Month: June 2016

23/06/16 – Post Launch Update

High Altitude Balloon Launch 

Well we did it!

After months of research, planning, fund raising, organising and forecasting, on Wednesday 22 June 2016 at 10:49, the Pi Code and Chips Club launched a High Altitude Balloon into near space. And here’s one of our pics to prove it.

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Preparations at the launch site went well, considering we had never done this before.

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The children looked on as the payload (Polystyrene container, covered in yellow hazard tape) lifted off under the power of a large helium filled weather balloon.

 

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Following a nail biting, nerve wracking flight, up, up and away over North Devon, CAEN_CP1 crossed the Bristol Channel, skirted past the Brecon Beacons in Wales and after bursting at a fantastic height of 32,540 metres, it deployed its onboard parachute (A 4ft RocketMan). At 13:28 it landed safely in the middle of a nicely mown field SW of Dilwyn, NW of Hereford in Herefordshire.

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The flight was being tracked and monitored in ‘Mission Control’ by Eve, Maya and Leo along with the rest of the team, Jimi, Tean, Roddy Bridgery (Chief Cameraman) and Oli Avery. They were all able to follow the balloon and the chase team on the Internet using the fantastic web resource HabHub.org.

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Here is a pic of ‘Mission Control’. The tentage, vehicles and two Army Commandos from Logistic Support Squadron were kindly supplied by the Commando Logistic Regiment Royal Marines from RMB Chivenor.

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The Radio Tracking (an essential component) was provided and manned by members of the Appledore and District Radio Club (Steve, Alan and Graham). We are very greatful for their help prior to and during the launch and for giving up their own time to make this project a success.

The payload contained a Raspberry Pi (a £6.00 Zero model), which is a small affordable computer designed to encourage children to get involved in Science, Technology, Electronics and Maths (STEM) activities, especially with real world applications – just like this one. Attached to the Pi was an 8 Mega Pixel Pi Camera and a Pi In The Sky (PITS) board which contained a Radio Transmitter and GPS.

After the successful lift off and a bit of re-organising, the chase was on. Oli Argyle, Hamish and Zac set off in a car with Hamish’s and Zac’s mums along with Mr Harvey and his wife in another car. Along the A361, up the M5 to Worcester and on towards Wales. We were able to track each other progress using Smart Phone Apps which uploaded our positions onto the same map as the balloon.

As we had the last known location (thanks to a local reciever) who was listening to the flight, we had a very good idea of where the payload would be. As we drove down one of the A roads towards the landing site the Radio burst into life (we were very close!).

We stopped and rigged up the ground radio tracking gear which consited of two Radio Scanners (bought by Mr Harvey) and two Yagi directional antennas (made and donated by Steve from the Appledore Radio Club). The children had used these before during a club night when they successfully found the payload hidden in the school grounds, so they had a good idea of how they worked.

Hamish and Oli manned one of the radios and Mr Harvey took charge of the other (just to be sure). We all walked in the general direction of the strongest signal, through a field of very long grass, along streams, through hedges and orchards – the closer we got the stronger the signal.

In the pic below you can see us on the Map (the car icon) and the payload CAEN_CP1 in the field to our NE. This pic is a screen shot from HabHub/Tracker which the club and Miss Fidges class have been using to track balloon flights and carry out flight predictions over the past few weeks.

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We had no internet signal in the area so we were relying only on the hand held trackers to guide use however, with a stroke of luck, we received a phone call from Hamish’s Dad, who could see us on HabHub via the Internet. Armed with this information he was able to guide us onto the landing sight.

Finally, at 6:20pm, with much excitement and shouting, the children spotted the payload and parachute in a field. We returned to our cars and after a celebratory, much needed meal in a service station on the M5, we (and the payload) returned safely to Braunton.

The balloon reached an amazing height of 32,540 metres (three times higher than Everest) and using the onboard camera fitted to the Raspberry Pi we were able to capture some absolutely fantastic photos. Here is a small selection:

1. Rising over Braunton (view towards Saunton).

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2. Above the clouds.

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3. The Earth at approximately 32,000 metres.

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4. Coming into land – steady, steady, we met these cows when we picked up the payload.

