Welcome to the
Simulated Satellite (SimSat) and
"Reach for the Stars!" Near-Space Balloon Experiment
PRESS KIT and Technical Announcement Page

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment
before starting to improve the world." - Anne Frank (1929-1945)

SimSat-3 Was Here!

See below for a record of our SimSat-3 flights. Please join us again next time!

Outstanding Success

Against many odds, the SimSat-3 mission and the "Reach For The Stars!" science
camp were each a complete and outstanding success!

o News VIDEO: Reach For The Stars! Part 1: Science Camp by UMES.

o News VIDEO: Reach For The Stars! Part 2: Launch Day by UMES.

o See the substantial Stars! science camp web site.  Lots of PHOTOS & slide shows.
   Don't forget to return here!

o Read about Bob Bruninga's exciting payload chase and recovery efforts.  Bob
   was also instrumental in the final integration of the main payload capsule. We were
   soooo lucky to have Bob visit us from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis to
   participate on our SimSat and Stars team!

o See a telemetry report by Rich Zwirko from a hundred miles away!

o Please don't miss our CREDITS, a fuller list of people who made SimSat-3 a
   success, as displayed at the bottom of this web page!

                Bob Bruninga Integrating Main Capsule

SimSat-3 Mission Objectives

A SimSat mission is a complete, hands-on, NASA space mission in microcosm.

High-altitude balloon experiments were offered during a two-week long science
camp called "Reach for the Stars!". This is a unique program for middle school
students as conducted by NASA college student interns. The camp is designed to
influence many students to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or
mathematics, and for all, to help each to become a more well-informed citizen.

Students and adults not at the camp were invited to participate in many of the
benefits of our flight activities from locations far and wide. You didn't even need
to be in the state to receive the signals from our balloons in flight! See Figure 1
below and compare the SimSat range coverage area or "footprint" to your
particular location.

On the very first day, the students started to build a payload. We assembled
"CricketSat" circuits, initially on a Radio Shack breadboard to grasp the concept.
Then the students placed CricketSat flight parts on printed circuit boards. Our
mechanical & electronics technicians helped by making the solder connections for
the students (thank you Charlie Lipsett and Lisa Dean).

In between the construction project periods we prepared ourselves to understand
and actively participate in the coming flights. We calibrated each CricketSat "instru-
ment", we set up our Mission Control Center in a modular classroom, we raised
antennas, we talked "DX" on shortwave radio, we ran experiments fabricating pay-
load enclosures (see related video), we installed telemetry software on each of our
own UMES-assigned laptop computers, we reviewed some technical points in
geography, we practiced tracking high-altitude balloons, we learned to copy &
decode flight telemetry data and (gasp!) so much more.

Under special topics, we explored the inner workings of the space shuttle, the
International Space Station, and the next NASA expedition, namely STS-118,
the long awaited Teacher In Space mission scheduled for August 8-20.

Each of two separate practice flights on Tuesday, July 24, lofted a CricketSat module
on a small, red 30-gram "pibal" balloon. The payloads were "LLL" expendable ("launch
'em, lose 'em, learn from 'em"). However, through the heroic efforts of Bob Bruninga,
the second one was recovered the same day, found beaconing from its perch on a tall
stalk in the middle of a huge corn field. (Read the related story of this feat!)

Both an HF and a VHF radio volunteer came to visit so students had an opportunity to
staff our communications and coordination frequencies or "nets." (Thank you to fellow
AMSAT members "J.C." Taylor, W3JCT, and Ray Fantini, KA3EKH.) It is on these
nets that critical mission information was relayed LIVE throughout the country. The nets
also served as a "Q&A" forum for the students to ask questions -- and to be asked
questions about any technical phase of their camp activities or the mission operations.

We designated the main flight on Wednesday morning, July 25, as SimSat-3. On a
much larger balloon, this flight carried an APRS navigation beacon module, a NOAA/
NWS GPS radiosonde to "compete" with our navigation module, and a CricketSat.
(See the links, pictures and notes regarding the original CricketSat elsewhere on this
page.) A new and innovative "PICetSat" module made its maiden flight too. The
PICetSat was designed & built by Steve Beckman, N3SB, and Rich Mitchell, N3III
(forming yet another true, full length adventure story to behold).

Students enjoyed staffing our HF communications and coordination frequencies more
so for the "real" mission, SimSat-3.

