We seek to understand and document all radio transmissions, legal and otherwise, as part of the radio listening hobby. We do not encourage any radio operations contrary to regulations. Always consult with the appropriate authorities if you have questions concerning what is permissible in your locale.

Author Topic: THE US AIRFORCE MAY HAVE SHOT DOWN AN AMATEUR RADIO PICO BALLOON OVER CANADA  (Read 1596 times)

Offline Shortwave_Listener

  • DXing Phenomena
  • *******
  • Posts: 3866
  • British Columbia, Canada
    • View Profile
    • The Shortwave Listener
https://www.rtl-sdr.com/the-us-airforce-may-have-shot-down-an-amateur-radio-pico-balloon-over-canada/

Since the famous takedown of a suspected Chinese spy balloon, US jets have shot down a total of three more unidentified balloon objects, now confirmed to have been 'commercial or benign'. There is speculation that at least one these three objects may have been an amateur radio 'pico' balloon.

One part of the amateur radio hobby is launching high altitude balloons with various radio and other payloads. Larger amateur radio balloons launched in the USA require FAA clearance, need a radar reflector attached, and usually continually transmit APRS telemetry before naturally popping and falling back to earth after a few hours, just like a weather balloon.

However there is also the simpler 'pico' ballooning hobby, which involves the use of mylar helium party balloons to launch small solar powered payloads that are only a few grams in weight. They typically transmit low power WSPR at HF frequencies and can only transmit whenever there is sufficient solar power available. Amateur radio or SDR hobbyist stations around the world can pick up these transmissions, and report them on amateur.sondehub.org and/or wsprnet.org. Well built balloons can totally circumnavigate the globe several times over several months before degrading.

While termed 'pico', the party balloons used can still be roughly a meter in diameter on the ground, with some latex balloons potentially expanding further at high altitudes due to the low atmospheric pressure. These balloons can be legally launched from almost anywhere in the world. In particular in the USA there is no FAA clearance required to launch them due to their payload being much less than the limit of 4 lbs (1.8kg).

32" Silver Orb Shaped Mylar Balloon used for Pico Ballooning
32" Silver Orb Shaped Mylar Balloon used for Pico Ballooning
There is speculation that at least one of the objects shot down over Canada, Yukon by a US Air Force jet may have been amateur radio pico balloon K9YO-15 which was launched from Illinois on October 10 2022. It was on it's seventh circumnavigation of the globe after being aloft for 123 days.

The launch blog post indicates that the K9YO-15 balloon was flying a silver mylar 32" sphere SAG balloon which appears to be this one from balloons.online. Unlike latex or rubber weather balloons which inflate and stretch as they rise into lower atmospheric pressures, these mylar balloons can't stretch, so their fully inflated ground size will be the same as their size at high altitudes, meaning the pico balloon won't get much bigger than 32". The payload was a GPS module, Arduino, SI5351 used as a WSPR and APRS transmitter and a solar panel, all together weighing 16.4 grams. A pentagon memo notes that the object shot down over Canada was a "small metallic balloon with a tethered payload" which fits the description of the pico balloon exactly.

The K9YO Pico Balloon Payload
The K9YO-15 Pico Balloon Payload
An (unrelated) Example Amateur Radio Pico Balloon Launched by a Naval Academy
An (unrelated to this story) example Amateur Radio Pico Balloon launched by a Naval Academy (Source: http://www.aprs.org/balloons.html)
The K9YO-15 balloon ceased all WSPR telemetry transmissions while flying just below Alaska since Feb 11 00:18 UTC (just before sunset in Alaska when the solar panels would stop working).

By using NOAA wind models and the last known location by Alaska, K9YO-15 was projected to have been over Yukon when the US Air Force shot down the unknown balloon object at Feb 11 20:41 UTC (3:41 PM EST / 1:41 PM Yukon time according to Canadian Defense Minister Anand). Reports put the altitude of the shot down object at approximately 40,000ft (~12000 meters), which matches the projected ~11500 meters of K9YO-15. Based on the previous days transmission times, it is suspected that if it were operational, the balloon would have begun transmitting again sometime later in the Yukon afternoon when the sun was stronger, but no transmissions have been seen.

On February 14th the balloon was declared as missing in action by the launch group.

K9YO projected location at the time the object was shot down.
K9YO projected location at the time the object was shot down.
The search area for the fallen balloon debris is reported to be in difficult to access terrain between Dawson City and Mayo. If we do a rough overlay of the predicted trajectory over a Google map, we can see that the predicted location of KY9O-15 at the reported time of the missile impact matches this description very well.

Rough trajectory overlay
Rough trajectory overlay
Over on Twitter @ikluft (KO6YQ) has been reporting on this speculation, and has been keeping an eye on K9YO-15, awaiting telemetry transmission. We recommend following his account for further updates.