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This has been an amazing experience for everyone involved and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has helped out either during the build up or on the day.

A special thanks to the parents, children, RMB Chivenor, the generous donations from the Vivian Moon Braunton Community Trust Fund and Jimmi Wiliams Grandad, Boots of Barnstaple for donating raffle prizes, Millie Norcott for her cake sale and finally the Appledore Amature Radio Club, without all of whom this project would not have got off the ground!.

If we have forgotten anyone please accept our apologies and thanks.

What’s next?

21/06/16 – Last Minute Preparations

Well its Tuesday 21/06/16 and the flight is due to take place tomorrow, so in order to finish things off I have been am spending the day making the final preparations. The last few jobs are:

  1. Make the filler tube
  2. Re-flash the SD card and install the PITS software
  3. Check the Pi camera and new v2 Pi Zero
  4. Build and test the payload antenna
  5. Build up the payload
  6. Clear the SD card
  7. Prep the parachute and payload lines to save time on the day
  8. Weigh the payload / parachute and string
  9. Calculate the neck fill and make a neck fill counter weight
  10. Pack up up the launch, mission control and tracking gear

Also in order to be sure I decided use six AA batteries instead of four. The PITS has an onboard 5v regulator so the extra batteries will ensure a longer transmission time. I had to order some extra Lithium Energizer batteries and some 6 x AA battery holders.

Filler Tube

I picked up the Helium on Friday and it came with two fillers but to fill a large weather ballon a DIY filler assembly is required. This is the guide from the UKHAS Wiki which shows how to make the filler assembly.

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Payload Antenna

The antennas that we have been using so far for testing are no practical for the flight so I had to make up a 1/4 wave ground pane antenna and then test it.  This is the guide from the UKHAS Wiki which shows how to make the payload antenna. It turned out ok and when testing it worked brilliantly.

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I made a hole in the bottom of the payload container for the antenna lead to fit through and once the antenna was in place this was sealed with Seam Sealer to prevent water ingress.

Neck Lift

In order to ensure that the balloon follows the predicted path, reaches the desired altitude and ascends at the correct speed, the amount of helium is critical. To work out the desired amount of helium you need to calculate the neck life. This is done using a Neck Lift or Balloon Burst Calculator. You need to know the balloon type and how much the balloon needs to lift this will be the payload, parachute and string. When filling the fill assembly and tubing will affect the neck lift as such this needs to be taken into consideration. To work out the Neck Lift I used the balloon burst calculator on HabHub.

Building The Payload

Next I had to work out how to best place the Raspberry Pi Zero / PITS board and the batteries etc into the payload and secure them to ensure that nothing moved around during the flight.

Parachute and Rigging Lines

To save time we measured out the two correct amount of nylon cord for the rigging lines and tied one set to the top of the parachute and the other to the bottom. These were then rolled up and secured to prevent them tangling.

Weighing and Helium Calculation 

Now that everything was ready, one of the last technical jobs was to weigh everything that the balloon would lift using a set of kitchen scales. This came to 425g. Once this figure was established using an online ‘Burst Calculator’ I was able to calculate the Neck Lift, this is a figure that tells you how much weight to hang off off the balloon when filling it to identify whether or not you have the correct amount of helium inside of it. One adjustment that needs to be made is this figure is that the weight of the filler assembly and part of the filler tube needs to be subtracted from the neck lift. The final figure then give you the counter weight to hang off of the filler assembly.

Packing Up

The last job was to pack up two plastic boxes, one containing all the gear for mission control and the other containing everything for the launch pad.

Everything was in place – just waiting for the CAA authorisation and good weather.

16/06/16 – Final Preparations

Well the last few days / weeks have been pretty hectic (not just the balloon flight), we have given a mini presentation at our local Pi Jam (Raspberry Pi Club) and have been doing some ground communications testing with the fellas from the Appledore and District Radio Club. We have also placed the last few bits on order, quite important bits none the less (balloon, parachute and gas!!).

