November 03, 2016

High Altitude Balloon (HAB) carrying WSPR payload

Last edited: 25.07.2017

Around the world, regularly experimental High Altitude Balloons (or HABs) are released into the earth's atmosphere carrying amateur radio payloads. These payloads often include an APRS or WSPR (or other mode) tracker transmitting position reports, enabling ham operators to track the balloons on their voyage. Often travelling at a height of more than 10km, and depending on the mission's goal sometimes even entering the atmosphere's "near space" region, some of these balloons (the so called "floaters", long-distance travellers designed to reach a certain altitude and then float with the prevailing winds) even manage to circumnavigate the globe before finally coming down to earth again.

Dave VE3KCL from Canada launched several floater HABs carrying a WSPR payload based on the Ultimate3S kit of QRP Labs. QRP Labs is well known to the radio amateur for developing and selling WSPR transmitter kits which work as stand alone devices not needing any PC to generate the WSPR signals.

At the time of writing this, VE3KCL's HAB flight S-18, released on October 17th, and after completing a circumnavigation on October 27th, is still aloft and transmitting WSPR signals on the 30 and 20m HF bands. It's currently over the Atlantic Ocean west of Africa. The tracker's battery is charged by solar panels, and after sundown it will quickly be depleted and no position reports will be sent. I didn't learn about the S-18 flight until yesterday, and so far due to QRL I haven't been able to monitor for the mission's signals during the balloon's daytime. I'm planning on listening for it coming Sunday though, provided the balloon is still in the air by then.

More information on the S-18 can be found on the website of QRP Labs here. Might we miss this one, the list of QRP Labs powered WSPR balloons shows another VE3KCL balloon flight planned for the future, and hopefully more missions will follow.

Track of the S-18 flight on November 3, 2016. The red parts of the track are based on actual received position reports.
If you want to learn more about amateur radio HABs, take a look at the website of ARHAB Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning - The Poor Man's Space Program at

A list of all the missions that managed to circumnavigate the globe can be found here.

By the way, I'm planning on buying a QRP Labs WSPR Ultimate3S kit for use at my home QTH. I'd like to start simple, with just one band, and I think the 40m band is the one I prefer at the moment. Stay tuned!

Addendum 06.11.2016
It seemed balloon flight S-18 already had descended down into the Atlantic Ocean by November 2nd, as is now reported on the balloon's web page. Now let's keep an eye on the flight list and wait for the launch of S-20.

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