Monday, September 10, 2007

SDG-7 recovery map

Here is a small map showing the approximate location of "splash down" in Lake St. Clair and then where the payload was recovered on the shores of Lake Erie.

Friday, September 7, 2007

SDG-7 recovery details

Here is an excerpt from an email that I received from Celeste Rimac, the finder of our SDG-7 payload, earlier today:

"Your box was recovered on Belleview Beach, at the east end, right next to Morgans Point in Wainfleet Ontario. Morgans Point is just a couple of miles west of the Welland Canal and Port Colborne Ontario."

She went on to say,

"I live here year round so I see all kinds of flotsam and jetsom washed up on the shore but this is by far the most interesting item yet. Wainfleet is a tiny rural farming community that happens to border on Lake Erie so there is a large cottage population as well. There are only a handful of houses on this beach that are year-round residential; it's amazing that box was seen at all."

Celeste put the payload box back out on the shore and took the following picture to illustrate where it was found:

Now if you look at a map you might not think that Wainfleet, Ontario is all that far (at least for one of our balloons) from the Detroit area. But remember - this payload didn't FLY to Wainfleet, it FLOATED there! (See my earlier blog entries for details on this doomed mission.)

Our librarian here at the Academy has speculated that the balloon and payload were snagged on the bow of a freighter and carried most of the way there (after all, the beach above is very close to the canal that the freighters take on their way to Lake Ontario and the Seaway). I think this is a reasonable theory - I'm not sure how swift the currents are in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, but this seems an awfully long way to float in just a couple of weeks!

Celeste will be sending the payload back soon and we'll be testing it to see if it can fly again... Many, many thanks, Celeste, for finding it and contacting me today!

Amazing SDG-7 payload recovery!

The payload of SDG-7 - our recent towed solar Montgolfiere which apparently plummeted into Lake St. Clair about 30 minutes after launch - has been found! That's good news, but not the amazing part...

It washed up on a beach this morning on the north shore of Lake Erie, not too far from Buffalo, NY... That means that the payload floated across Lake St. Clair, down the Detroit River, and then clear across Lake Erie - where it was found intact!

I don't have any more details at this time - I received a voicemail a short time ago and have not yet spoken with the woman who found it.

Perhaps I should start making APRS buoys instead of balloons!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Soli Deo Gloria 7 - a towed solar Montgolfiere mission

This morning we launched Soli Deo Gloria 7, a towed solar Montgolfiere, from my suburban backyard. This flight ended suddenly over Lake St. Clair, with the last data being transmitted at an altitude of approximately 22,000 feet. The flight was intended to last all day - the latex balloon should have reached a peak altitude of about 90,000 feet before burst and then the solar Montgolfiere should have ram-inflated during descent, eventually reaching a stable float at around 70,000 feet.

Unfortunately, I made a last minute change to the payload - replacing a 1.5 pound battery pack with one that weighed only a few ounces - and this made the solar Montgolfiere unstable. More specifically, the payload actually weighed less than the remains of the latex balloon after burst (which happened prematurely), so the solar Montgolfiere inverted and spiralled into the lake instead of inflating.

The launch was still fun, though - my son, Ryan, helped with all stages of the inflation and launch and took the video below.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pic of SDG-6 in flight

Special thanks to Larry Prelog for this photo of Soli Deo Gloria 6 shortly after launch. Larry also sent some pics of the inflation and these will be posted soon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Update on SDG-6's overnight stay...

After looking more closely at the area where Soli Deo Gloria 6 came down early on Sunday morning (~3:30am EDT), I think it is likely that the payload did, indeed, come to rest on the ground.

What brought it down? Probably frost - a problem which also plagued Vin Lally's low altitude superpressure balloons back in the '60s and for which no solution was ever found.

The frost would have melted into dew by mid-morning and then, as it evaporated, the balloon would have been able to rise again. The much faster - and earlier - descent on Sunday evening was undoubtedly due to actual loss of gas through pinholes in the envelope. The flight was over by this point, frost or no frost.

SDG-6 Recovered!

SDG-6 has been recovered! This morning I spoke with the gentleman who found the balloon - Mr. Ryan Bryant, a Realtor from Cumberland County, Kentucky.

