Well following the successful flight, we have made the local news, two online articles by local papers and I have just heard that we made the local radio – Heart FM.
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.
Preparations at the launch site went well, considering we had never done this before.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
2. Above the clouds.
3. The Earth at approximately 32,000 metres.
4. Coming into land – steady, steady, we met these cows when we picked up the payload.
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.
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:
- Make the filler tube
- Re-flash the SD card and install the PITS software
- Check the Pi camera and new v2 Pi Zero
- Build and test the payload antenna
- Build up the payload
- Clear the SD card
- Prep the parachute and payload lines to save time on the day
- Weigh the payload / parachute and string
- Calculate the neck fill and make a neck fill counter weight
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!).
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 🙂
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Following discussions with the Dep Head (Mr Page), we have set a provisional launch date of the 22 June 2016. This will coincide with the schools sports day, the location of which could prove a suitable launch site. A view from Google Earth shows that there are no immediate obstructions so a RECCE will follow shortly to confirm the suitability.
The site is directly adjacent to two schools who hopefully will be onside with allowing us to ‘borrow’ their WiFi which is needed for communications. I also seem to recall that there are some suitable buildings in which we could establish ‘Mission Control’ and if we launch early enough in the morning the recovery may be completed before the sports day ends?
All of the above is clearly subject to agreements and of course weather!!Proposed launch site middle of athletics track, or adjacent field.
Predicted flight scenario if launched 12/ May/2016, flight time is 2hr 25mins, landing area NE of Holsworthy.
Ok so yesterday was the second club gathering of the summer term and we welcomed another new member from Y5 (the club is proving very popular).
First an announcement – I was able to tell the club that we had secured some more funding, courtesy of the Vivian Moon Braunton Community Trust Fund, who have very kindly granted us £200 towards our project. We are now well on the way to our target.
Following the successful fund raising last term we have started to gather some of the necessary hardware, starting with some of the communications gear, which includes the following:
- Pi In The Sky Board (PITS) (Contains the GPS and Radio Transmitter for the payload)
- 2 x Ultra High Frequency (UHF) whip antennas (For testing)
- 1 x Stubby UHF Antenna
- Software Defined Radio (SDR) USB Dongle (receives the signal from the payload at mission control)
- Pi Zero (On loan due to short supply of A+ and B+ Raspberry Pis)
Demonstration and Research
Following a quick demonstration of how to connect, and use the radio transmitter and receiver the club member were given another research task. The task was to answer some more HAB related questions.
To receive and decode the signal the laptop uses two pieces of software ‘gqrx’ and dl-fldigi’, these are both freely available and work on both Mac OS X and Windows as well as some other OS.
(Pic showing R820T2 SDR Dongle and Macbook running gqrx and dl-fldigi)
First Field Test
Once everyone had completed the research task we set off on a field test (school playground and school field). Two of the club members took the test payload containing the Pi Zero and PITS board up to the end of the school field and the remainder monitored the laptop which was connected to the SDR dongle and UHF antenna.
Once outside whilst we were able to pick up and decode the signal from the payload, we were unable to transmit this via the Internet to HabHub. This may be due to the proxy setup and filter on the schools network, we can access HabHub but it may be possible that we cannot send information to it? This issue will need to be investigated and resolved but this afternoon was a partial success. As usual as a reward for their input during the club the last 15 minutes of the club night was spent playing video games!
(Pic showing payload test team and temporary payload with GPS and UHF antenna, we discussed that the payload definitely needs decorating, even if it is just for trials!!)
Next week we will carry out another test but this time we will hope to have a Web Camera setup on the payload to take pictures and send these to the receiver for viewing.
Thursday was the first meeting of the club this term, as this is a new term as well as some of the original members we have a few new ones; Leo, Eve, Johna and Amelie.
In order to revise what was covered last term and to enhance an understanding of the project I set the club members a task involving a series of questions and tasks. The question covered things like what key electronics will be in the payload to performing a flight prediction using the habhub predictor here. The new members performed extremely well considering much of the terminology was new to them.
The questions / tasks were as follows:
- What does HAB stand for?
- Visit UKHAS.org.co.uk
- What does UKHAS stand for?
- In the beginners guide (safety) why don’t we use Hydrogen?
- Using tracker at HabHub.org what balloon call signs are currently in the air?
- Using the predictor on the same site, if we launched from here today were would our balloon land?
- Who is Dave Akerman and why is he relevant?
- Have a look at our web site:
- How high are we hoping to reach with our flight?
- What 3 key electronic items do we need in the payload?
- How will we stop our balloon from falling to fast?
- How will we find our balloon?
Here the answers from two of the club members working together:
- High Altitude Ballooning
2a. UK High altitude Society
2b, Because it is explosive
5. He fly’s balloons with raspberry pi
6b.rasberry pi computer, parachute, raspberry pi camera
Well firstly our sincere apologies for the lack of updates but much has been happening (mostly not to do with the project). Firstly an update regarding the fund raising.
Fund raising activities so far have included a raffle, cake sale and sponsored coding / gaming as well as a very generous donation mentioned in an earlier update. Altogether so far we have managed to raise £194.13. Millie Norcott made the cakes, set up and ran the cake sale all on her own initiative and raised around £15, well done Millie.
We have applied for money from a local community fund via local government but to date have received no reply 😦 To raise the additional money required we are now trying to come up with some other ideas.
As mentioned above we raised just under £100 from the raffle and we would like to thank everyone that purchased tickets for their support.
The full prize list is shown below, to date there is still one unclaimed prize:
B Hault – Beauticology Set (Pink Ticket No 132)
The full prize with winners names (as written on ticket) is as follows:
- No 7 Mens Grooming Set – Roger Turner-Keightly (White 241)
- Beauticology Set – B Hault (Pink 132)
- Clinique Gift Set – Rosy Crealy (White 104)
- Beauty Hair Set – Kari Blackett (Pink 9)
- No 7 Hair Spritz – Kari Blackett (White 107)
- Tokidiki Make Up – Mrs McCartney (White 178)
- Dispicable Me Set – Leoni Wayne (Pink 175)
- Clarins Beauty – Freddie Chadwick (White 29)
- Estee Gift – Anni Williams (White 102)
- No 7 Gift Set – Karen Haynes (Pink 104)
- Squires / SQ £20 Voucher – Roger Turner-Keightly (White 258)
- Yummies £5 Voucher – Hammish Y6 JSa (White 160)
- Riverside Coffee and Cake – Julie Avery (Pink 84)
- Mystery Prize – Karen Haynes (Pink 84)
- No 7 2 Piece Set – Maria Sergeant (White 268)
At the Easter Fair, Milly Norcott set