Guest post: more high altitude ballooning from Dave Akerman

Liz: Tomorrow, Eben and I are getting up at sparrowfart to go and stand in a field with Dave Akerman, where we will “help” him launch a balloon equipped with a Pi. This time the balloon, rather than going for an altitude record, is intended to travel a long distance laterally; we’re hoping it’ll make it to Poland in the 24 hours we have before its batteries run out. Here’s a guest post from Dave explaining what it’s all about, and showing you how you can track the balloon yourself, from home. See you tomorrow, Dave!

All being well I will launch the 5th “Pi In The Sky” this Saturday morning from Cambridgeshire. The intention is to get the balloon to float all day rather than burst, and the projected flight path takes it over Holland, Germany and into Poland. The batteries will last for 24 hours by which time it will be out of range of our radio receiver network anyway.

The payload will carry a model A Raspberry Pi, plus an Arduino Mini Pro, a UBlox GPS receiver, and 2 Radiometrix NTX2 transmitters. The latter will be on nearby frequencies primarily to avoid conflict with some other flights this weekend, but also to allow those with SDR (Software Defined Radio) receivers to listen to and decode the signals from both transmitters.

If you have an SDR and want to do this, check my article. If you’ve not tracked amateur high altitude balloons before, check the UKHAS tracking guide.

This will be one of 3 flights from the same location on Saturday:

Launch Announcement

On Saturday the 13th of April there will be three launches from the Cambridge area under meteorological balloons. Two of these (PIE5 and AVA) are configured to ascend to a certain altitude (>100,000 feet) and then float rather than burst. The expected path takes the balloons out of UK air space and continue onwards over Europe. The final flight (XABEN) will be a slow ascent and then a burst to land in Holland.

All balloons will be transmitting RTTY telemetry on the 70cms band.

The first balloon is flying a Raspberry Pi which will be transmitting live SSDV images back to the ground by a pair of transmitters to double the bandwidth. The data is RTTY 300 baud 8N2. The frequencies will be at 434.070 and 434.074Mhz. The balloon call sign is $$PIE.

The second balloon is flying a 70cms tracker on 434.450Mhz 50 baud 7N2, additionally once it enters air space where the airborne use of APRS is permitted a second APRS transmitter will enable with the call sign M0UPU-11.

The third balloon is callsign uXABEN, 434.350MHz, 470Hz shift, 7N1.

Live images from PIE will be displayed here

All balloons can be followed here

Anyone with suitable receiving equipment is welcome to assist tracking. We always welcome people joining the distributed network of listeners, instructions on how to receive these balloons is here.

Live chat and up to date frequencies and assistance will be on the #highaltitude chat room on irc.freenode.net. You can connect here

Live video from the launch site will be streamed here.

82 comments

Avatar

sparrowfart for you even earlier for me!

Avatar

I would have loved to have been there to film, but I’m hoping to catch the Poland balloon when it lands. :)

Avatar

We think now it may turn south over Germany. Depends on the float altitude. But if it comes your way you’re welcome to try!

Avatar

Is this an elaborate ruse to export Model As out of the UK one by one? :)

Will this be flying the new Raspberry Pi camera? Or are you mollycoddling that one and chucking up something more disposable…

Avatar

Yes, it will carry a Pi camera. That’s why I was given one!

Well actually I was given two, so I have a spare for the next flight :)

Avatar

You probably best warn people thinking of nicking it, that it is sending images all the time (equipped with CCTV to protect the camera board).

Avatar

Cool, I live in holland so it will be great to watch its progress.

Avatar

Good point, I can imagine thousands of heavy-duty Raspi enthusiasts flocking towards Southern Germany in the hope of getting hold of a slightly-used early production model…

(Well I can imagine that, anyway…)

Avatar

What time do you hope to launch?

Avatar

Will my daughter and I be able to see it from my house in Great Cambourne or will it already be too high by the time it crosses the A428?

Avatar

Look North(ish) at launch time – might be possible to see if going up. Although launch time isn’t fixed…

Avatar

It depends a lot on cloud cover. I’ve had launches into a clear blue sky (remember those?) where we could watch the balloon for ages. Other times (most times) it’s through the cloud within minutes.

These flights will go up very slowly compared to normal (2 metres or less per second vs 5 or 6) so there should be more time before they disappear.

Avatar

Launch will be around 1030AM UK time however this is very ISH : http://ukhas.org.uk/general:glossary:ish

Avatar

Nice !!!

Avatar

Fat chance really. Have loads of fun you guys and hope the weather is kind to you. We’ve had 50cm of snow since we got here, but it’s nearly all gone now :)

Someone please take and post some pictures.

