PS-56 HF PICO balloon CW only no GPS

With all initial pre-launch testing looking perfectly normal, PS-56 was released at 7am on Sat 28 Nov 2015.

Shortly after launch it was obvious that something was wrong, there was no WSPR or JT9 data. The payload was continuously resetting itself every 8-10 minutes, sending the default Morse sequence of “VK3YT QF20bc 0000 XXXX” where XXXX is the battery voltage. It appeared that the GPS could not acquire lock at all.

Not giving up easily, the hardcore trackers from VK and ZL were getting prepared for the challenge of tracking a party balloon without GPS.

The payload provided a range of data directly and indirectly:
– Battery voltage
– Sunset
– Sunrise
– Bearing from receiving station.
– Relative signal strength from receiving stations.

Using the sun greyline at sunset and sunrise, antenna bearing and wind prediction, the position of the balloon could be estimated.

This is all the info sent from PS-56 when in sunlight, every 8-10 minutes:

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And this was what it sounded like:

VK3YT_CW1.mp3

PS-56 was tracked like this continuously for a week by Bob ZL1RS, before it got to South America. As expected, the balloon got out of range, and we thought it was the end of it. This was around 2nd December 2015.

On 13th December, Bob reported a possible sighting of PS-56 on the waterfall:

Possible ps56

It is the tiny spec of signal directly under the 1000 marker, above the second horizontal line from the bottom.

Bob further narrowed the position down to an area between South America and South Africa using his array of Beverage antennas:

Ps 56 map update

Many ham operators devoted their time and equipment to search for PS-56, with a number of unconfirmed reports.

Fast forward to Sat 19th December, when John VK2FAK and Joe VK5EI spotted PS-56 with strong signal strength at around 11:00 UTC The sunset time was around 11:44 UTC when the last transmission was heard:

ScreenHunter 15 Dec 19 22 45

On Sunday morning Bob ZL1RS was receiving the first wake up packets from PS-56 around 17:40UTC. The positions of the Beverage antenna, the sunset and sunrise time estimates the position of PS-56 to be around 55 degree South, and 150 degree East at the time.

This provides confirmation with a large degree of certainty that PS-56 has completed its first circumnavigation of the Southern Hemisphere, and still flying, all while being tracked without a working GPS!

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A huge thank-you to everyone for assistance with tracking of PS-56. Even if no signal was received, your participation helped to keep the spirit up through the trip.

Special thanks to Bob, John and Adrian for not giving up!

Update #1 20 Dec 2015

Sun greyline at sunset around 08:10 UTC 20 Dec 2015:

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And wind pattern around the area:

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Update #2 24 Dec 2015

PS-56 is still going East, and the signal is getting weaker with the distance. Estimated position at 1600 AEST 24 Dec 2015 is around (-60,-110) (Grey line at sunset)

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Update #3 28 Dec 2015 AEST

PS-56 is heard from again today, loud and clear from VK and ZL. From the antenna bearing and sunset grey line, it is estimated to be somewhere in the Great Australian Bight, South of VK5.

Sunset grey line at 10:30 UTC. The bearing is between 200 – 240 degrees from ZL1RS, which is at the Northern part of New Zealand.

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Update #4 29 Dec 2015 AEST

PS-56 woke up at around 17:48 28 Dec 2015 UTC, putting the likely sunrise time at its position to be around 16:48 UTC.

This is the sunrise greyline at 18:20 UTC

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The estimated night time at PS-56’s position is around 6 hours, which projects the latitude to be about -57 degrees.

PS-56 (-57,163):: Sunrise at 16:15:25 2015-12-28, Sunset at 10:06:08 2015-12-28

Bearing from ZL1RS this morning is around 195 degrees, which places PS-56 at around 163E longitude.

PS-56 (-57,163) is 2555km/195.1° from ZL1RS (-35.209,173.811)

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The windspeed across the predicted path is up to 300km/h

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Update #4 7:30pm 29 Dec 2015 AEST

Sunset greyline at balloon location:

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Based on the estimated bearings from RX stations and the last few sunset/sunrise grey lines at balloon location, it is most likely that PS-56 has completed the second circumnavigation, and is on its way up North across the Tasman sea.

Thanks to everyone again for the great tracking effort, especially John VK2FAK and Joe VK5EI for the early detection of the balloon on the way home and Bob ZL1RS for building up accurate estimations of the flight path using only CW data from the balloon.

Update #5 7:30pm 30 Dec 2015 AEST

Sunset grey line at balloon location:

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Estimated balloon location is at 37 degrees South, 168 Degree South:

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Update #6 10:00am 2 Jan 2016 AEST

PS-56 at sunset yesterday, 0512 1 Jan 2016 UTC

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From the bearings it is roughly East of New Zealand, i.e. half way between Australia and South America.