Radio amateurs and students from many adjoining states participated with us in the
potentially larger "classroom" beyond our classroom. Reports are still flowing in.

Let's do it again!!

o How a school or any community organization may participate in SimSat:  Contact
   Mr. Pat Kilroy, SimSat Principal Investigator.

o Regarding "Reach For The Stars!" contact Ms. Brenda Dingwall, director.

o How an Amateur Radio operator may participate: See the TASK LIST below.

SimSat Flight Announcement - Fast Facts (Pre-flight)

The announcement was disseminated here well in advance of the mission, and also
through AMSAT, the American Radio Relay League, by Ralph Wallio, by Carol
Newberry on the DARE net, and other channels.

Mission designation: SimSat-3
Sponsors: University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), Maryland Hawk Institute,
NASA Wallops, NASA Greenbelt, Tri-County Council and the Easter Seals Foundation.
Launch date: Wednesday, July 25, 2007. Wx back-up opportunity is the next morning.
Launch time: Target is within the 8:00 to 9:30 A.M. EDT (1200z - 1330z) window.
Mission Rehearsal: Exactly 24 hours earlier.
Flight time duration: Expected to be under 150 minutes (2.5 hours) aloft.
Launch site: Stars Launch Facility, UMES, Princess Anne, Md. 21853
Launch site coordinates: 38.2127, -75.6817, ground level at about 40 feet AMSL.
Mission Control Center (MCC): Stars Mission Control, UMES, Princess Anne, Md.
Stars MCC site coordinates: 38.2079, -75.6836, ground level at about 40 feet AMSL.
Flight callsign: N8PK-11 balloon transmitting to all, to "APT311".
Balloon Primary VHF frequency: 144.390 MHz FM downlink APRS and on findu.com.
Recovery team callsigns: WB4APR-9, N8PK-9, and others TBD.
Recovery team coordination: Via wide area Salisbury repeater.
HF Net frequency: 3860 kHz SSB, plus or minus other traffic; "J.C." W3JCT, NCS.
VHF Net frequency: WA3ROW/R Salisbury on 146.820 MHz FM. This repeater
employs a 156.7 Hz PL tone for access. (NCS needed!)

Balloon type: A KCI 1500 gram, uncolored/natural, helium, about 6-foot diameter
at release.
Main Payload Capsule Size: 8 x 8 x 8.5-in. O.D., walls 1.4-in., all styrofoam.
GPS Engine: OEM Garmin GPS 25-HVS, S/W v2.50; substantial flight history.
TNC & Transmitter: Byonics Micro-Trak 300 v1.4, S/W v3.11; our first flight use.
Payload count: Six.  (Four in main payload capsule, two external.)
Payload descriptions: See below, with more info on nets.
SimSat-3 footprint: Based on altitude; see Figure 1 below for maximum.
Ascent rate: About 1,000 feet/minute.
Tracking links: See below.
Changes since the original announcement: Several.

Primary Ground Stations:
o Stars Mission Control Center, UMES, Princess Anne, Md. 21853
o Your station listed here.

PAYLOADS and Balloon Train Info

1. Navigation (APRS) beacon on 144.390 MHz FM simplex.
2. CricketSat on 433.948 MHz FM (Part 15 device), "steady" audio tone.
3. An LMS6 radiosonde on 400.250 MHz to compete with our APRS.
4. A "PICetSat" module on 433.911 MHz FM, TLM 10 WPM CW, DE K3PZN.
5. Passive Radar Reflector / Optical Reflector experiment.
6. Assorted stickers of NASA (logos and Swift mission) and AMSAT (Echo project).

The main capsule carried Payloads 1, 2, 4 and 6, weighing a total of 700 grams by
itself. The radar reflector (attached below the parachute) weighed 200 grams, the
parachute (attached below the balloon) weighed 100 grams, and the radiosonde
(attached to and dereeled out 70 feet below the main capsule) weighed 260 grams.
All were tied together on the long train with cotton cord, not rope.