Communications Test

The communications tests were carried yesterday at around 17:00. Steve came along with his roof rack antenna stand and brought a selection of antennas to test, one of which was a cross beam Yagi. There were two other Radio Club member there, Alan who I met the previous week and another fella Graham who I realised I knew from the monthly Raspberry Pi Jam, small world. Steve and Alan will be heading up the chase team and Graham will be providing a voice communication link with them so that we can talk to them from Mission Control which will be located adjacent to the launch site. They have also recruited a fourth volunteer who will be manning a repeater along the way. All in all the communications side is pretty much sorted 🙂

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Me tinkering with my Log Periodic Antenna

Once we had switched on the tracker in the payload we checked radio reception, Internet connection and upload to HabHub. I was sure I had packed everything but couldn’t for the life of me find the batteries so I had to revert to using a mains adaptor powered from a recently purchased in car 240v inverter (more personal expense). For launch day I will use a packing list in and out of the car!!

To prove communications Alan and I drove up to the top of a nearby hill and waited for Steve and Graham to confirm reception was still good. The chase team reported that we were not transmitting any GPS coordinates and a quick check of the PITS board showed that the GPS light was still red (no location fix). After trying several things I decided that the only change since the last test was the addition of a Lora Board (additional higher speed data communications for images). It took rather a while to remove the board as the header connectors were solid, bizarre considering how easy they went on. Anyway after nearly bending the pins on one of the headers I managed to pry off the Lora Board. This did not fix the problem and we finally decided to try holding the payload outside of the car. Almost immediately we received a green light and all was good!!

Balloon, Parachute and Gas

Well after finally ordering them at 06:00 Wednesday morning a package arrived this afternoon:

The box is a lot smaller than our DIY one that we have been testing with but I did some calculations before ordering and had a test load when it arrived:

 

Club Night 

It was club night tonight so the children were finishing off a presentation for assembly on Monday to update everyone on the launch and finishing off making ID Badges for the club members to wear on launch day:

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08/08/16 – Communication Assistance

According to the UKHAS guidelines it is the responsibility of those launching a ballon to track it, flights should not rely on other trackers to follow and provide location updates for their flight. As radio tracking is an area that we were unfamiliar with I decided to send an email to the Appledore and District Amateur Radio Club, on the off chance that they may be able to offer some advice or assistance.

To my delight the email was met with much enthusiasm and on Wednesday evening I had a meeting with two very helpful people from the club (Steve Smith and Alan Fisher). Steve had already been experimenting with HAB tracking and had set up some equipment wihich he brought along to demonstrate. To my surprise Steve also arrived with 4 home made YAGI antennas based on the design suggested on the UKHAS web site, two of which he kindly donated to our project.

We discussed several issues which and came up with resolutions for them all, a very fortunate turn of events and I have no doubt that, as long as the transmitter works, we will have no problems tracking the balloon.

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Steve demonstrating his tracking gear
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One of the Yagi antennas

 

 

06/06/16 – Interim Update

Well things have been really busy lately hence no project updates. At the last club night we were busy calculating what balloon and parachute we would need and then from this working out the remaining costs. We also spent some time following a flight that had been launched by Dave Akerman the same day to get some practice at using HabHub for following other HAB flights on HabHub.com.

I have been busy myself doing more research on radios and antennas and have purchased some of my own equipment (self funded). In order to ensure we have our own robust radio tracking system I have researched and invested in not one but two radio scanners. I bought an AOR AR8000 from E Bay needed a couple of repairs which I have already completed and a Yupiteru MVT-7100 from a fellow Habber. One of the scanners will be used in Mission Control and the other in the Chase Car.

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Yupiteru MVT-7100 radio Scanner
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AOR AR 8000 Radio Scanner with 1.5m Telescopic Antenna

 

The Yuptiteru came with a Log Periodic Antenna suitable for long range directional reception, the Chase Car still needs a Mag Mounted Antenna which I will buy shortly.

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Assembling the Log Periodic high gain mutil frequency Antenna

To assist with radio tracking we have also been in touch with the Appledore and District Amateur Radio Club and as a result they have kindly volunteered to assist with the project. One member has already been tracking HAB flights, so we have struck lucky.

Finally the launch application letter has been sent by email and post and I have had a reply to say that it has been received and is being processed.

P.S. We had a visit from the North Devon Gazette, here is a link to the article.