PS-57 HF PICO balloon WSPR JT9

PS-57 was released at 19:15 12 Dec 2015 UTC

Solar powered party balloon, 25mW TX
TX WSPR, JT9 on 30m only

Dial frequency 10.138700Mhz (standard WSPR dial frequency) for WSPR, JT9.
JT9 at 1100Hz offset.

See HF decoding info at http://picospace.net/?cat=34

Tracking as PS-57 on SNUS http://picospace.net/tracker/new
WSPR call sign is VK3YT http://wsprnet.org/olddb?findcall=vk3yt

Prediction:

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TX scheduling
Minute – Band – Mode – Condition
:00 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – mandatory
:10 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:20 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:30 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – mandatory
:40 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:50 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full

Update #1 20 Dec 2015 AEST

PS-57 move to within 5.8 degrees from the equator before turning South-East:

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Prediction:

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Update #2 24 Dec 2015 AEST

PS-57 crossed the equator into the Northern Hemisphere this morning. Currently PS-57 is 9000m over Colombia, heading towards Venezuela:

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Prediction:

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Update #3 26 Dec 2015 AEST

PS-57 is mid-way across the Atlantic

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Weather map:

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Predictions:

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Update #4 30 Dec 2015 AEST

PS-57 survived some rough weather in the last few days, with multiple loss of altitude

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It appears to be stable in the last 24H

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Update #4 12 Jan 2015 AEST

After 4 weeks, 1 day and 18 hours of flying time PS-57 went down in the middle of the Indian Ocean last night, taken down by bad weather.

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PS-53 HF PICO balloon WSPR JT9 San Jose USA

PS-53 was released at 13:50 13 Sep 2015 UTC from San Jose USA

Solar powered party balloon, 25mW TX
TX WSPR, JT9 on 30m and 20m

Dial frequency 10.138700Mhz and 14.095600Mhz (standard WSPR dial frequencies) for WSPR, JT9.
JT9 at 1100Hz offset.

See HF decoding info at http://picospace.net/?cat=34

Tracking as PS-53 on SNUS http://picospace.net/tracker/new
WSPR call sign is VK3YT http://wsprnet.org/olddb?findcall=vk3yt

Prediction:

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TX scheduling
Minute – Band – Mode – Condition
:00 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – mandatory
:10 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:20 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:30 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – mandatory
:40 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:50 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full

Initial WSPR spots

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Assistance with tracking is appreciated, especially from the host country!

Update #1
It appeared that PS-53 had an envelope failure and landed in the Nevada desert.

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PS-54 APRS/Olivia PICO balloon San Jose USA

PS-54 was released at 6:50am local time this morning (Sat 12 Sep 2015) from San Jose USA.

Solar powered party balloon, 10mW TX
APRS on 144.390Mhz initially, call sign W6/VK3YT-11.

Olivia 8/250 with RSID on 434.649Mhz USB (Dial frequency) outside of USA where permitted , call sign PS-54

Tracking as PS-54 on SNUS http://spacenear.us
and VK3YT-11 on APRS.FI http://aprs.fi/#!call=a%2FVK3YT-11&timerange=3600&tail=3600

Prediction:

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Update #1 06:50 Wed 16 Sep 2015 UTC

PS-54 zoomed past the San Francisco Golden bridge at 8000m on the first day, and spent
a whole day bouncing along the west coast of California, right next to some
other local up/down balloon launches.

The weather was rough, the balloon took a few dives before gaining altitude again at sunset, but it sent last transmission at 20:39 local time on Sat night.

It was thought the antenna was damaged from the beating it took during the day, however
it re-appears again today (Tues PDT), heading in from the coast into LA. Looks like it was just out of range for a few days.

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Update #2 14:00 Thurs 17 Sept 2015 UTC

PS-54 flew over California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana in the last few days, and is heading into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will be out of range for a while

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Prediction

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Update #3 14:00 Fri 18 Sept 2015 UTC

PS-54 is in Mexico this morning

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Prediction:

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PS-52 HF PICO balloon WSPR JT9

PS-52 was released at 20:40 5 Sep 2015 UTC

Solar powered party balloon, 25mW TX
TX WSPR, JT9 on 30m and 20m

Dial frequency 10.138700Mhz and 14.095600Mhz (standard WSPR dial frequencies) for WSPR, JT9.
JT9 at 1000Hz offset.

