Seaton Primary School send Alvin to space

On Wednesday 1st February, we helped Seaton Primary school send a polystyrene rocket carrying their school mascot to space. The flight was launched from Seaton Primary School and landed 60 miles away at the village of Tisbury.

The payload carried a Go Pro Hero Session and a 360fly camera. This footage can be viewed on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/chris.hillcox.5

The flight was terminated by the Doongara cutdown device which was triggered when the flight reached an air pressure of 50mb.

 

Boscombe Down Balloon Challenge competition winners announced

The Boscombe Down Balloon challenge competiti0n, sponsored by RAeS, Cameron Balloons, QinetiQ, and us has finished and the prizes have been announced. Rod, from RAeS issued the following statement:

You may be interested to know that we have a result from the Boscombe Down Balloon Challenge:  Epsom College win 3 x £1000 prizes for greatest altitude, greatest distance, and greatest endurance.  Ryde School with Upper Chine (Isle of Wight) win the Chris Hillcox HAB Supplies prize for a commendable flight achievement that did not qualify for any of the 3 main prizes.
I am very pleased to report that this result is not only the technically correct outcome, but also that it entirely reflects natural justice.  Epsom college put in a Herculean effort, launching 6 flights in all (with a seventh in reserve for the evening of 31 Dec).  The students who built the balloon payloads were genuinely inspired and proactively led by two very enthusiastic teachers who engaged with our competition in a most positive way.  From the outset, their appetite for the Balloon Challenge and their determination to win it, was palpable.  Yet, despite being fiercely competitive, this team was totally committed to playing strictly by the rules in everything they did.  More than this, they respected a UK HAS advisory launch embargo when weather conditions would have carried their balloons into airport traffic zones (so as not to bring the Balloon Challenge into disrepute); and have offered to help other schools with HAB-based STEM projects in the future.
Ryde School with Upper Chine was also an enthusiastic competitor, but here the team was very much student-led.  The Senior Science Technician was our staff point of contact.  The School was undoubtedly supportive of their Balloon Challenge entry, but did not provide the level of guidance and inspiration that we saw at Epsom.  The Ryde team did, however, plan their flights with full cognizance of NOTAM requirements; and with commendable attention to the engineering detail of optimal gassing – the trick being to put not too much gas into a balloon.  In the event, the Ryde balloon flew furthest and for the longest duration (by a large margin), but since the balloon itself was bigger than the maximum size permitted in the Challenge, this result did not count.  It was, nevertheless, a significant achievement in its own right.
These results will be fully recognised at Prize Day on 10 Feb.

University of Leicester students film breathtaking curvature of Earth using high altitude weather balloon

University of Leicester students film breathtaking curvature of Earth using high altitude weather balloon

source: http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=171343&CultureCode=en

Physics students from the University of Leicester have captured breathtaking images of the Earth’s stratosphere using a high altitude weather balloon.

The unmanned balloon and sensor payload reached an altitude of 23.6km, putting it at 1.7 times the altitude ceiling of a 747 airliner.

In conditions close to a vacuum with ambient temperatures around -56oC the students’ payload filmed the cloud tops and the curvature of the Earth.

The payload then descended quickly to Earth reaching a maximum speed of over 100mph.

The launch took place in December near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, and the payload was recovered in Warwickshire.

As well as producing photographs and video, this flight tested electronic control systems for future pollution monitoring flights and advanced navigational systems.

It also allowed the students, assisted by amateur radio enthusiasts, to test tracking techniques which will be used again on future flights.

Student Robert Peck, from the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “We’ve proven the reliability of the payload electronics and tracking methods, the payload returned in perfect condition, that’s a lot to say for something that’s been to 23.6km and plunged back to earth at over 44.7m/s. The tracking also worked perfectly, we are indebted to the amateur radio community for helping us to set up the tracking equipment.”

We supplied the radio tracker and spot tracker for the flight. It also flew our Doongara cutdown board.

