AA1WH Embarks On High Altitude Balloon Project

photo of high altitude balloon launchHampden County Radio Association member Marcel Lapierre, AA1WH, of Chicoppe, MA has embarked on an ambitious High Altitude Balloon project. His balloon will be equipped with an APRS/WSPR tracking device, solar panels and antennas. He hopes that it will eventually cross the Atlantic.

“In addition to 2-meter APRS and 20-meter WSPR transmitters, it carries full size dipole antennas of thin bronze wire (think guitar strings) and is capable of being heard in excess of 200 miles by APRS and 5000 miles on WSPR,” says Marcel. “All from just a few milliwatts of power and well under one ounce in weight.”

AA1WH is no stranger to WSPR and other digital modes. “My digital station is my old Yaesu FT 897D which is connected to an end-fed half wave 10- thru 40 meter multiband antenna set up in an inverted L. At maximum height, it is about 33 feet above ground level. With this modest station, I have worked the world on digital modes and tracked pico balloons more than 5000 miles away.”

Marcel intends to test his equipment thoroughly before launching it. “I have two 36-inch party balloons [to test with] … all I need to add is some hydrogen and we will be flying.”

Marcel intends to make his own solar panels for the larger thirteen foot balloon. “I just received 100 polycrystalline solar cells. These are .75 inches by 2 inches and less than 1/100 inch thick. They are made on extremely thin glass and are fragile.” Marcel admits that the project will challenge his soldering skills given his cataracts and arthritic hands.  “This is where I hope to partner with the high school hams at Pathfinder Regional and get those young hands and eyes to assemble the transmitter.”

Marcel will conduct a shakedown run in the next few months before selecting a final launch date. “I’m looking [later in the spring] when days are getting longer so we get at least six hours of reports daily. Also, I will watch the weather here and over Europe and Africa and try to choose a launch window with a minimum chance of encountering bad weather,” he says.  

AA1WH says that it’s not unheard of to achieve a circumnavigation with this setup “but chances are against it. “My goal is to get across the Atlantic and well into Europe or Africa. A bonus would be to make it all the way to Asia.”

Marcel can be contacted at aa1wh@arrl.net.  –Courtesy, HCRA Zero Beat, February 2021