Avatar

Good luck with this! If it lands in my garden (Milton Keynes) can I keep the equipment? :-)

Avatar

is that “help” you are giving dave the same quality as we saw mooncake “helping” you dispatch merchandise ?

Avatar

I have promised to hold the balloon if necessary.

Avatar

That’s good, because we only have the one filler hose so someone will need to hold the first balloon whilst we fill the second :-)

(going for a simultaneous launch so the Pi can photograph the inferior AVR-based flight ;-)

Avatar

put plenty of heavy snacks in your pockets so you don’t end up floating off. rock cakes would probably work

Avatar

I am curious what chaos this will cause. Thousands of Pi enthusiast following a balloon by radio internet then car. Clogging the roads storming in some remote farmer’s field to fight over the Pi and it’s camera.

Avatar

Well I’m not chasing it so I don’t care :-)

Avatar

Is sparrowfart an actual word? I take it that it means very early. Exactly what time might it be?

Avatar

See also Zero Dark Early (aka Zero Dark Thirty) ;)

Avatar

I’ve launched balloons with up to 5kg of neck lift which, I can tell you, is enough in a blizzard to nearly pull me over. And I’m not exactly a size zero …

This time the balloon will have less than 500g of lift. I don’t think there’s any danger of any of us floating away!

Avatar

How’d the launch go

Avatar

uXABEN appears stuck.

Avatar

Ah – it’s away now!

Avatar

The chase car appears to be in Abu Dhabi – a bit of a long drive me thinks

Avatar

@Daniel Radcliffe (Dan3008) the launch went like this…

http://youtu.be/Yef_EToqMXQ

(recorded from the live stream and edited as there is a lot of waiting around involved)

Avatar

I know Oh Dark Thirty as we called it in the United States Marines. We just don’t use sparrows to tell time over here! 8>) And certainly not gaseous emissions from sparrows.

Avatar

Really fun to see the live SSDV frames and the position tracker, great to see everything working! Looks like the PIE5 camera auto-exposure is most often trying to adjust for “dark sky / outer space”, so when a thin sliver of earth/clouds does appear in the bottom of the frame, it is blown out to full white. Seems like for this specific application it would be useful to auto-expose for a peak white level anywhere, instead of a full-frame average exposure as I assume is being done.

Avatar

I think it’s starting to level off

Avatar

Good, it’s supposed to :-)

I’ve seen images like this before, where there’s just too much contrast between sky and land. For next time I’ll probably set the exposure manually in the code.

Avatar

Are the other balloon’s carrying any particular payload to measure anything or do anything or are they all doing this in the true adventurer spirit “Because it’s there”?

Avatar

Not us. There is no chase car.uXABEN was an altitude record attempt. AVA is a floater with APRS.

Avatar

Been following all day, great work.

Lets hope it doesnt make it to North Korea

Avatar

Not us. There is no chase car.

Avatar

It even passed the 40km altitude mark over the Netherlands…nice :-)

Avatar

Yes definitely agree.

Avatar

You seem to be heading for Leichtenstein. If you want to get to Poland I think your pilot should put left hand down a bit?

Avatar

Poland was the prediction earlier this week; from yesterday we expected this result.

Avatar

Neato torpedo! I was just selected for a NASA educational outreach program where I’ll be helping teach students about sensor and computing payloads. We’ll be gathering in July down at NASA Dryden in Palmdale, CA, where we’ll be doing final checkout and then launching … rockets! They’ve been using microcontrollers, including Arduinos, and they’re evaluating Pi boards for integration into their next series of launches with which I will be assisting.

Avatar

Please tell me the photos are being saved onboard the pi too?

They look amazing, but to see the orrigionals, without missing packets would be even better :L

Avatar

It is not clear if the payload will ever be recovered… we know the GPS position now, but it may pass out of range of active ground receiver stations, and/or the batteries may die before it lands. I don’t know the current flight prediction path, but it might also drop into the Mediterranean…

Avatar

There are only batteries sufficient for 24 hours, and it’s likely they’ll die before it comes down. Dave has written his email address on it and asked whoever finds it to get in touch, though!

Avatar

I was curious what the temperature is inside the payload, but I notice the spacenear.us tracker page does not report temperature for PIE. Since the RPi CPU has a built-in temperature sensor, I would have thought that information would be easy to include?

Avatar

Yes, they are all saved, together with many more images that it doesn’t have the bandwidth to send.

Avatar

Yes I’ve used the CPU temperature sensor in the past, when I also measured the external temperature. I know what the profiles typically are so I didn’t bother this time.

Avatar

Too bad the Pi doesn’t have a sleep mode. It would be nice if, after 24 hours it went into a cycle of shutting down for 59 minutes, then waking up at 37 minutes of each hour to put out a ‘I am at this location’ message and then sleeping again.

