SSOK UNINTENTIONAL FLOATER
Ralph Wallio, WRPK WRPK at netINS.net

On January 8, 2000 Pete Sias, WBDRL, released yet another Sky Science over Kansas (SSOK) high altitude balloon mission from Salina, Kansas. The results were very unusual and totally unexpected. The balloon envelope did not ascend and then immediately burst as all previous experience predicted. Instead, the balloon envelope achieved a lengthy floating phase before finally bursting some 700-miles to the east. For 2.5-hours the balloon and payload used 170-knot winds at 116,000-feet to make a very nearly straight track that finally ended near Fort Wayne, Indiana.

A few of us have been considering all the available evidence and asking questions of professional experts with the goal of understanding what caused this unusual flight profile and how it might be duplicated. These are important questions because, if a similar flight profile with a latex balloon envelope can be routinely created, the cost of floating a payload at 100+kft for a few hours would come down by a factor of roughly 10:1 from costs for zero-pressure polyethylene envelopes. Investigation, discussion, planning and preparation continue toward an attempt to recreate this floating phase. (Update Sep05: there have now been four unintentional floaters. We do not yet understand what is happening.)

There are several interesting stories from this mission, not the least of which is how several Amateur Radio Operators supported this mission in several ways. One of the many efforts has been the collection and integration of downlink telemetry. The 700+ mile track made it impossible for any one station to capture all transmitted data so it has been very important for many observers to submit files to this process. Pete thanks all of the following for submitting their data:

Andrew Bachler, N9AB, Mundelein, Illinois
Mark Conner, N9XTN, Omaha, Nebraska
Mark Garrett, KA9SZX, Champaign, Illinois
Jerome Grokowsky, WA9HCZ, Onalaska, Wisconsin
Gene Harlan, WB9MMM, Rockford, Illinois
John Harmon, W8DRO, Charleston, West Virginia
Jerry Havill, K5OL, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Phil Manor, W8IC, Warren, Michigan
Dan Miller, KE4SLC, Salina, Kansas
Don Pfister, KA0JLF, Prairie Village, Kansas
Steven Schulze, N9UDO, Baraboo, Wisconsin
Pete Sias, WB0DRL, Salina, Kansas
Tom Trissell, KC5ILO, Clarksville, Texas
Ralph Wallio, W0RPK, Indianola, Iowa

Most of the hams in the above list provided additional significant participation, support and advise in other ways as did the following:

Paul Bohrer, W9DUU, Indianapolis, Indiana
Bill Brown, WB8ELK
Roger Grady, K9OPO, Kokomo, Indiana
Bob Davis, K0FPC, Overland Park, Kansas
Tim Hynde, KA8DDZ, Rochester, Michigan
Norm Kjome, KB7ZJT, University of Wyoming
Thomas (TJ) Lund, N9PFC, Champaign, Illinois
Mike Manes, W5VSI, Littleton, Colorado
Joe Mayenschein, WB9SBD, LaValle, Wisconsin
Glenn Rosenberger, NASA National Scientific Balloon Facility
Don Warkentien, W0DEW, Overland Park, Kansas
Clayton Winder, W8ZCF, Cincinnati, Ohio

Mark Conner, N9XTN, produced APRS+SA maps as he has for predictions and actual tracks of numerous high altitude missions. Mark is a professional meteorologist contributing his expertise to this ongoing investigation and to high altitude ballooning in general. For readers not familiar with APRS mapping, the track line is actually a continuous plot of over 1900 GPS-fix positions reported at 10-second intervals. It is interesting to note the almost straight ground track from Topeka, Kansas to almost Fort Wayne, Indiana. Placing a straightedge on the track line finds only very minor meandering.





Ralph Wallio, WRPK, produced flight profile charts in EXCEL using GPS telemetry values, TIME, LATITUDE, LONGITUDE and ALTITUDE, and derived values, VERTICAL VELOCITY, TRACK VELOCITY and TRACK BEARING. In these charts, note the rapid decline in normal ascent vertical velocity to zero just before MET 3.0-hours and the constant altitude of 116,000-feet and track velocity near 170-knots from MET 3.0-hours (
Kansas City) to burst just before MET 5.5-hours (Fort Wayne).




Pete Sias, WBDRL, Mark Conner, N9XTN and Ralph Wallio, WRPK


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