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Pico balloon detected circumnavigating the earth

Date : 23 / 12 / 2015
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The Aussie solar powered pico balloon PS-56 that had a catastrophic GPS tracking failure, has been tracked by its weak CW signal, having encircled the southern hemisphere. It was put up by Andy Nguyen VK3YT from Melbourne on Saturday November 28, who said it passed the usual pre-flight tests, but shortly after it went up there were no WSPR or JT9 packets, but the balloon payload sent the default Morse code sequence only. That situation has been likened to the historical docudrama film on the Apollo 13 moon mission which used the phrase, 'Houston, we have a problem'.

Andy VK3YT put out a call for a watch-out for the balloon. Not giving up easily, hard-core VK and ZL trackers took up the challenge. The ingenuity of radio amateurs trackers has enabled this balloon flight to be tracked without a working GPS. He explained that using the Sun greyline at sunset and sunrise, antenna bearing and wind prediction, the balloon position could be estimated.

PS-56 was tracked like this continuously for a week by Bob ZL1RS, before it got to South America, and went out of range. However by December 13 it popped up again on his waterfall, and tracking resumed. Bob ZL2RS further narrowed the position down to between South America and South Africa. Fast forward to Saturday December 19, John VK2FAK and Joe VK5EI spotted PS-56 with strong signal strength. Then on last Sunday December 20 in the morning Bob ZL1RS he had the position PS-56 based on the limited data available.

Andy VK3YT said: "Thanks to the efforts of trackers, it has been confirmed as having circumnavigated the Southern Hemisphere, and is still flying." Earlier Andy VK3YT achieved a record distance flight with PS-46 that went around the southern hemisphere twice, and leaving South Africa in storm on July 18, 2015, was lost just short of its third circumnavigation.


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