2 months ago

Send Raspberry Pi to (near) space with high-altitude balloons

HAB (high altitude balloons) can help your Raspberry Pi touch outer space. Celebrate the launch of Apollo 50 by learning all about Raspberry Pi in space

A model astronaut in near space 

On 16 July 1969 the Apollo 11 rocket launched, taking humans to the moon for the first time. If all the space celebrations have inspired you, then consider looking into HAB (high-altitude ballooning) with Raspberry Pi: it’s the closest many of us will get to launching a spaceship.

Unless you have access to a rocket or other kind of spaceship, it’s a bit tricky to put your Raspberry Pi into space. However, with a very special balloon (and some luck with the weather) you can get pretty close. HABs can go over 30 km into the sky – high enough to get amazing photos of the curvature of the Earth.

July is likely to be a very busy month for people in the space community, as the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission is celebrated by everyone! We got in touch with Pi HAB launcher extraordinaire Dave Akerman, who is working on an amazing launch for 16 July to commemorate the launch of Apollo 11 on 16 July 1969. Here’s the special model ship in the payload…


This model of the Apollo 11 payload is being used in an Apollo 50 launch celebration

Dave has successfully launched the Apollo 50 mission. Click here to follow its progress.

HAB Required hardware

A HAB is made up of the balloon itself and the payload. At the very least you’ll need to pack a tracker: there are GPS trackers that also use mobile data, SPOT trackers that use satellites, APRS which uses radio signals, and UKHAS radio trackers.

For photos, you can use a Raspberry Pi Camera Module or USB camera. You’ll also need a parachute so it can land safely once the balloon bursts. A Raspberry Pi as the main computer will be required as well, along with a power supply for the electronics.

Programming the HAB

Software for the Raspberry Pi inside your payload is not too complicated: it’s popular to live-stream the view of your camera, so using any internet connectivity you have in conjunction with the camera you’ve installed can be a good idea. Otherwise, you can have images save onto the Raspberry Pi as it goes.

A lot of trackers will usually have a lot of software already set up for them. Do your research and make sure you’ve got everything tested before attempting a launch. Dave Akerman has a great guide.

Launch preparations

There’s a long list of things to consider prior to launching your balloon. In the UK, you need permission from the Civil Aviation Authority. You’ll need a location and date, and will need to watch the weather and flight path predictions.

For flight predictions, use the CUSF Flight Predictor. Use this to plan a safe flight path, where to launch, and where to try to retrieve the payload. Dave Akerman suggests making sure you’re away from big cities and bodies of water, such as the sea.