Mr. Bryant said that he saw the balloon caught on a powerline along Highway 61 North in Cumberland County last night at around 7:30pm Central Time. This was a very fortunate event, since the area is otherwise quite remote.

After he cut the payload line, Mr. Bryant said that the balloon envelope took off into the sky - so its flight wasn't yet over! (Having been relieved of the payload, the envelope would have developed a very high superpressure at altitude and most likely burst within 10-15 minutes of leaving the powerline, so it's probably not too far away.)

The payload is now safe and will be on its way back to Michigan sometime soon... Our thanks go out to Mr. Bryant for a wonderful end to a wonderful flight!
One last bit of flight info... The calculated great-circle distance from the first to last received APRS data points is 298 miles, for an average speed of about nine miles per hour over the total flight time of 32h 26m.

(Note that I used the great-circle calculator at
A quick overview of the Soli Deo Gloria 6 flight before I turn in for the night...

Balloon system description
Type: Superpressure
Env material: Polyester film
Volume: 25 cubic feet
Env mass: ~.8 pounds
Payload: Microtrak 300, Digitraveler, Ultralife 9v lithium battery x2
Payload enclosure: Tyvek mailing envelope, 8.5"x11", with approx. 12"x4" bubble wrap
Payload mass: ~5.5 ounces

Launch details
Launched during Bill Brown's 20th anniversary of amateur radio high-altitude ballooning celebration outside of Findlay, Ohio. Numerous other hams in attendance at the event helped to weigh off and launch the balloon - sorry, I'm terrible with names (if you were there, please add a comment and let me know!)

Flight details
Launch was just after 11:00am on Saturday, 11 August 2007 at approximately 40.9680 N, 83.6228 W. Balloon reached stable float around 7000 feet a short time later. Float altitude slowly dropped to around 6600 feet near nightfall and continued stable until around midnight local time. During this time period the balloon had continued to fly toward the south at around 10 mph. At approximately 3:30am on 12 August 2007, the balloon appears to have dropped within a narrow river valley in northern Kentucky. The packet from this location was the last received until approximately eight hours later, when the balloon again ascended high enough for its signals to be received by other APRS stations. A stable float altitude of approximately 6600 feet was again achieved and maintained until approximately 7:00pm local time, at which point terminal descent began. It appears as though the balloon was on the ground in southern Kentucky by 7:40pm or so at approximately 36.8678 N, 85.3772 W.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It looks like SDG-6 came down around 7:30pm tonight and - I think - it has been retrieved by someone!

I say this because around 8:20pm I received a cell phone call (which I could not take at the time - I was in the middle of the American Idol concert in Detroit) which appears to be from Cumberland County, Kentucky. While no message was left on my voicemail, this is very close (within a few miles) to where the last packet from the balloon originated - and my cell phone number was on the outside of the payload.

I will call the number back in the morning and then continue the story here.... This has been an amazing flight - over 32 hours in duration - and I have a feeling that the recovery story will be equally amazing!
A very strange flight, this is! About 45 minutes ago, I came down to the computer to see the most recent data from Soli Deo Gloria 6. I was fully expecting that it would be on the ground and, indeed, the last APRS packet received was at about 1100 feet somewhere in Kentucky - and about eight hours old.

It's worth adding at this point that the HYSPLIT model - when set to include vertical winds into the calculation - showed a slow descent to around 1000 feet throughout the night. This contrasts with the isobaric model and, frankly, what I expected. Yet it seems to mirror reality.

Okay, back to the situation... A few minutes later, I click on "Raw APRS data" in Findu to see what happened after I went to bed around midnight. As I scroll down, the last received packet jumps off the screen at me - the balloon is again at altitude!

As of right now, it is flying - either "again" (reascent, which is extremely unlikely) or "still" (I think that it was probably floating very close to the ground, perhaps in a small valley which kept it contained all night).

Anyone who has seen the very fragile payload providing the tracking (Microtrak 300 and Digitraveler GPS - out of the case - just stuck inside of a Tyvek mailing envelope!) knows that there is no way the payload could have been stuck in a tree or anything else and somehow come free this morning (that is, and still work!).