Twitter user and ex project Google Loon engineer @BalloonSciDan has also speculated that the objects shot down may have been pico balloons.


Over on Reddit @ikluft (KO6YQ) has also written some insightful information:

I see you're all talking about my tweet. Yes, we are still watching to see if K9YO-15 transmits any telemetry today.

So far K9YO-15 has not sent any new telemetry since Friday before sunset over Alaska. Some have misread confusing data presentation on Sondehub which lists last known telemetry as covering a time range from then to now. Currently the last we've heard from K9YO-15 was Friday Feb 10 before sunset over Alaska (00:48 GMT Feb 11). But the map on Sondehub does show the last reported position.

These floater balloons often use only solar panels, no batteries. Batteries were dropped from the projects early on because they have limited charging cycles before they stop accepting a charge, especially in the harsh temps at altitude, -40F/-40C or worse. When the battery stops accepting a charge, it ends telemetry from the mission. So they only report telemetry during daylight, when the sun is at a high enough angle to illuminate the tiny solar panels. In the Arctic winter, the days are short and the sun might not get high enough to wake up the electronics. So it stays dormant for one or more days until it drifts back down to lower latitudes where there's more sunlight. So K9YO-15 was in a period where watchers didn't expect to hear from it for a few days. But we expected it today. So far nothing. As I write this, daylight is almost done way up there for Tuesday, Feb 14.

We (the Amateur Radio balloon community) only expect any telemetry from it today would be via WSPR, none via APRS. WSPR uses HF and can be received at long distances, where it's relayed to Internet map sites. APRS is (usually) on VHF and UHF, only received by line of sight. There are no relay stations in range of today's projected flight course in northern Ontario and James Bay, Canada. So APRS-fed sites wouldn't show updates today anyway.

The club in Illinois that built the balloon has tracking links at https://nibbb.org/links-to-locate-and-track/ - you'll have to scroll down to find K9YO-15.

For an introduction, I'm Ian KO6YQ. I was involved in the first Ham Radio balloons that circumnavigated the globe starting in 2016, launched from San Jose, California. I had roles on them including tracking analyst and social media spokesman. I also organized and led the Ham Radio tracking teams which recovered the Civilian Space eXploration Team (CSXT) first amateur rocket to (suborbital) space in 2004.

Explaining a discrepancy with time reporting on Sondehub, KO6YQ notes:

Time has run out for solar power to provide any telemetry on Wednesday, February 15. So far, no new data. For those who were confused by it, remember that Sondehub has problematic data presentation so don't use it for anything other than mapping the last known position. A reliable place to check for K9YO on WSPR is the WSPR Spots: https://www.wsprnet.org/olddb?mode=html&band=all&limit=200&findcall=k9yo&findreporter=&sort=date
Lucas Bandura
eQSL appreciated! lucasnerite@gmail.com
Songs are identified with Shazam if needed. I usually use KiwiSDR receivers. Reception from my QTH is using an SDRPlay RSP1A for SWL with a 40 meter band Inverted V at 40 feet. Kenwood TS-570D for ham use.
My website: https://swl7.wordpress.com/
Shortwave Radio Archive: https://www.youtube.com/@SW_Archive
https://archive.org/details/@shortwave_radio_archive

Offline Ct Yankee

  • Marconi Class DXer
  • ********
  • Posts: 7061
  • Two of the four food groups in Durham, CT
    • View Profile
    • Email

I just read the same article elsewhere and pondered whether there was an enforcement amendment of the PIRATE Act we missed  ;). A frightening tale on many levels.  :o
Tecsun H501x (broadcast received on this unless noted), Zenith T/O G500, Zenith T/O Royal 7000, Emerson AR-176, Zenith 8S154, T/O 7G605 (Bomber), Tecsun PL-600, Tecsun PL-880, Zenith 5S320, Realistic DX 160 using 40 feet of copper wire.  With apologies to Senator Gramm for his thoughts on firearms, "I have more radios than I need but not as many as I want."
QTH:  Durham, Connecticut (rural setting, 15 miles north of Long Island Sound)
qsl please to:  jamcanner@comcast.net  (Thank you)

Offline osiris

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 241
  • North-Central PA, USA
  • NOT THAT BUTTON, THE OTHER ONE!
    • View Profile
With all the balloon fever, I thought it was only a matter of time until a sonde balloon or a ham radio balloon, in this case, was shot down. I also thought about pranksters launching balloons for S&Gs.
Antenna: MLA-30+ Active Loop

Loc: North-Central, PA - FN11

I gladly accept QSLs. Please eMail to: teslaintheaether@gmx.com

Offline myteaquinn

  • Marconi Class DXer
  • ********
  • Posts: 5967
    • View Profile
    • Email
For our anniversary last December I bought my wife a pendant that was claimed to have flown to 102,806 feet above the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was added payload to help pay for a cosmic ray monitoring helium balloons. They say in the documentation that the balloon "exploded" and the payload parachuted back to earth. I didn't see any scorch marks from an air-to-air missile on it.

