Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How to Track the Balloon

If you read the last post, you know that the balloon is going to be moving vertically and horizontally! This means that we won't be waiting in the same spot for the payload to come back down to us...we need to be on the move so that we can intercept it a few hours away.

Our payload has three different GPS units to help us track it.

- The Spot Gen 3
This is our best bet of quickly and easily locating the balloon. The Spot will transmit positions every ten minutes and that will update on one meter imagery on a map so that we can pick out the exact position of the payload. It also gives us exact coordinates that we can enter into GoogleMaps or another navigational GPS. The Spot dangles seductively below the regular payload in a tiny compartment we call the Spot Box. We have not done a lot of impact testing with this unit because it is expensive!

- The Big Red Bee and APRS
The GPS unit is more delicate than the Spot and was certainly less user friendly. Now that we have it working it should be just as reliable and is the second in command as far as GPS goes. This unit broadcasts packets to the APRS network. Jimmy had to get HAM radio certified in order for us to use it. You can follow our progress live on Enter the call sign:  "KM4QLE" in the "Track Call Sign" box in the upper right hand corner. I generally select the maximum "Show Last" and "Tail Length."

This one gives us coordinates so that we can use it with GoogleMaps and navigational GPS to get a better idea of where we're going.

- The "Pinger"
Man oh I hate this little bugger. This is another Big Red Bee unit that works with the radios. It emits a steady beeping noise that, at this point haunts all of our dreams. Imagine having an earpiece in that beeps every second for about five hours. That's the pinger. This one is basically like a game of "Hot and Cold" where it sort of tells you where it is and if you're getting closer. We've done a lot of foxhunting to learn how to use it.

(Two of these times I was the fox....hanging out in a hot pit toilet and then later standing knee deep in the Eno. I was not found quickly and regretted my hiding spots.)

The main benefit of the pinger is that it'll beep for days. Beepin' don't take a lotta space batts, yo. So if our other systems fail, and we can't find the thing the first day, the pinger and all the accouterments that go with it could still get our box of Vegan Space Eggs home safely.

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