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.

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VR comes to Near Space Photography

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Near Space Photography are now offering 360 degree photography and support on their high altitude balloon flights. We have invested in the Samsung ecosystem of 360 degree camera technology. We hope to test fly it early in 2017 on a high altitude balloon flight.

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Motorist throws HAB payload in the hedge

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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

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Doongara put to the test

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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.

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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.

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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.

Near Space Photography sponsors Royal Meteorological Society competition

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Near Space Photography is sponsoring a competition to promote the investigation of the atmosphere. The Royal Meteorological Society has invited 11-16 students to design and build a science experiment to be carried through the atmosphere by a weather balloon.  Themes for the competition could include Earth observation, the atmosphere, Natural forces, cold temperatures, pressure or UV. Students could use a Raspberry Pi, or similar, to design and build their own tracker and/ or sensor package.
All entries must be submitted to the Head of Education at the Royal Meteorological Society by 17th February 2017.
The entry judged best by a panel of judges will be invited to build and launch their experiment.

High Altitude Ballooning with thermochromatic paints

 

This summer we had the pleasure to work with Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts  (FCA) in Northamptonshire. Amongst other things, FCA work with young students from the Northampton and Corby area to develop study skills through art, within the setting of Fermynwoods country park. In July 2016 FCA worked with two sets of students to explore space through art.

WWW.nearspacephotography.co.uk helped the students launch high altitude balloons with their work on board. The students sculptures were coloured with thermochromatic paints sourced from SFXC.co.uk. Pigments were chosen to change colour between the ambient ground level temperature of around 15 degrees Celsius and minus 10 Degrees Celsius. In both flights colour change was observed within the first 15 minutes of flight as the payload passed through layers of cloud. The use of the pigments added a spectacular effect to the students work and engaged them in the properties of the paint.

Video of the colour change in thermochromatic paint during FCAP’s second flight.