See HF decoding info at http://picospace.net/?cat=34

Tracking as PS-52 on SNUS http://picospace.net/tracker/new
WSPR call sign is VK3ANH http://wsprnet.org/olddb?findcall=vk3anh

Prediction:

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TX scheduling
Minute – Band – Mode – Condition
:00 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – mandatory
:10 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:20 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:30 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – mandatory
:40 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:50 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full

Update #1 8 Sep 2015

After being tossed around for a few hours by a rough weather front that caused rapid altitude changes of the payload in the Southern Ocean, PS-52 went down on Monday night, 4000km from the nearest tracking station ZL1RS in NZ.

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PS-50 HF PICO balloon WSPR JT9

PS-50 was released at 7:20am 23/8/2015 AEST

Solar powered party balloon, 25mW TX
TX WSPR, JT9 on 30m and 20m

Dial frequency 10.138700Mhz and 14.095600Mhz (standard WSPR dial frequencies) for WSPR, JT9.
JT9 will be at 1000Hz offset.

See HF decoding info at http://picospace.net/?cat=34

Tracking as PS-50 on SNUS http://picospace.net/tracker/new
WSPR call sign is VK3YT http://wsprnet.org/olddb?findcall=vk3yt

Prediction:

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TX scheduling
Minute – Band – Mode – Condition
:00 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – mandatory
:10 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:20 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:30 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – mandatory
:40 – 30m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full
:50 – 20m – 2 mins WSPR then two x 1 min JT9 – if batt full

Update #1 5 Sep 2015

PS-50 went down somewhere near South America, last transmission was at 26 Aug 2015 05:02 UTC
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PS-48 HF PICO balloon WSPR JT9

PS-48 was released at 7:30am 8/8/2015 AEST

Solar powered party balloon, 25mW TX
TX WSPR, JT9 on 30m and 20m

Dial frequency 10.138700Mhz and 14.095600Mhz (standard WSPR dial frequencies) for WSPR, JT9.
JT9 will be at 1800Hz offset.

See HF decoding info at http://picospace.net/?cat=34

Tracking as PS-48 on SNUS http://picospace.net/tracker/new
WSPR call sign is VK3YT http://wsprnet.org/olddb?findcall=vk3yt

Update:

Communication from PS-48 stopped after the first night, until it appeared briefly again in South America a week later, and hasn’t been heard from since.

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PS-46 HF PICO balloon WSPR JT9

PS-46 was released at 7am 23/5/2015 AEST

Solar powered party balloon, 25mW TX
TX WSPR, JT9 on 30m and 20m

Dial frequency 10.138700Mhz and 14.095600Mhz (standard WSPR dial frequencies) for WSPR, JT9.
JT9 will be at 1800Hz offset.

See HF decoding info at http://picospace.net/?cat=34

Tracking as PS-46 on SNUS http://picospace.net/tracker/new
WSPR call sign is VK3YT http://wsprnet.org/olddb?findcall=vk3yt

Update #1 11pm 24/5/2015

PS-46 is just crossing the international dateline.

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Prediction:

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Update #2 6pm 1/6/2015 AEST
PS-46 made it to inland South Africa

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Prediction:

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Update #3 6pm 3/6/2015 AEST

PS-46 is on the way home. Expected time to cross the starting longitude of 144.894 degree East is around tomorrow afternoon AEST (06:00 4/6/2015 UTC)

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Prediction:

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Update #4 9pm 5/6/2015 AEST

PS-46 completed its circumnavigation at 11am 4/6/2015 AEST, and has been heading East towards South America. It crossed the International Dateline late today.

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Prediction:

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Thanks to the following stations for assistance with tracking on WSPR and JT9:

JQ2WDO K1BZ KI7CI LLU5VV LU1KCQ LU3VA LU4EME LU5VV N2NOM N2NXZ ND6P NH7SR OZ1RDP OZ7IT VA7MM VK1KW VK2AAF VK2AJF VK2DDI VK2DX VK2EFM VK2FAK VK2GOM VK2JIW VK2LX VK2NP VK2PR VK2QQ VK2XTC VK3DXE VK3KCX VK3PD VK4ACN VK4ADC VK4FLR VK4MIL VK4QG VK4RV VK4ZBV VK5CV VK5EI VK5MR VK5PP VK5RM VK5ZRL VK6MT VK6NI VK6XT VK7BO VK7TW VK8KMD W0AY W9HLY ZL1BOE ZL1RS ZL1SIX ZL2AHB ZL3DMH ZL3LSD ZS4TX ZS5J ZS6BMN ZS6BTY ZS6GC ZS6KN ZS6VOL

And many others for trying!

Update #5 9am 13/6/2015 AEST

PS-46 has been pushing East at various paces. It got to South America the second time on 9/6/2015, and is currently over the South Atlantic Ocean, just before South Africa.
Total distance travelled so far is 58,270 kms (36,207 miles).