              Recovered SimSat-3 CricketSat Module

Late Breaking Flight NOTES

1. NEW E-MAIL FOR PAT KILROY N8PK: n8pk@amsat.org (through July 30).
Pat could not reach his work (nasa.gov) e-mail from the camp. Please RESEND any
and all your messages to him since Friday morning, July 13. Tnx. [7/18/07]

2. The CricketSats launched on Tuesday, July 24, were built with the standard
components (most notably, R1, R2 and C1 from the original Twiggs circuit) which
favor a "mid-scale" temperature range. Calibration points on average were as
follows: T (ice water) = 1 deg C with f (ice water) = 500 Hz, T (room air) = 22 deg
C with f (room air) = 850 Hz, T (hand) = 30 deg C with f (hand) = 1150 Hz, and
T (bulb) = 64 deg C with f (bulb) = 2000 Hz. You may use an Excel spreadsheet
to interpolate between these calibration points. Your results will vary if you try to
project beyond this range. Suffice it to say that if you copy and measure a
fundamental tone value, f, below about 500 Hz (and disregard the harmonics) then
the temperature that is being measured by the CricketSat at that time is below the
freezing point of water. [7/22/07 pk] The CricketSat on SimSat-3 had the three
notable components substituted to favor a colder temperature range at a higher
altitude. So, T (room air) begat f (room air) = about 5000 Hz. More info on nets.

3. Listen for the PICetSat sequence in 10 WPM Morse Code:

100 Transmitter On
110 Wait 2 seconds
120 Send "HI HI"
130 Wait 1 second
140 Send "F" for Frame
150 Send frame counter number
160 Wait 1 second
170 Send "T" for Temperature
180 Send temperature as a 3-digit number
190 Wait 1 second
200 Send "P" for Pressure
210 Send pressure as a 3-digit number
220 Wait 1 second
230 Transmitter Off
240 Wait 30 seconds (yeild to the CricketSat)
250 Increment frame number
260 Repeat this 60-second cycle (GO TO 100).

Thank you Rich N3III and Steve N3SB of Carroll County, Maryland. Congrats!

4. Additional and updated information can be found on the nets!

5. The release was delayed briefly by non-technical matters (the SimSat Principal
Investigator was pulled away to address visiting VIPs and the news media camera)
yet we still met the launch window as scheduled.

6. Launch: Wednesday, July 25, 2007 at 12:21:50z (8:22 A.M. EDT). The total
train mass less the balloon itself was 1,260 grams (2.78 pounds); balloon filled to
1,000 grams positive lift.

7. We are having a wonderful time exchanging information on the nets as this event
unfolds! [7/25/07]

8. Burst occurred at about 13:59:00z (9:59 A.M. EDT) at above 102,962 feet

9. Landing occurred at about 14:27:00z (10:27 A.M. EDT) after traveling 69.1 miles,
with a top speed of 62 mph and touching down 39.2 miles NNW of the launch site,
on target on the 10-mile radial from the predicted landing center point as had been
submitted to the FAA before the flight.

10. Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, recovered the balloon train about fifteen minutes later
in a spinach field. See the story link at the top of this page.

11. After a perilous journey, hurtling through the stratosphere, the main capsule
and all payloads returned without a bruise, all systems functioning.

12. A large number of simply outstanding success stories are abounding.

Main Participating Area

If you are located within or near the circle in Figure 1 below then chances are good
that you can receive the signals from our high-altitude balloon directly. Click the
image for a larger view.

Figure 1. The Projected SimSat-3 Footprint Over the Eastern USA Area.

SimSat Tracking via the Web

During the mission, watch the "N8PK-9" vehicle and "WB4APR-9" vehicle track and
recover the balloon. Outside a mission, N8PK-9 and WB4APR-9 are on the road
practicing their tracking.

o N8PK-11 balloon position and time stamp. (Works during and shortly after the mission.)
o Recovery vehicle N8PK-9 current position and area conditions. (Always works.)
o Recovery vehicle WB4APR-9 current position and area conditions.
o See nearest APRS activity seen by the balloon when in flight.
o Look for the location of our Stars! Mission Control Center during the camp: 38.207900, -75.683400

SimSat Tracking via Wireless (RF) Downlink

Tracking by the Web is easy, but receiving and processing the wireless signals direct from
the balloon payloads are more versatile, educational and fun. Don't wait until flight day
to download a software program (see the links right below). Set up one in advance and
learn as much about it as you can.

o APRS Tracking: WinAPRS and MacAPRS by the Sprouls, Keith WU2Z and Mark KB2ICI.
o Balloon Track Dashboard: Balloon Track for Windows by Rick von Glahn, NKKZ.
o CricketSat blueprints: The Original by Prof. Bob Twiggs of Stanford University, Slides 1-22.
o N8PK's CricketSat Temperature Telemetry Decoder: DigiPan by Skip Teller, KH6TY.