I thought what the heck seemed like a nice (relatively cheap) gift, why not.
Northeast Ohio
Now using Shazam for song identification
myteaquinn@yahoo.com

Offline Pigmeat

  • Marconi Class DXer
  • ********
  • Posts: 6684
    • View Profile
Hams in bed with the Chi-Com's, it figures. As a Norman lord said to one of his captains during the suppression of the Cathar Heresy in the south of France when the man asked the silly question, "My Lord, how do we tell the good Christian's from the Cathars?" The Lord answered with Solomon like wisdom, "Kill them all. God knows his own."

Trump's talk of firing squads and public executions if he wins a second term? Preparing the public for the "Slaughter of The Hams." I'm glad I was never foolish enough to apply for a license. 

Offline osiris

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 241
  • North-Central PA, USA
  • NOT THAT BUTTON, THE OTHER ONE!
    • View Profile
Hams in bed with the Chi-Com's, it figures. As a Norman lord said to one of his captains during the suppression of the Cathar Heresy in the south of France when the man asked the silly question, "My Lord, how do we tell the good Christian's from the Cathars?" The Lord answered with Solomon like wisdom, "Kill them all. God knows his own."

Trump's talk of firing squads and public executions if he wins a second term? Preparing the public for the "Slaughter of The Hams." I'm glad I was never foolish enough to apply for a license.
:o :o :o That, my friend, was the funniest bit I've read in a while.  ;D
Antenna: MLA-30+ Active Loop

Loc: North-Central, PA - FN11

I gladly accept QSLs. Please eMail to: teslaintheaether@gmx.com

Offline Molvania Poacher

  • DXing Phenomena
  • *******
  • Posts: 3914
  • New Hampshire
    • View Profile
All reception direct-- From my location, radio and antenna.
QTH New Hampshire (70 miles north of Boston).
Tecsun S-8800 and Kenwood R-2000, with about 135 feet of wire thrown up in the trees.
eQSLs most appreciated to molvaniapoacher@gmail.com.

Offline Charlie_Dont_Surf

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 810
  • Charlie's Point, California
    • View Profile
It's a jungle out there!

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11763217/Hobby-balloon-shot-Republicans-mock-Biden-military-operation.html

It's a no-win situation with them. If they had not shot it down, Fox News, OAN and News Max would have bitched continuously. Having had them taken down, he'll be criticized for that too. C'est la vie.
I don't STRETCH the truth.

"Every minute I spend in this room, my signal gets weaker.
Every minute Charlie squats in the bush, his signal gets stronger."

Offline Shortwave_Listener

  • DXing Phenomena
  • *******
  • Posts: 3866
  • British Columbia, Canada
    • View Profile
    • The Shortwave Listener
Since yesterday I have been seeing on the news that this could have also been a balloon released by the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade: https://amp.abc.net.au/article/101993722
Lucas Bandura
eQSL appreciated! lucasnerite@gmail.com
Songs are identified with Shazam if needed. I usually use KiwiSDR receivers. Reception from my QTH is using an SDRPlay RSP1A for SWL with a 40 meter band Inverted V at 40 feet. Kenwood TS-570D for ham use.
My website: https://swl7.wordpress.com/
Shortwave Radio Archive: https://www.youtube.com/@SW_Archive
https://archive.org/details/@shortwave_radio_archive

Offline Zoidberg

  • DX Legend
  • ******
  • Posts: 2366
  • Gopher Stomp, Texas
  • i c u
    • View Profile
    • Email
Yeah, that was my guess from the beginning: ham radio and weather hobbyist balloons, some university research balloons. These have been used for years without any drama. Doesn't take a taxpayer funded fighter jet and missiles to cope with a few balloons.

The best part is watching the drama by the morons who are addicted to paranoid conspiracy theories on Reddit and YouTube. Especially the guy on the S2 Underground and DecoyVoice channels. I've watched their videos for awhile. They were mostly harmless and amusing. The S2 guy sorta had the right idea about the value of amateur radio for survivalists. But he and the DecoyVoice guy have gone off the deep end, thinking there's some kind of precursor to a world war from China, or leftist insurgency sabotaging rails and electrical utilities. It's mostly crumbling infrastructre in the US. We can thank Congress and most recent administrations for that. They're so deeply invested in divisive posturing they can't or won't do anything to fix the infrastructure.