So it's in the air, over 24 hours after launch. Where will it go? I don't know. How long will it fly? Anyone's guess - the answer to this partially depends on WHY it came down last night (was it simply the vertical wind profile, as the HYSPLIT model suggests, or did it lose enough gas to come down yet, somehow, magically keep just enough to reascend upon solar heating?).

I'll be away for most of the day, so it might be a while before there are any more updates - if you have more information about the flight, feel free to post it as a comment!
Well, less than an hour after everything appeared fine, it looks like SDG-6 might be in a terminal descent. Not sure what might have happened at this point - but at this rate, the balloon will be on the ground in an hour or so.

Next update will be in the morning...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

As of 11:45pm EDT tonight, Soli Deo Gloria 6 is still aloft and maintaining a fairly steady float altitude. It has recently crossed from Ohio into Kentucky, still heading south at a leisurely pace of about 10 miles per hour.

We expect the altitude to continue to drop overnight but the flight should continue into tomorrow.
Soli Deo Gloria 6 - our sixth superpressure balloon - was launched today near Findlay, Ohio, during Bill Brown's celebration of 20 years of amateur high altitude ballooning.

The balloon is currently floating at about 7000 feet and lazily heading south. It has passed the first milestone of achieving stable float - next will be surviving peak downward solar flux in about an hour. The final milestone today - if the flight continues - will be stable float beyond sunset.

Here are a couple of links for tracking the balloon while it's aloft:

More details will be posted later.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It seems that SDG-5 was last heard from about two hours after launch. We are very much in need of any telemetry that might have been copied during the flight - if you jotted anything down, or even if you simply heard the balloon and remember what time it was, please drop us a line!

Initial suspicions are that the new end fittings failed upon pressurization. The SDG-5 design differed from early balloons in the series by using a non-metallic end fitting - a failure of this component would immediately down the balloon.

So if it's down, where is it? Most likely somewhere in south-western Ontario, Canada. Any amateurs in the area might want to tune up their radios and have a listen on 28.636 - you might just help recover our missing flight!

Monday, July 9, 2007

SDG-5 launched at 4:40pm today from Warren, MI

Soli Deo Gloria Five, an experimental superpressure balloon carrying a 10 meter CW beacon is aloft now. Telemetry reports are appreciated - please see for preliminary information on this flight.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

SDG-4 final update

Our best guess is that SDG-4 is down. There was one final report from Tennessee at around 00:00 UTC, but the signal was weak and fading rapidly. No further reports have been received.

I have contacted some hams in North Carolina via Echolink - none could hear the beacon.

Two possible scenarios come to mind... First, the balloon simply may not have withstood the peak solar flux (around 5pm local time) and popped. This is entirely possible. Second, the balloon may have encountered terrain over the mountains - i.e., it might have crashed into a tree! I think this is less likely - HYSPLIT showed altitude above ground level dropping to 1000 meters, but never lower. On the other hand, the Google Earth output from HYSPLIT did, in fact, show the trajectory going right through the side of a mountain (and emerging on the other side!).

For now, we are calling the search off... No more blind emails sent off to hams-unknown in the southeast, no more Echolink calls.

If anyone has any further news on SDG-4 beyond what has been posted here already, please let us know!

SDG-4 update 3:20PM EDT

More data from Jeff near Columbus, Ohio:

Here is another set. The signal popped back up to S6 when I rotated the KT34XAdown to~139 degrees from here in NW suburbs of Columbus. [This is consistent with our projections - the balloon should have been around Middleport, Ohio at the time.]


1815Z UP5H 58M A177 T07C L242 B2.7V
1818Z UP6H 00M A179 T09C L242 B2.7V
1820Z UP6H 02M A179 T09C L242 B2.7V
1821Z UP6H 04M A180 T07C L241 B2.7V
1823Z UP6H 06M A179 T08C L241 B2.7V
1825Z UP6H 08M A179 T07C L243 B2.7V
1827Z UP6H 10M A180 T09C L246 B2.7V
1829Z UP6H 12M A179 T09C L241 B2.7V
1831Z UP6H 14M A179 T07C L241 B2.7V
1838Z UP6H 20M A178 T08C L241 B2.7V
1840Z UP6H 22M A177 T0?C L244 B2.7V
1842Z UP6H 24M A180 T07C L241 B2.7V

