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HABE 11 Missing [Update: Police Recovered]

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Yesterday, I launched HABE 11. It landed after a quick flight in a field near Cambridge. Following the arrival of a fellow HABist to recover the payload, the payload box was found broken open and in pieces. All the equipment inside had been taken.

 

Equipment includes: GoPro HERO 3 camera and multiple tracking devices.

 

Both tracking devices appear to have been disabled, indicating theft. Clear notices were placed on the outside and inside of the payload box indicating a reward if found. As I have yet to receive a call, I now presume the person who has taken the equipment has no intention of returning it.

 

If you are reading this and have taken HABE 11, please understand that a significant amount of time and effort has gone into this flight.

The tracking devices have no use to you or anyone else. They are highly specialised devices for tracking balloons. As stated – there is still a reward if all items are returned to me. Think, and do the right thing.

To get in touch with me please email me or call the number written on the payload.

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UPDATE 05/03/2014: HABE 11 has been recovered by the Police!

I have received some excellent news – the Police have recovered all the components of HABE 11. In my previous post I never mentioned that I had identified the IP address of the person who had taken the equipment (incase it jeopardised the chance of recovery). In the hours after the theft, I received a hit on this blog from an IP located in the vicinity of the landing site. Additionally, after further inspection of the server logs, the hit came from a yahoo search for “HABE Flight Computer v3″. It seemed clear to me that whoever had taken the equipment, went back home and was inquisitive – searching for the exact wording printed on the tracking device onboard.

With this information, I contacted the Police and asked them to make a request to the ISP to reveal the name & address of who was behind the IP at that time (as the IP came from a shared/dynamic pool). After being sceptical that the ISP would release the information just for the theft of a camera + tracking equipment, I was surprised when the Police got in touch to say they had not only been successful in getting the address of the person but had also retrieved the equipment! A big thanks to Northamptonshire Police.

Fingers crossed the SD card has the footage on..

There are a couple of lessons to learn from this. The most important – keep in close proximity to the payload at all times when near the ground.

HABHUB & Chase Car

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In the past, I usually carry both my iPhone and iPad on chases. The iPhone offers navigation and tethering whilst the iPad offers a longer battery life than the laptop – useful for checking on the location of the balloon mid-flight. However, the spacenear.us tracker doesn’t run at all well on touch screen devices and this has somewhat prohibited using iDevices to track flights.

Coupled with this fact, I have always wanted to write an iOS app. I looked into app development just over a year ago but backed away after seeing how complex the code looked – certainly different from the C code I was learning. In the past year though, I have done rather a lot of programming. Initially learning the concepts of Object Oriented programming via a Java module in first year at University and then taking another more advanced Java module the beginning of this year (only to come out with 98%!). Having looked a quite a few languages over the past months, Objective C certainly didn’t seem as daunting as it once did. I was ready to give it another go.

I decided to create, as my first app, a high altitude balloon tracking app – rather ambitious! Just a few weeks after diving into Objective C and Cocoa I had my first prototype, and it worked rather well. I had turned my iOS devices into useful chase tools. Subsequently bundling in a ‘payload locator’ feature and chase car tracking (uploading position of chase car to spacenear.us tracker) it was now a HAB hub for iOS.

HABHUB iOS App

HABHUB iOS App

Feeling rather pleased having used knowledge of Java and OO concepts to quickly learn Objective C and then creating something that was of real use, I was keen to share it with the high altitude community. Given the community mostly comprises of Android users (I have had many a lecture about how Androids are far superior) I was sceptical as to how many people it would actually benefit – I thought, at most, 10 people would benefit. Turns out I was wrong – as of today over 35 people have downloaded the app! It’s available on the App Store under ‘HABHUB’ for both iPhone and iPad.

Having seen Dave Akerman’s chase car setup and, from past experience, finding it hard to track the balloon in-flight without an experienced HABist sitting in the passenger seat feeding locating and predicted landing updates, I wanted to put the HABHUB app I built to good use. Consulting Dave as to the best tablet in car mounting option, he recommended Brodit tablet mounts. After speaking to the great people over at Clove Technology they loved the project and sent me a free iPad mount – a big thanks to Clove!

I was eager to install it so this morning I set about the very fast and easy installation (Brodit make mounts unique to each car make to ensure a secure fit). Within minutes I had it secured onto the mini’s somewhat small dashboard.

Brodit iPad Mount

Brodit iPad Mount Fitted

Chase Car Setup

iPad running HABHUB app

After popping the iPad in and booting up the HABHUB app it quickly became apparent that it was going to be extremely useful during a balloon chase. Sitting at the right height and orientation to quickly see location information and plan the chase! Now I just need to get around to launching a balloon.

Hopefully not too long a wait as I have a couple of launches coming up soon, including the long-awaited HABE Lab flight. Stay tuned..

PCBs, Predictor & Plans

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It’s been a while since I last updated the blog.

PCBs

Since then, the new flight computer pcb (printed circuit board) has been manufactured and two boards have kindly been soldered up by Anthony Stirk. They are looking great – at just approx 3×3.5cm they save on space too (which will be vital in the HABE Glider).

 

HABE Flight Computer v2.0. Two boards populated & soldered.

HABE Flight Computer v2.0. Two boards populated & soldered.

I am currently testing them out with code and hope to fly them both soon.

Hourly Predictor

For a while I have been meaning to set up the CUSF hourly predictor. Yesterday I got around to installing it on my linux (Ubuntu) server – didn’t take too long but grabbing the wrong files initially didn’t help. It is now up and running at http://panther.acudworth.co.uk/hourly. It shows predictions for up to 180 hours in the future (obviously closer to the current time will be more accurate), helping to get an idea of when best to launch.