TBH, I'm not even sure the guys who post that crap actually believe what they're saying. They're probably just parroting the Faux Noise paradigm of making up stuff to earn some fear coin from the rubes.
That li'l ol' DXer from Texas
Unpleasant Frequencies Crew
Al: Palstar R30C & various antennae
Snoopy: Sony ICF-2010
Roger: Magnavox D2935
(Off-air recordings.)

Offline Zane

  • Global Moderator
  • DX Legend
  • *****
  • Posts: 1390
  • hearing the negative waves
    • View Profile
    • Email
The best part is watching the drama by the morons who are addicted to paranoid conspiracy theories on Reddit and YouTube. Especially the guy on the S2 Underground and DecoyVoice channels. The S2 guy sorta had the right idea about the value of amateur radio for survivalists. But he and the DecoyVoice guy have gone off the deep end, ......

I just stumbled across the S2 videos the other day and watched a couple. He went into elaborate detail about "secure comms" and how to "not get tracked".
After a while I found myself wondering what this guy was even talking about. If you watch any YouTube videos on RF, sooner or later the algorithm dangles these things front of you.

Sorry - moderator going off topic  ;D

On topic - l tried to look at the Bottle Cap Balloon website just this morning since the group is in my area. Their server will not respond. They must be swamped.

Z
« Last Edit: February 18, 2023, 2002 UTC by Zane »
Chicagoland
Palstar R30CC / Sherwood SE-3 MK IV / pa0rdt Mini-Whip / Gone Long Engineering remote resonant loop / Fansome approved

QSL to zaneradio@comcast.net

Offline Zoidberg

  • DX Legend
  • ******
  • Posts: 2366
  • Gopher Stomp, Texas
  • i c u
    • View Profile
    • Email
The best part is watching the drama by the morons who are addicted to paranoid conspiracy theories on Reddit and YouTube. Especially the guy on the S2 Underground and DecoyVoice channels. The S2 guy sorta had the right idea about the value of amateur radio for survivalists. But he and the DecoyVoice guy have gone off the deep end, ......

I just stumbled across the S2 videos the other day and watched a couple. He went into elaborate detail about "secure comms" and how to "not get tracked".
After a while I found myself wondering what this guy was even talking about. If you watch any YouTube videos on RF, sooner or later the algorithm dangles these things front of you.

Sorry - moderator going off topic  ;D

On topic - l tried to look at the Bottle Cap Balloon website just this morning since the group is in my area. Their server will not respond. They must be swamped.

Z

Well, it's more or less on topic because social media algorithms do "suggest" (nudge, push, shove) inflammatory and divisive clickbait at us that's only vaguely related to topics we're actually interested in. That's how the S2 Underground channel was suggested to me by YouTube -- because I've subbed to some radio related channels. The S2 guy has chattered about radio. I subbed just to get an idea of where he's going with this stuff.

He gives the impression of being authoritative, but after listening to enough of his videos for a few months, he seems like an armchair operator, someone who reads a lot of stuff on Reddit and conspiracy sites relevant to military and intel, just enough to memorize some buzzwords and pretend to know the subject. But he's mostly blowing smoke.

His credibility fell apart recently with his posts on the Chinese balloon incident. He had nothing of substance to say, but rambled on for half an hour with wild speculation about dire consequences, sounding genuinely frightened and confused. He's a blowhard with zero credibility. Ditto, the DecoyVoice dude, who mostly posts wingnut shill fear bait. But his channel was recommended to me by YouTube, presumably because I've subbed to S2 Underground, Mike Glover Actual (another former military guy who's gone off the deep end recently) and others, mostly out of idle curiosity.

But it's easy to see how people get sucked into that vortex when they're primed to believe the end is always nigh, the barbarians are always at the gates, and it's always Apocalypse Now o' clock.

Never mind the more reasonable and mundane explanations that occasional security lapses occur, balloons are rarely considered a significant security risk, the national infrastructure is crumbling due to years of neglect from under-funding, and, as Walt Kelly's Pogo put it years ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us," (spoofing the Oliver Hazard Perry quote from the 19th century).
That li'l ol' DXer from Texas
Unpleasant Frequencies Crew
Al: Palstar R30C & various antennae
Snoopy: Sony ICF-2010
Roger: Magnavox D2935
(Off-air recordings.)

Offline Molvania Poacher

  • DXing Phenomena
  • *******
  • Posts: 3914
  • New Hampshire
    • View Profile
You need TS/SCI "B" clearance to be briefed in on such sensitive balloon-related matters by Space Force.
All reception direct-- From my location, radio and antenna.
QTH New Hampshire (70 miles north of Boston).
Tecsun S-8800 and Kenwood R-2000, with about 135 feet of wire thrown up in the trees.
eQSLs most appreciated to molvaniapoacher@gmail.com.

 

HFUnderground T-Shirt
HFUnderground House Flag
by MitchellTimeDesigns