The flight was conducted by student members of the University of Leicester’s Astronomy and Rocketry society, with Ryan Bradley-Evans as team leader of the project, Oli Thomas operating the tracking equipment, Robert Peck responsible for flight control electronics and Aleisha Hogan responsible for public relations. Several other team members also assisted with the project.

The team is planning future launches aiming to test the full sensor and advanced navigation systems which time constraints prevented them from launching on the first flight. With the control electronics proven they consider their chances of success to be high.

We supplied the radio tracker and spot tracker for the flight. It also flew our Doongara cutdown board.

Motorist throws HAB payload in the hedge

jglg

We like this video done for Jon Glaser’s True TV programme, Jon Glaser loves gear. At the end of the flight the payload unfortunately lands in a road. A motorist is captured throwing the payload in a hedge. We are not sure if this was done as an act of kindness or distain.

http://www.trutv.com/shows/jon-glaser-loves-gear/videos/fry-caramba-goes-to-space.html

chuck

Doongara put to the test

jed_5224

Smith and Williamson have been kind enough to give us one of their new Doongara cut down boards for testing. The Doongara Balloon Cut-Down Device is a small self-contained thermal line cutter that utilizes redundant burn-wires to sever synthetic line commonly used on high-altitude weather balloon flights. The device has an on-board barometric pressure sensor and timer to determine when to sever the line based on user-programmable settings. This is what we found when we tried it out:

Set Up and programming

 With no experience in Arduino, we found the Arduino IDE software, Doongara’s computer interface, easy to install and use.  The current version of the software was compatible with the Windows 7 netbook that we use to interface a range of HAB gadgets we have. Once inside the IDE software, the current settings of the Doongara are displayed and refreshed onscreen once they are changed. The settings on the burn triggers are easily changed . Once the flight is complete then you can use the same terminal to display the logged data. All in all the interface is very user friendly at beginner level.

Rigging: With an example of the rigging complete on one of the Doongaras we borrowed, rigging up a fresh one was easy. If we were starting from scratch then following the photographs in the manual would be less easy. Thankfully, Smith and Williamson have posted several ‘how to’ videos on their web site.

Test 1: We had the chance to test the timer trigger on the Doongara by pairing up with a science project from Oundle school on 7th December. The school was doing an experiment  into the impact of solar radiation on bacteria growth and we were given the chance to locate the Doongara at the interface of the parachute and upper tether. The test was a success, with the balloon being cut away 130 minutes after balloon launch; as programmed.

test1

We have no way of knowing how much balloon was cut away and the cut away process had no visible impact on descent speeds. The timer function seems useful for cutting down the balloon after burst or triggering detachment of parts of the payload during a planned ascent.

Test 2. Next we wanted to test the pressure activated cut down function. On 12th December we were able to place the Doongara on a HAB flight made by Leicester University students.

Doongara attached to orange payload box

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Doongara attached to orange payload box

The Doongara was set to activate at 50mbar pressure. The Doongara log file indicated that the nichrome wire heated at 50mbar as planned. There is a calibration table in the Doongara manual and this was estimated to be at about 20,000m. We crudely mapped the Doongara data to the radio tracker telemetry and estimate that the 50mbar altitude was 20,400m. This is very close to the manual estimate.

test2

On the whole the pressure trigger is a useful alternative to the timer trigger as long as the calibration of pressure to altitude is as good as the test.

We have more testing to do with the Doongara, so this article is to be continued.

Attention high altitude balloonists – beware the cows!

During 2 high altitude balloon projects this autumn, I’ve been reminded of a little considered hazard to HAB: cows. During work for Phillip Morris and Nationwide I have had payloads land in fields with dairy cows. On both occasions the cows came over to examine the payload. On both occasions the cows were sufficiently interested in the payloads to roll them over, taste them, and urinate on them. The cows lost interest after some time, but not before then payloads were bitten into and licked. In future I will be mindful to factor this into payload design; ensuring that there is nothing to harm and animal that may come into contact with the payloads.