Plans

Having not done a launch since last October time I am certainly ready for another! There are however many things to sort before the next launch. My next flight (HABE 7) will be a purely experimental flight – testing out systems that will be used in both the HABE Lab and HABE Glider missions. Some of the features I’m working on for the next flight:

  • Testing of the new flight computers.
  • Dual payloads, each with their own tracker running on different frequencies to avoid downlink radio clash.
  • Mid-flight separation using a pyrotechnic cutdown module, one payload will carry on ascending whilst the other one falls back to earth via parachute – this will be required for the HABE Glider mission.
  • Uplink test – this requires syncing up downlink transmissions between the two payloads as to allow a brief ‘quiet’ period for the uplink transmission to get through. This is probably the most ambitious bit of the flight.
  • Extending cameras out on a boom so they face inward, looking at payload(s) with the backdrop of Earth/Space.

I will be using a Pawan 1200g balloon, hopefully this one won’t fail on me @ 23km in altitude like the last one did. Hydrogen will most likely be used instead of helium due to the significant increasing cost of helium (that will be a first for me). New parachutes will be tested – old one that lasted 6 missions is stuck in a big tree!

An Update

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Whilst I have been busy over the past few weeks with University work, work has continued with various bits & pieces. A brief summary below:

 

HABE Lab

The response so far has been very positive – many schools have been in touch and expressed an interest in sending experiments up to near space on board the HABE Lab, especially primary schools. Hopefully this will inspire the young children to think differently and dream big! I am still looking for more people to get involved so if you’re interested, or know someone who would be interested please register interest here.

I’m in the process of building the system that will allow people to book slots on the first mission. I hope to have this completed asap; those who have registered interest will receive an email when the system goes live. You’ll be able to specify location preference (inside and insulated or outside and exposed) for each experiment. Keep an eye on my twitter: @adamcudworth for more updates about this…

 

HABE Flight Computer v2.0

After many stressful hours using Eagle (CAD software for designing PCBs) I have finally completed the next major version of the flight computer! Almost everything is different about this version compared to my last version – everything has shrunk in size: smaller resistors, smaller GPS module, smaller radio module which is capable of uplink too (with some work), smaller microprocessor… The end result is a flight computer/tracker that is just 3×3.5cm – a tiny bit bigger than a 10p coin. I would like to say a big thanks to Anthony Stirk for helping me out with various aspects along the way.

This new board will replace the old 5x5cm board (seems big and bulky in comparison!) for use on future flights including the HABE Lab and HABE Glider, forming the main track and control mechanism for the flight. One of the most exciting features is the new radio module; being a transceiver it supports receiving as well as transmitting. Using powerful uplink radios on the ground it should be possible to send commands to the balloon in flight – a major improvement.

The final PCB design is below (yes, it was a nightmare to route the various tracks – it is all done manually). I will upload some photos when the manufactured board arrives.

HABE Flight Computer v2.0 Design

HABE Flight Computer v2.0 Design

 

HABE 2 – A Success!

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It certainly has been a hectic few days – from the moment, Wednesday afternoon, I obtained permission for the weekend it’s been non stop! I am delighted though that HABE2 was a great success! I will try and write a full rundown of the flight in the next few days, but for now I’ll just give a few quick facts about the launch.

After waking up Saturday morning, I checked the prediction and nothing had really changed, so I gave the launch the go-ahead. The extremely cold conditions slowed down the launch setup due to very cold, numb fingers! In fact, for the last 10mins of setup/launch it started snowing. Despite the slower than usual setup everything was going fine until it came to the last part – the filling of the balloon. We had a faulty adapter! No helium whatsoever was flowing out! This was devastating – with the payload all ready to fly and transmitting it’s location perfectly it was looking like the launch would have to be called off. A quick chat to the other guys on the IRC channel, my fellow HABer/ist (not sure the correct phrasing!) in Worcester, Will Duckworth, came to my rescue after he drove his helium adapter to the launch site! A big big thanks to Will who saved the day! His HAB project is here.

So finally, about 1hr later than planned HABE2 took to the skies! The flight lasted about 2.5hrs and was recovered from a horse field near High Wycombe. At this point I’d like to mention how accurate the predictor is – yet again pinpointing the flight path to within a few km – incredible. The highest reported GPS position was 29, 958m (just 42m shy of the big 30!) – but, if the refresh rate of the GPS and the length of the cord connecting the payload to the chute and onto the balloon is considered I may well have just hit the 30km mark. However – this launch was never intended to go as high as my previous one; I needed a quick ascent and descent (which meant compromising on altitude) due to the predictions.

The camera worked perfectly resulting in some fantastic photos and a couple of short videos! The best can be seen here in my flickr set. See if you can spot the moon and aircraft vapour trails! I’m very pleased with how these turned out.

All the other main components worked great, the SD “black box” style logger has resulted in a significant amount of data being logged – I am now trawling through it all and I hope to have some nice graphics soon(ish). One interesting fact so far – the coldest temperature recorded during the flight was -63.1C!! That makes our -5C temp look strangely warm!

Keep tuned as in the next few days/weeks I’ll be providing a full analysis of the launch and hopefully producing some nice graphics.

For now – I’m very pleased with how it all went considering what could’ve gone wrong. If you have any questions please do drop me a comment below or email me or pop on the IRC #highaltitude

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