SDG-4 update 2:33PM EDT

Jeff, K8ND near Columbus, Ohio copied the beacon and sent Pierre the following telemetry:

UP5H 08M A179 T07C L241 B2.7V
1728Z UP5H 10M A179 T07C L241 B2.7V
1730Z UP5H 12M A179 T08C L242 B2.7V
1732Z UP5H 14M A179 T07C L242 B2.7V
1734Z UP5H 16M A179 T07C L241 B2.7V
1737Z UP5H 20M A179 T07C L243 B2.7V
1739Z UP5H 22M A179 T08C L246 B2.7V
1741Z UP5H 24M A179 T09C L244 B2.7V
1743Z UP5H 26M A180 T09C L244 B2.7V
QSB, No Copy
1751Z UP5H 34M A179 T07C L245 B2.7V
Missed one - phone call!
1754Z UP5H 36M A180 T08C L246 B2.7V
1756Z UP5H 38M A179 T06C L24? B2.7V
1758Z UP5H 40M A179 T05C L243 B2.7V
1759Z UP5H 42M A179 T08C L246 B2.7V
1801Z UP5H 44M A179 T07C L242 B2.7V

SDG-4 update 2:11PM EDT

Here's some of the telemetry recorded by KA8VIT and decoded by Pierre Thomson (father of the beacon):

UP 2H 28M A 181 T 08C L 246 B 2.7V

UP 2H 38M A 180 T 07C L 245 B2.7V

UP 3H 32M A 180 T 08C L 244 B 2.7V

UP 3H 52M A 179 T 08C L 243 B 2.7V

UP 4H 08M A 180 T 08C L 244 B 2.7V

UP 4H 46M A 180 T 08C L 242 B 2.?


This is great news - it means that the pressure is, in fact, stable after four hours of flight!

SDG-4 update 1:36 PM EDT

Bill, KA8VIT, in Cleveland was continuing to copy the beacon at 17:07 UTC, but just barely.

Based on the scant data that we have available right now, my prediction for the flight (based on a READY HYSPLIT trajectory) goes like this:

Time in UTC Location
1700 New Straitsville, OH
1800 South of Middleport, OH
1900 Alum Creek, WV
2000 Wolf Pen, WV
2100 SE of Marion, VA
2200 SE of Wilkesboro, NC
2300 Huntersville, NC
0000 Between Monroe, NC and Lancaster, SC
0100 NE of Bishopville, SC

If you are near any of these areas (or even if you're not particularly close), please listen to 28.636 and try to copy some of the telemetry. We desperately need your help!

And by the way, the balloon should be clearly visible in the sky when it passes over - it's flying at about 6000 feet and the balloon is a bright white cylinder 20 feet long. It will look like a small, bright line in the sky. If you see it, let us know - and a picture would be awesome!


Update on SDG-4 at 12:33 EDT

More reception reports received - SDG-4 is still flying! Phil Manor reported that he continued to receive signals from the balloon until 11:27 EDT. The data showed fairly consistent pressure readings and good temperature and voltage data. From his beam heading and a BALLTRAK prediction, Phil estimates that the balloon may have been over Plymouth, Ohio at the time that he lost the signal.

The pressure seems to be a tiny bit lower than earlier (it ranged from 180-182 during the first hour or so, then slowly crept to 179-180) - this could be noise in the data, or it could indicate an actual increase in altitude. Altitude increase could result from the balloon stretching a bit (and thus slightly reducing its overall density - this is expected) or from a gas leak (in a superpressure balloon, the balloon will rise in response to a gas leak until ambient pressure is reached - then the balloon will descend).

We also received a reception report from Tim, K8NWD in Waterford, Michigan at 14:27 UTC and from Bill Chaikin, KA8VIT in Cleveland, Ohio (who continues to record the signal at this moment). Scott, N8VCL in Maple Heights, Ohio let us know that he was listening as it flew past the Cleveland area as well.

If you're hearing the balloon, please let us know! Any telemetry that you might copy is very valuable to us and a beam heading (and your location) would help, too!