With a small duty cycle, the batteries could last a long time.

Avatar

Ah, ok. I didn’t know if there was much variability in temperature due to thickness and “draftiness” / air-tightness of the packaging (not to mention time of day). It looks like you construct the payload structure a bit differently each time?

Avatar

Very Interesting. Been watching it all evening to see where it gets to.
Do you know what happened to the 3rd one yet ?

Amazed how high they get to.

Avatar

I like PIE5 image 114 :)

Avatar

It seems that the PIE was lost about 04.30 uk time. The batteries might of got too cold although they hope that it might restart when it warms up. It’s a long shot though.

Avatar

It seems that the PIE was lost at about 04.30 uk time. The batteries might of got too cold although they hope that it might restart when it gets warmer. It’s a long shot though.

Avatar

Fingers crossed that it comes down somewhere inhabited and finds it’s way back to Dave.

Dave,
Good job on the ascent and leveling off, seemed to have worked out great. Lovely altitude profile.

Avatar

I swear that Dave has a natural *knack* for this stuff. He’s just too consistently good!

Avatar

121 is my favorite (Yes, I am THAT old)

Avatar

141 FTW :)

Avatar

How is the descent triggered, automatically, balloon bursting (at a certain altitude) or remote control ?

Well done, excellent to monitor :)

Gordon77

Avatar

The balloon bursts at altitude, or comes down if it gets a leak. There’s a parachute above the payload (and a great flappy load of latex above that), so the landing shouldn’t be too hard!

Avatar

The AVA has landed.

High on a hill sat a lonley payload
Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo

Avatar

Not too far from a forest road, but how deep in the forest? Might need a long pole to get it down.

Campi

Avatar

. . . or a long austrian?

Avatar
Avatar

No Its just dragging along the ground. Google Earth shows elevation of 1,57X in that area.

Avatar

What were the last known positions of the two which featured in the live launch? The live tracker now seems to have ended.

How was the video feed from the launch field conveyed from there onto the internet? Was amateur (as in radio ham) fast-scan TV involved, or was it a 3G / 4G link?

Avatar

Still tracking as far as can see

Gordon77

Avatar

Thanks. Interesting the tracker showed it was a parachute for a while then back to a balloon.

Avatar

If it is dragging along the ground, then it will be in the cleared area at the top of that hill/mountain on the boundary between Styria and Lower Austria. It is a favourite ski and king zone. Most likely still be covered with snow.

Avatar

Sorry, meant to say ski and HIKING area!!!

Avatar

The apparent ground movement is just GPS noise.

A local(ish) balloonist has gone out to recover AVA. It’s quite hilly there so it’ll take a while, but hopefully it’ll be recovered soon.

Avatar

Any news on the other 2?

Avatar

AVA has been recovered!

Here’s a photo from immediately afterwards … http://i.imgur.com/uMG0nov.png

Dave :-)

Avatar

PIE5 image 86… RaspberryPi Sunset.

Luv Pi In The Sky :)

Avatar

Great work Dave. I’ve been totally hooked on this for the last day and a half. I’m going to get a Radio Receiver and Antenna and put it on my roof. The roof of my house is only 12m above sea level as I live in the netherlands but there’s no buildings in my way.

Avatar

PIE is lost in action after the batteries gave up. I was hoping for 24 hours but the cold reduces efficiency and voltage so it was a bit less. It was last seen heading west from Switzerland into France, and most likely burst and landed there.

AVA landed on a hill in Austria and was recovered today.

uXABEN had a GPS fault and was lost.

The live video stream from the launch field was a webcam and PC with a 3G connection. I ran the same system in the payload itself during my previous flight, using a Pi and webcam, and got video till 300m up at launch and also after it landed, which was awesome.

Avatar

The hills are alive with the smell of Raspberries :)

Avatar

Two photos for you, both ffrom the AVA recovery:

AVA as it landed – http://img12.imageshack.us/img12/203/img6590f.jpg

The rescue team – http://img22.imageshack.us/img22/6136/img6616p.jpg

One of the most amazing things about this hobby is the amount of help from other balloonists. Normally this is just helping with the tracking or perhaps calling you on the phone with directions when you’re trying to find a payload. This time it was a bit different – these guys drove into Austria from Slovakia and then hiked up a steep snowy hill to recover the payload. Incredible!

Dave

Avatar

Brilliant! That’s looks like quite a hike as well….

Avatar

PIE5 image 86:

“My God… It’s full of stars!”

Avatar

My blog post on the day’s shenanigans – http://www.daveakerman.com/?p=1063

Dave

Leave a Comment

Comments are closed