Other Important Software and Hardware

o Valuable APRS & GPS Links: TAPR, the official source for all things digital radio.
o MP3 Recording Software: GoldWave (not for free) or equivalent.
o Terminal Node Controller (TNC): Kantronics KPC-3+ or MT1200G. (Several
mail order sources are available for your purchase).

Note: Your local Amateur Radio clubs and individuals are quite valuable sources of help
regarding the above software or hardware. Look them up!

Sidebar: "Why On Earth Do We Spend Tax Dollars On Space?" Check It Out!

SimSat-3 Flight Trajectory Prediction

See Figure 2 for my balloon path forecast (kudos Near Space Ventures, Inc.) as I gave
to the FAA in NOTAM number SBY 07/014 very early in the morning of our flight day ...

Figure 2. SimSat-3 Flight Path Prediction. Click image for larger view.

Preparing for SimSat-3 Mission


We watch the weather forecasts closely (both the regular "surface" conditions AND
at upper altitudes) because low visibility or high winds or other nasty conditions
can scrub our attempt on flight day ...

o See the Weather Underground current weather forecast for the launch site. Click
   on day Detail and check the morning cloud cover figure.
o See the NOAA NWS current weather forecast at the launch site.
o See the most recent visibility figure. Check if over or under 5 miles at all altitudes.
o For a tracking first guess, see the most recent jet stream activity.
o See the current official conditions (METAR) for between us and Wallops Island, Va.
o See the current official conditions (METAR) for between us and Salisbury, Md.
o See the METAR key to decode the above weather data.
o See the current flight rule in launch area.


I often look to the latest *jet stream* data (see Figure 3) for my best first guess of the
balloon path, prior to computing and plotting, as shown in this pre-launch graphic ...

Figure 3. Highest Speed Winds in Upper Atmosphere. Click to enlarge animation.

Amateur Radio Volunteers Sought

For the sake of education, outreach, good community relations and public service,
we offer a partnership with technical individuals, near and far, to help make these
balloon experiments to near-space a successful and a rewarding experience for
students. Volunteers may select any task and run with it.

TASK LIST      We need ...

  1. Check-ins for our balloon payload tracking and telemetry nets on HF and VHF.
  2. Amateur Radio ops who show on-air patience and guidance to the students who
      are "running" or otherwise participating in our nets.
  3. Time-stamped telemetry logging and submission to N8PK. (See log form below.)
  4. A known local mentor to visit on-site for HF net training and operations.
  5. Someone to record HF on-air Voice audio activity in MP3 stereo.
  6. Someone to record VHF on-air Voice audio activitiy in MP3 stereo.
  7. Someone to record UHF on-air Tone audio activity in MP3 stereo.

   8. Note: The on-air recordings are to include the given live activity on the RIGHT
       channel and a live time source such as WWV on the LEFT channel. The time
       stamping is important to us, on all logs audio, written or typed. (Audio examples
       are offered below.)

   9. Someone to involve a student or students and a parent at their ham shack or club
       station, at least one such volunteer in each adjoining state.
10. An AMSAT member to set up and operate the ground station at the AMSAT-Hawk
       Lab in Pocomoke City. Please submit logs sorted by date and band to N8PK.
11. Positive publicity. Share this news at your club meeting or on a net. Tell a friend.
12. Tell a teacher. (Help a teacher.)
13. Write ups in your club newsletter, web site or local newspaper. Be sure to pat yourself
      on the back regarding your efforts too!
14. Photos. E-mail us photos of your participation and students in action, near and far.
15. A person with a telescope to attempt visual spottings: to report sighting location and
       time for each balloon train azimuth and elevation measurement. A tele-photograph
       taken, if possible, would be way cool to share with us too.
16. QSL direct to the N8PK on www.QRZ.com address given, not ARRL. A self-
       addressed stamped envelope (SASE) is required for a card in return for your report.

Please sign up for Task 4 in advance via N8PK by e-mail.

Volunteers are asked to share with all what they are doing via the on-the-air net or
(later, what they did) by e-mail.

Thank you!