I've copied some information about the beacon itself from Pierre Thomson's web site - this should help to decode what you're hearing:

The payload package includes:

* An 8-bit microcontroller (PIC 16C715)
* A barometric altimeter (MPX100A/LM358M)
* An outside temperature sensor (DS1721S)
* An insolation sensor (CdS cell in a ping-pong ball diffuser)
* Battery voltage monitor
* CW Beacon on 28.636 MHz (crystal oscillator)
* Vertically polarized 10m dipole antenna
* Eight AA Li-Fe batteries for 12V @ 2500 mAh

Telemetry format (sent every 2 minutes) :

DE KA2QPG BLN GPA/SD2 UP 14H34M A 033 T NEG 55C L 204 B 8.7V


UP = flight time in hours and minutes
A = altimeter (absolute pressure, 0 - 255)
T = outside temperature (-99 - 99 degrees C)
L = light level (0 - 255, uncalibrated)
B = battery voltage (0.0 - 9.9 volts)

The remaining time in the 2-minute cycle will have a Morse "dit" and a beep of the piezo sounder every 4 seconds.

SDG-4 superpressure balloon flight today

Our fourth superpressure attempt - dubbed Soli Deo Gloria 4 - was launched this morning from the grounds of the Grosse Pointe Academy at 8:52 AM EDT (12:52 UTC).

SDG-4 is a small, cylindrical superpressure balloon made from Mylar film. It is carrying a high-frequency radio beacon transmitting CW on 28.636 megahertz. The balloon is expected to continue flying throughout the day and into the evening, following a south-southeast track across central Ohio and points southward.

Initial data received by Phil Manor, an amateur radio operator in Warren, Michigan, indicate that the balloon achieved a stable float not long after launch. Phil continued receiving data from the balloon until approximately 10:30 AM EDT (14:30 UTC), when the balloon most likely dropped below the radio horizon at his location.

We are hoping to receive further reception reports from interested hams throughout the day - if you can monitor 28.636, please do so!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Recap of 15 March 2007 zero pressure flight

On 15 March 2007 we launched a small balloon carrying an APRS tracker and 10 meter beacon (beacon built by Pierre Thomson) from the grounds of the Academy to kick-off the fifth grade balloon project.

This unnamed balloon (not part of the Sky Diamond series) was a tetroon made from .35 mil high density polyethylene with a trailing appendix used for both inflation and as a vent. The envelope was small - only about 300 cubic feet and reefed down to about 250 cubic feet - and was designed for a jet stream level float. Helium was used to partly inflate the balloon and it was launched with help from the Academy maintenance department (thanks to Chris, Kevin, Norm and Jon!) into a windy sky.

Designed to float in the jet stream at around 28,000 feet, the balloon was launched with a dribble ballast device to avoid overshoot and early flight termination. It also carried a timer-activated ballasting system designed to drop liquid ballast around sunset, but this device failed due to a faulty electrical connection.

It was clear immediately after launch that the APRS tracker was not working - no position updates were available via Findu or other sites. Bill Brown later discovered that APRS packets were, in fact, being relayed into the tracking network, but no valid position was being reported from the onboard GPS. By watching which digis were relaying the packets to the network, however, a general estimate of the balloon location could be made.

The last packets were received by stations in St. John, New Brunswick and southern Prince Edward Island, Canada, and it was determined that the balloon was clearly descending by mid-evening. A search was then on in the most likely landing zone as determined by Bill Brown - south of Moncton, New Brunswick.

A couple of days passed without any reception reports and we became quite convinced that the balloon had actually landed in the water (perhaps the Atlantic). Then, on 20 March, news was relayed to Pierre Thomson that Reed Park, VE1NU in New Brunswick, had heard the 10 meter beacon! Reed later searched the area along with Mike MacDonald and found the intact payload and shredded balloon (photo links to follow). It was recovered and returned to us at the Academy a week or so later.

Many thanks to Pierre Thomson, Bill Brown, Reed Park, Mike MacDonald and the many, many others who helped to make the tracking and recovery of this flight possible!


Zero pressure helium tetroon
250 cubic foot envelope capacity
APRS and 10 meter beacon payload (~1.5 kg)
500 g dribble ballast
500 g timer-controlled ballast (not dropped)
Launched from the grounds of the Grosse Pointe Academy, Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan
Recovered near Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada by Mr. Reed Park

Satellite image of recovery location and pictures from recovery, including Reed Park and Mike MacDonald. No pictures of the launch are extant.