At any vaguely-related conferences, groups of hackers sometimes come together to create an impact, and sometimes that impact is swinging something into an airspace of a neighboring country. [deadprogram] tells us that such a thing happened at FOSDEM, where a small group of hackers came together (Nitter) to assemble, program and launch a pico balloon they named TinyGlobo 1, which then flew all the way to France!
This balloon is built around a RP2040, and the firmware is written in TinyGo, a version of Go language for microcontroller use. As is fitting for a hacker group, both the hardware and software are open source. Don’t expect custom PCBs though, as it’s a thoroughly protoboarded build. But a few off-the-shelf modules will get you the same hardware that just flew a 400km route! For build experiences, there’s also a few tweets from the people involved, and a launch video, also embedded below.
When the US Air Force shot down some suspected Chinese spy balloons a couple of weeks ago, it was widely reported that one of the targets might have been a much more harmless amateur radio craft. The so-called pico balloon K9YO was a helium-inflated Mylar balloon carrying a tiny solar-powered WSPR beacon, and it abruptly disappeared in the same place and time in which the USAF claimed one of their targets. When we covered the story it garnered a huge number of comments both for and against the balloonists, so perhaps it’s worth returning with the views of a high-altitude-ballooning expert.
[Dave Akerman] has been sending things aloft for a long time now, we think he may have been one of the first to put a Raspberry Pi aloft back in 2012. In his blog post he attempts to answer the frequently asked questions about pico balloons, their legality, whether they should carry a beacon, and what the difference is between these balloons and the latex “weather balloon” type we’re familiar with. It’s worth a read, because not all of us are part of the high-altitude balloon community and thus it’s good to educate oneself.
Every week the Hackaday editors gather online to discuss the tech stories of the moment, and among the topics this week was the balloons shot down over North America that are thought to be Chinese spying devices. Among the banter came the amusing thought that enterprising trolls on the Pacific rim could launch balloons to keep the fearless defenders of American skies firing off missiles into the beyond.
The balloon thought to have been shot down was launched by the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade, a group of radio amateurs who launch small helium-filled Mylar balloons carrying the barest minimum for a solar-powered WSPR beacon. Its callsign was K9YO, and having circumnavigated the globe seven times since its launch on the 10th of October it was last seen off Alaska on February 11th. Its projected course and timing tallies with the craft reported shot down by the US Air Force, so it seems the military used hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of high-tech weaponry to shoot down a few tens of dollars worth of hobby electronics they could have readily tracked online. We love the smell of napalm in the morning!
Their website has a host of technical information on the balloons and the beacons, providing a fascinating insight into this facet of amateur radio that is well worth a read in itself. The full technical details of the USAF missile system used to shoot them down, sadly remains classified.