of the bed, eat breakfast, pack up, and head back out to base camp.

Like a well-oiled machine, we got camp setup, although the winds were twice as bad as yesterday!

We tore apart the non-functioning repeater, moving one transceiver to the ground ops station, and putting the other in my truck. This would give us much better distance communications in the field. The Internet link was relocated to a shallow rise on the other side of the road, where Verizon could hear us. We set the APRS ground station up with a three element Yagi, and relocated the balloon fill site further into the field, to get more wind shelter from the hill.

The wind was knocking down our shade shelters, so the soldering station was setup in the back of Chicken's pickup. Cozy, but functional.

With the base camp reconfigured, we got the MOAR launch under way. Batteries were soldered to the transmitter, I assembled another cutdown device, and everything was tucked into the eggshell. With a bright, longer set of streamers, we waited for confirmation from the ground crew that our beacons were going out correctly. No dice on the first go: The GPS unit's ground wire had broken loose. After fixing that, we still couldn't get a 3D lock; without altitude information we couldn't fly. We cut it open, and realized that the GPS was upside down; with the antenna resting on the Microtrak's ground shield, it wasn't getting any signal. We flipped it over, and promptly got 3D lock.

3ric got the final go-ahead from the FAA, so we cracked the valve on the helium cylinder, and filled the balloon. Even with 8 wranglers, it was all over the place, knocking people off their feet and popping off the fill tube. We persevered, however, and got the balloon filled and tied to the payload. I set the cutdown timer, this time for 210 minutes, and we let the balloon loose.

This time the wind took it straight east, rising about 400 feet per minute. We lost tracking again after a few minutes, and I was worried the cutdown timer fired prematurely. Adam and I loaded up and headed out to the field again. A few minutes later, we got word that tracking was picking up again, and it was headed steadily east.

Headed out on the open road, we loosely followed it through open farmland, getting position reports from the ground station, until we got out of range of our simplex radio communications. Fortunately, we were back in cell coverage, and were able to get continued position information from the base camp.

Thirty miles out, the base camp stopped picking up the MOAR beacons, and it still wasn't getting picked up on the APRS digipeaters. Adam and I were about 50 miles from base camp when we decided to try finding a repeater with coverage. The AK2O repeater covers most of eastern Washington, and I had gotten permission from them last year to use it, but we couldn't hit it with our handhelds, so I didn't ask them again this year. However, with the 50 watt mobile unit we could hit it just fine, and the base camp could to. We were a little worried about offending the AK2O folks by taking up their repeater, but they seemed interested in what we were doing.

3ric's latest predictions said MOAR was going to land in Idaho, about a hundred miles from our current position. With that much ambiguity, Adam and I decided to call it a wrap and head back to camp.

No less than two minutes after we turned around, we received a beacon from MOAR. It was at 85000 feet, and almost directly above us!

We turned around again, and headed off to the last position. There were only thirty minutes until the cutdown timer went off again, so we wanted to get more position reports before it dropped out of the sky. We drove around on all sorts of entertainingly named backroads (Bachelor Flats Road S), but didn't get any more beacons. Shortly after 2pm, 10 minutes after the cutdown would have triggered, we called it a wrap and headed back towards camp.

Since it was getting late in the day, and the FAA was growing increasingly impatient with us, base camp decided not to go ahead with the REHAB launch, and packed everything up. We converged back in Coulee City, to eat at Grandpa Joe's Cafe, which is run by the wife of the farmer whose land we used for our launch site.

They were very gracious and accommodating, seating nearly 20 rowdy hackers on Mother's Day, and the food was fantastic after a long day's work.

Properly sated, we began the return caravan to Seattle, during which there were several multicast jellybean transmissions. Packet loss was high, but acceptable.

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