Monday, 21 September 2015

Up to Orbit (Nearly)

So this weekend I successful launched a high altitude balloon and recovered the payload. This makes 2 successful launches. This is all thanks to the Raspberry Pi foundation and in no small way James Robinson and David Akerman. 

Rewinding a bit this is all because at the end of August I attended a course run by the Raspberry Pi Foundation called Skycademy, which taught me and 23 others how to plan, build, launch and recover a payload sent up to heights of 23k or more. That's 4 times the height of a plane. We where in split in 4 teams and we each had to launch a payload. Team Nimbus (me and 5 others) successfully launched and recovered our payload. But we wanted more!

So on the 2nd day of Pycon UK, more on that event in other post, Team Nimbus' launched our second balloon under the watchful eye of James. Our aim was practice the skills we learned at the end of August, send up a few trinkets and capture some more amazing images.

Our day started at Pycon, doing last minute check and collecting all the important equipment. Then just at the start of the Kids day after collecting a Frog and 2 Lego mini figs from children at the event, we where off to the National Space Centre in Leicester. We couldn't launch at Pycon as we didn't have CAA approval we where too close to an airport and the wind was blowing the wrong way.

So 45 minutes later we where at the Space Centre in the car part setting up for the launch. We had a window between 10-12 for the launch.

After careful setup, testing of the payloads and many phone calls to the local air traffic control, the payload was sealed put and we started to inflate the balloon. There was a small crowd that gathered to cheer on the launch. At just after 12 we where ready to release. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go!

Ready for launch

Now we had to pack up and chase! Magmount aerial on the car, radio and LoRa connected and we headed to where the flight prediction had predicted the landing.

On the chase we kept up to date from the website, which was tracking the payload thought he data being received by other recipe rods round the country.

At about 22km our balloon burst and it started to drop, we where still on route at this point. It was moving faster than our cars.

Eventually about 200m above the ground the stationary trackers lost contact and it was up to the chase cars to get close to the last location and use our tracking gear to get the final GPS coordinates. After a wild goose chase from me and some incorrectly read coordinates we compared notes with the 2nd chase team and confirmed the coordinates. Punched that into google maps and started to walk across fields. After avoiding some sheep and a horse, we came across the payload on tenement of a field having narrowly missed some trees. We had done it! It had landed in.... Miles away from Leicester.

Found it!

Then we had to drive all the way back to Pycon.

Here are some images from the payload and all the passengers safe and sound, who will be returned to their owners via the post this time.

We are back! Yay!

I have to say thanks to James Robinson as without his help we wouldn't of been able to launch at all. He did all the phone calls and the important CAA paperwork. We has two members of other teams helping on the day as well, Richard you where great assisting back at base and helping on Twitter with updated. Alison you where great on the launch and the chase, without you Im sure we would be still on my wild goose chase, you where ace with a radio. Finally the thanks to rest of team Nimbus, Nick and Kirk who built, tested, chased and recovered. Also thanks to everyone one on Twitter who followed along.

So next we need to look at doing more launches involving the children in our schools, clubs and events. I'm looking forward to it. Now the challenge is going to be height!

The full flight.Up to Orbit (Nearly)

1 comment:

Stewart said...

It is cool and educational too.
It was my children that gave the lego people that were used in the balloon flight. By doing so it really captured my children's imagination and they have learned so much as a result.

We were already aware about the ballooning since seeing the video of an earlier launch and having listened to David Akerman talk at the Malvern Raspberry Jam, but sending the lego people up in the payload really connected us to the flight. We followed all the tweets on the day.

Afterwards we looked at the maps and did some research about how high it went, learned about the stratosphere and why the clouds are at a certain height and lots of other science stuff that we didn't know before (even though I'm a STEM ambassador).

We went to watch the second Pycon balloon launch on the Sunday which was great. Although James and Marc were both busy making sure they could launch during their approved window they both explained some of the things they were doing to my children and Marc gave a good explanation of why the weight of the payload was so important (as he topped up the payload with his loose change to add some extra weight).

In summary we really enjoyed learning about the flight and watching the launch. They (and I) learned so much from it that they wouldn't have otherwise. A great way to teach about the earths atmosphere.