Sidebar: Why I Became An Engineer: stories by (mostly mechanical) engineers at
the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

EXAMPLE AUDIO FILES   Recorded During A Previous SimSat Mission

o 2004-0930-2011z-N8PK-6min-ReturnsToStay.MP3
o 2004-0930-2027z-N8PK-13min-W3ADOandKE3ND.MP3
o 2004-0930-2041z-N8PK-1min-N5ACR.MP3
o 2004-0930-2042z-N8PK-3min-WA3NANandN5ACR.MP3


Keeping It Simple: These were originally recorded using the audio channels of a 2-hour VHS
video tape set to the 4-hour extended mode so as to free up a PC for other tasks. Later,
snippets of interest, between one minute and 15 minutes in duration, were converted to MP3.
You can do this too. Connect the Line Out outputs of your VCR (Red for RIGHT, and white
or black for LEFT) to your Line In inputs on your computer sound card. Then use GoldWave
or an equivalent software.

File naming format: YYYY-MMDD-HHMMz-YOURCALL-#min-BriefDescripText.MP3

Meaning: Year - Month & Day - Hour & Minute (start time in UTC, GMT or zulu only) z -
Your Callsign or LastName (for source ID and credit) - Duration in Minutes min -
BriefDescriptionText dot MP3. This filename format is helpful when we are working with a
hundred or more similar files!

Typical file or filename to submit:
2007-0724-0922z-W3XXX-3min-KE3NDreportsVisual.MP3 as for example.

LOGS, Written or Typed

Please submit your written logs using the form here to N8PK. Change the date and callsign
(or last name) in the log filename appropriately.

Amateur Satellites: AMSAT, the next level of fun begins here.


Our Thanks To:


o Ms. Brenda Dingwall, Stars! Director, NASA Equal Opportunity Specialist
o Dr. Ronald G. Forsythe, UMES Vice President for Planning, Assessment,
   Technology and Commercialization
o Mr. Jack Vieira, NASA Range & Mission Manager
o Mr. Brian Cunningham, NASA Meteorological Operations ("Met Ops") Manager
o Mr. Prentis Moore, NASA Met Ops Technical Liaison
o Mr. Charlie Lipsett, Maryland Hawk Institute technical liaison
o Mr. Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, U.S. Naval Academy Sat Lab Manager
o Mr. Brad Swearingen, NASA Electronics Technician
o Mr. Curtis Dunsmore, NASA Electronics Lab Manager
o Mr. Rick Kinder, NASA Electronics Tech Team Manager


These high quality technical experts donated their valuable time and equipment as
a public service to the community. Each one, and several not mentioned here,
deserve your kind recognition.

o Mr. J.C. Taylor, W3JCT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corp (AMSAT).
o Mr. Rich Mitchell, N3III, Carroll County Amateur Radio Club, K3PZN.
o Mr. Steve Beckman, N3SB, Carroll County Amateur Radio Club, K3PZN.
o Ms. Carol Newberry, N3NKK, of the Delmarva Amateur Radio Club, and DARE NCS.
o Mr. Ray Fantini, KA3EKH, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corp (AMSAT).
o Mr. Gary Chatters, WA9ZZZ, the Goddard Amateur Radio Club and AMSAT.
o Mr. John Klingelhoeffer, WB4LNM, AHAB Flight Advisor to Auburn University.
o Mr. Jim Cross, WI3N, ARRL Section Manager, Maryland-DC Section.

Sidebar: Read about the teacher in space mission, STS-118!

For info on this web page contact:

Mr. Pat Kilroy
Flight Systems I&T Engineer/Manager
SimSat Principal Investigator
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
E-mail: Patrick.L.Kilroy@nasa.gov


o You can visit the national balloon announcement web page, courtesy Ralph Wallio, W0RPK.

o See our SimSat-3 altitude listed on Ralph's records page.  Scroll down to under his heading
   of "Highest GPS Reported Maximum Altitude, 2007 CONTEST CATEGORY". See below
   that our record book entry among "Lightest Payloads" as well!

o Go here for APRS details, or here, our adopted primary balloon tracking standard and method.

o See also Bob Bruninga's tutorial on Radio Direction Finding (RDF) techniques, as proven
   to be such a success on a CricketSat flight and the SimSat-3 mission!

o See the MDSGC web or Dru Ellsberry's web page for additional fun and educational
   high-altitude balloon activities in Maryland.

Sidebar: What If I Find A Radiosonde? by Lockheed Martin Sippican, Inc.

IF YOU FIND an Amateur Radio High-Altitude Balloon (ARHAB) like SimSat, or
what might be one, then please wait before disturbing it so that photo-documentation
and post-flight processing may be completed by the operators. Please call the phone
number on the recovery tag immediately. Thank you!

This is Version 4.4.3
Last Modified: March 16, 2009