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Prediction:
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Update #6 12am 17/6/2015 AEST

PS-46 has been doing loops at extremely slow pace in the last few days.

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Prediction shows a leisurely tour of Africa in the next few days:
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Update #7 6pm 21/6/2015 AEST

It’s been a slow few days, with PS-46 sitting in pocket of low wind most of the time, going up and down the East coast of Africa.

Finally it made an Easterly turn today, starting the trip home.

The flight time now is over four weeks, covering over 65,900km.

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Prediction:

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Update #8 9am 28/6/2015 AEST

A week later and PS-46 is still over the Indian Ocean. It was within 660km off Jakarta before turning West on a loop back to Africa.
Total distance : 73,615km, flight time: 5 week 1 day.

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Prediction over Indian Ocean has not been very accurate
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Update #9 10pm 29/6/2015 AEST

PS-46 is heading east again, after completing an interesting drawing over Indian Ocean :)

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Update #10 9pm 30/6/2015 AEST

Finally, PS-46 is over Australia land again

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Prediction:

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Update #11 9pm 1/7/2015

At last, PS-46 will make its second pass over the starting longitude of 144.894 tomorrow, between 00:00 UTC and 05:00 UTC.

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Prediction:

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Update #12 6pm 4/7/2015

The prediction didn’t anticipate a last minute loop that took PS-46 2 days to complete. It finally crossed the starting longitude just before 12:30pm AEST today.

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Prediction:

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Thanks again to everyone that helped with tracking!

Update #13 6pm 18/7/2015 AEST

Wow time flies, it has been two weeks since the last update.

Since crossing the line, PS-46 spent the last two weeks passing Chile, Peru, Bovilia, Brazil, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and just about to head home when it went down at a weather front over the Indian Ocean this morning, marking the end of the flight.

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Our sincere thanks to everyone that helped with tracking, including new trackers, veterans, and
those that tried but did not show up on the map.

JT9 RX
AK4AT CA3MRD E50W K4COD K5XL KN8DMK LU1KCQ LU4EME LU5VV OA4AI SA6BSS VK1KW VK2DDI VK2DX VK2EIK VK2FAK VK2GOM VK2PR VK2QQ VK2XGJ VK3ATQ VK3DNH VK3DXE VK3KCX VK4ADC VK4JAM VK4RV VK5EI VK5KDK VK5PP VK5RM VK5ZK VK5ZRL VK6JI VK6MT VK6NI VK6XT VK6YS VK7TW VK7XX W3BH W4HBK WA5DJJ ZL1RS ZL2AHB ZL3LSD ZS4TX ZS5J ZS5LT ZS6BMN ZS6BTY ZS6EHG ZS6GC ZS6KN ZS6V

WSPR RX
3B8CW 9H3KC AE2EA AK4AT DJ5JD DK6UG E50W FR1GZ JH1GYE JH3APN JQ2WDO K1BZ K3XR K4COD K4EH K5XL K9AN KC4GO KD6EKQ KD6RF KI7CI KK1D KK4MBI KK4PP KL7L KN8DMK KU4PY LA3JJ LA3JJ/J LA9JO LLU5VV LU1KCQ LU3VA LU4EME LU5VV M0CCW N2NOM N4AU N9CIF ND6P NH7SR NN6RF NQ6Y OA4AI OH6GKW ON7KO OZ1RDP OZ7IT PI4THT SM0EPX VA3ROM VA7MM VE3LJT VK1AA/2 VK1KW VK2AAF VK2AJF VK2BMU VK2DDI VK2DX VK2EFM VK2FAK VK2GOM VK2JIW VK2KDK VK2LX VK2NP VK2PR VK2QQ VK2XGJ VK2XTC VK3AGD VK3ATQ VK3CVF VK3DXE VK3FZ VK3KCX VK3PD VK4ACN VK4ADC VK4FLR VK4MIL VK4NE VK4QG VK4TMH VK4XJB VK4ZBV VK5CV VK5EI VK5KDK VK5MR VK5NG VK5PP VK5RM VK5ZK VK5ZRL VK6MT VK6XT VK6ZT VK7AM VK7BO VK7DD VK7TW VK8KMD W0AY W1QG W2JTM W3BH W3CSW W4ENN W7WO W9HLY WA5DJJ WA8KNE WB0OEW YC0MLC ZL1BOE ZL1RS ZL1SIX ZL2ABN ZL2AHB ZL2FT ZL3DMH ZL3LSD ZS2CX ZS4A ZS4TX ZS4TX/P ZS5J ZS5J/P ZS6BK ZS6BMN ZS6BTY ZS6EHG ZS6GC ZS6KN ZS6VOL

See you at the next trip!