High Altitude Balloon Tracking

Although not strictly an amateur radio activity, playing with, and tracking balloons using radio is a rather novel and fun thing to try.

Around the world, enthusiasts get together to let off helium-filled weather balloons with a payload of cameras, GPS trackers and radio transmitters, then use a network of trackers to plot the journey allowing the hardware to be recovered. Tracking the progress of balloons is quite challenging, but very rewarding.

The following short video gives you an idea of what this is all about, plus the basics on how to get started… It was recorded on the 5th of May 2013, as two balloons were released North of Essex.


4 Min Video: Tracking High Altitude Balloons

Under Ofcom rules, amateur radio frequencies can’t be used for High Altitude Balloon flights, and so low-powered exempt UHF transmitters are used, typically running just 10mW transmitter – the impressive range is due to the lack of line-of-sight obstructions at altitude.

As promised in the video, here are some useful links:

Hardware:

We used the Realtek RTL2832 dongle. Priced around £10, this is a great accessory for all radio listeners as it can pick up signals in lots of modes across a massive chunk of the radio spectrum. See our Realtek RTL2832 Review and Guide.

The Realtek RTL2832U Radio Tuner USB Stick
Realtek RTL2832U USB Stick – From Amazon and eBay UK
Software

SDR# – Software Defined Radio software, available free from sdrsharp.com

DL-FLDigi – Used to decode and upload telemetry from balloons – Details at ukhas.org.uk/projects:dl-fldigi

Handy Links

Also check out this guide on how to start tracking High Altitude Ballooning – RTTY on 70cms – by Chris M6EDF

If you’ve tried this, or want some more information on tracking balloons, please add a comment below.

3 Comments

  1. Tom 7 May 2013 Reply
    • Pete M0PSX Pete M0PSXAuthor 7 May 2013 Reply
  2. Tom 8 May 2013 Reply

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