It’s been ages since I’ve updated the blog, so here’s a quick look at what I’ve been busy doing on the HAB front.
Whilst I haven’t launched a HAB solely for my own purpose since HABE 2, I have launched 2 HABs for others – documented below:
HABE 3 – Launched April 2012
This was a launch with Lee Kern for a new Channel 4 production. As the program is yet to air I can’t say too much. Inside the payload there were 3 GoPros that captured some fantastic footage (1 pointing up at the balloon, 1 pointing down at Earth, 1 pointing at…..top-secret….. (horizontally).
There were some issues with the tracker during the flight. I had knocked together a “pico” – tiny, lightweight (just 30g) tracker which consisted of a uBlox 6 GPS module, Arduino Pro Mini (thanks to RoboSavvy!) and an RFM22B radio module (thanks to Proto-Pic!). I opted for a small ceramic chip scale antenna for the uBlox 6 and as a result the signal wasn’t comparable to the strength of a larger sarantel antenna. Straight after take off the altitude froze at ground level indicating a lack of 3D GPS fix however the altitude was reported correctly after approximately 30mins. Then, the whole GPS decided to cut out completely at around 18km in altitude so I had no location for the payload whatsoever – nightmare considering this payload contained 3 GoPros worth over £600! Initial thoughts were that the uBlox had failed to be set in the correct mode on startup meaning that it had cut out >18km due to the CoCom limits. Yet, fortunately this wasn’t the case as it came alive again around 25km in altitude!
The rest of the flight was a keep the fingers crossed moment – with the GPS fluctuating from a 3D fix to a 2D fix to no fix at all, I hoped it would work on the final part of the descent so we could locate it on the ground. Fortunately – it landed with a 2D fix! Turned out to be very lucky as the backup SMS based tracker didn’t have signal where it landed so more than likely the payload would have been lost.
After some off-roading and help from fellow HAB enthusiast Dave Akerman we found the payload lying in a farmers field about 800m from some track. A successful recovery – much to the delight of the TV crew (and myself)! After a brief look at the footage, the SD cards were handed over to the TV crew and I await the best bits on Channel 4 very soon…
HABE 4 – Launched August 2012
When I was scouring the UKHAS mailing list back in June I came across a post written by Josh Taylor who wanted help to launch his next idea “Space Art”. He had done 1 launch previously with the help of a few other UKHAS people and clearly loved it as he was coming back for more. This time, I decided to help him achieve his goal.
He wanted a tracking solution so he could track his payload as it flew over the UK and then hopefully recover it successfully. Since early this year I have been designing and building with the help of Anthony Stirk (a fellow HABist) a custom flight computer PCB. After many many redesigns on Eagle (hardwork!), I sent the design files off to the factory in China to turn make 10 5x5cm printed circuit boards. A little over a month later they arrived – after destroying an expense uBlox GPS module due to my poor soldering I took up Anthony’s offer to solder it all up for me – what a great decision as it came back perfectly soldered – thanks Anthony! I’ll do another post sometime soon detailing the HABE PCB as it has quite a lot of tech packed into a 5x5cm footprint – it’s quite awesome.
Josh’s flight offered me an opportunity to test out the new HABE PCB, so I offered my help and after exchanging a few emails to sort out what we were going to do etc we were all set.
The launch day was nice and sunny (big surprise given the recent UK weather…) and the preps went smoothly. I strung my tracking payload containing the HABE PCB onto the “chain” of payloads and off it went to the edge of space. Inside Josh’s payload was a GoPro pointing down at a canvas where “Space Art” was being created – more details of that over at his blog. The tracking of the flight was flawless this time, everything worked great. We managed to get ahead of the balloon and were in a prime position near the predicted landing site. We were almost bang on with the landing site after moving locations a few times – unfortunately we couldn’t get a visual on it coming down. After receiving confirmation over radio that it had landed we moved in to retrieve. Once again, it was positioned in the middle of a farmers field and after trekking through some 10ft sweetcorn we spotted it in the adjacent field – my 4th successful recovery!
Despite my initial doubts that the “Space Art” canvas might get destroyed by the winds at altitude it was intact and looking great on recovery. We made our way back to my house where we reviewed the GoPro footage… wow.
Keep an eye out on Josh’s blog (and the TV..) for the footage!