The recent hyper-focus on the Chinese “spy balloon” that drifted over the US earlier this month has everyone gazing skyward. While they were looking, the US Air Force spotted a few more suspicious objects, including one that it and Canadian forces shot down over Yukon last week. Despite the rush to declare alien contact, the truth is probably much closer to home. A new report suggests the object was a simple ham radio balloon deployed by enthusiasts in Illinois last year.
Neither the US nor Canadian governments have confirmed the origin of the balloon, but the White House has noted that it does not appear to be related to the Chinese balloon downed off the east coast. According to aerospace fanatic Ian Kluft, a balloon known as K9YO-15 would have been in about the right place to be the mystery object. This balloon was launched by the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB) in October 2022 and has since circled the globe seven times.
The NIBBB has issued a statement, noting that it cannot confirm that the object shot down by an F-22 was its balloon. However, K9YO-15 was last known to be over Alaska, and the group has been unable to contact it since last week. The Air Force described the object as a small metallic sphere with a payload hanging below it. That could match a lot of small hobbyist balloons, including K9YO-15.
NIBBB #HamRadio club of Illinois🇺🇸 declared K9YO #balloon "missing in action" after no telemetry was received for 5 days. It was projected to be over Yukon Saturday when NORAD🇺🇸🇨🇦 shot down an "unknown object", close enough to raise questions. https://t.co/9ZkRqkc6Zr #aviation
— Ian Kluft ✈️ @email@example.com (@ikluft) February 16, 2023
The “pico balloon” was a mylar sphere about 32 inches in diameter, carrying a GPS module, an Arduino computer, radio communication gear, and a small solar panel. The total cost of the hardware was probably a few hundred dollars, even with the high cost of Arduinos right now. About 2,000 pico balloons are launched daily, but those numbers are just a rough estimate. These objects don’t fly high enough to need clearance from the FAA or other aeronautical governing bodies.
If the Yukon object was indeed a ham radio hobbyist project, the response from US and Canadian forces was a spectacular overreaction. The US spent about $360 million on each F-22 Raptor, and every flight hour costs a whopping $85,000. The AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles we’re shooting at these balloons cost $400,000 each. Maybe that’s a small price to be safe from ham radio balloons. It’s hard to assign blame, though, with the current atmosphere of balloon hysteria.
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