Cutdown System – Over the Counter
*** Great news, we will be selling these soon for about $800 complete!
Not cheap, but they will do the job and allow expansion and a lot of control for amazing things. They will be linked and tested to fly.
One of the hardest parts of a balloon flight in Australia and probably anywhere else is building an effective cut-down system that will work on command. Why Australia? Because of an issue with the regulations that requires CASA to classify what would be a light balloon under US regulations as a medium balloon here in Australia. The cutdown is then an essential part of the payload for a medium or heavy balloon in most countries.
The image at right shows an elegant solution to the cutdown issue with a reasonable power level on 900MHz.
This was selected by my son Jason Brand. In most countries there is a 900MHz band plan suitable for the RFDesign modem. The RFD-900 Modem is license free use in Australia, Canada, USA, NZ I expect in many other countries too, but check first. No HAM radio license required. Two units are required – one for the balloon and one for the ground unit. The systems are extremely light weight and are also extremely efficient battery-wise.
If built properly, it will work to at least 80Km and with a good Yagi, it should work to over 100Km. It uses the same technology that we are using in Project ThunderStruck for one of the Telemetry systems. ThunderStruck is our spacecraft undergoing concept testing. Here is the article below:
Direct link to the article: http://projectthunderstruck.org/technology-taking-shape-radio-links/
Finalising ThunderStruck’s Radio Links
Aside from the airframe and servos, one of the hardest planning jobs is designing and building the various radio links.
It is pretty simple. Radio links are essential and not just nice. They will be mission critical to the success of the project, but we will have backups to complete the flight without crashing, etc. The links must be solid and with no breakup and must operate over long distances.
It is very important to realise the differences with the ground based systems and the aircraft systems. With the ground based systems we can have high power, large antennas, antenna tracking, mains/generator power and much more. on the aircraft we have both power and space issues. We also have temperature issues and the equipment must be tested in chambers that have had the air pumped out – I don’t like to use the term “vacuum”, but it is descriptive for most people.
How many links will we need?
At the moment we will need 4 radio links – 2 for the balloon and 2 for the aircraft.
The balloon telemetry system
The balloon camera system
The aircraft telemetry system
The aircraft camera system
We want to keep the video links separate from the telemetry as delays in the telemetry information can cause major issues. If you have ever had a large file download interrupt a Skype call? you will know exactly what I mean. Imagine flying a supersonic aircraft and having dropouts on the links to the flight system! We can’t have that so we separate the systems. We also need to separate the balloon and aircraft systems as we will need to maintain video from the balloon well after the aircraft has separated from the balloon. We will also need to command the balloon to terminate its flight after separation. The most critical link of the 4 is the aircraft telemetry system and we have chosen a 900MHz 1 watt system. It is pretty amazing and handles 56Kb per second both ways at a distance of 80Km with diversity. Diversity is super important. I have posted the specifications on and earlier post, but I will repost them below. It can link directly to our control system and also to a navigation system such as the Pixhawk that we have chosen. The simple set up can be seen in the following diagram. More on this and the other links in a later post.
Note that in the above radio link system, the yagi antennas may have auto-tracking and will probably be vertical and horizontal diversity. We are toying with the idea of circular polarisation. More on patch antennas later.
So Back to Balloons
There is no big changes here, Instead of patch antennas we will be using a straight whip with an earth plane. Simply it is a dangling UHF antenna with 4 earth radials at the base of the antenna. It maybe a 1/4 wave to ensure a better radiation pattern towards the ground, but the earth plane will give it gain.
The antenna on my car should be adequate for most of the time that we need a cutdown, but for long distances, we may need a good 900MHz yagi antenna. These can be bought online. So can all of the materials. The wiring is the same as the diagram above, but maybe you don’t need the diversity antennas. None the less they are there if needed.
There are other options from the output of the Pixhawk. It is possible to operate other cutdown systems, servos and even motors. The PixHawk is a navigation system that will allow for automation. ie it can operate the cutdown on a range limit or a height limit. It can do most things that the user can imagine. It can even steer a (steerable) parachute to land in an area that is desirable – away from trees, lakes, etc. With the addition of live video, we can easily manually steer the parachute.
From the RFDesign Website:
RFDesign is an electronics design and manufacturing company specialising in Embedded systems, Radios, Antennas and high frequency electronics. We are located in Brisbane, Australia with our office located in Acacia Ridge, QLD.
Long range >40km depending on antennas and GCS setup
2 x RP-SMA RF connectors, diversity switched.
1 Watt (+30dBm) transmit power.
Transmit low pass filter.
> 20dB Low noise amplifier.
RX SAW filter.
Passive front end band pass filter.
Open source firmware SiK (V1.x) / tools, field upgradeable, easy to configure.
Multipoint software capability with MP SiK (V2.x)
Small, light weight.
Compatible with 3DR / Hope-RF radio modules.
License free use in Australia, Canada, USA, NZ
RF : 2 x RP-SMA connectors
Serial: Logic level TTL (+3.3v nominal, +5v tolerant)
Power: +5v, ~800mA max peak (at maximum transmit power)
GPIO: 6 General purpose IO (Digital, ADC, PWM capable).
Frequency Range: 902 – 928 MHz (USA) / 915 – 928 MHz (Australia)
Output Power: 1W (+30dBm), controllable in 1dB steps ( +/- 1dB @=20dBm typical )
Air Data transfer rates: 4, 8, 16, 19, 24, 32, 48, 64, 96, 128, 192 and 250 kbit/sec ( User selectable, 64k default )
UART data transfer rates: 2400, 4800, 9600, 19200, 38400, 57600, 115200 baud ( User selectable, 57600 default )
Output Power: 1W (+30dBm)
Receive Sensitivity: >121 dBm at low data rates, high data rates (TBA)
Size: 30 mm (wide) x 57 mm (long) x 12.8 mm (thick) – Including RF Shield, Heatsink and connector extremeties
Mounting: 3 x M2.5 screws, 3 x header pin solder points
Power Supply: +5 V nominal, (+3.5 V min, +5.5 V max), ~800 mA peak at maximum power
Temp. Range: -40 to +85 deg C
Software / GCS Support:
The software solution is an open source development called “SiK” originally by Mike Smith and improved upon by Andrew Tridgell and RFDesign. A boot loader and interface is available for further development and field upgrade of the modem firmware via the serial port. Most parameters are configurable via AT commands, Eg. baud rate (air/uart), frequency band, power levels, etc., please see the 3DR wiki for commands below for now. V2.x firmware has been updated to support multipoint networking on the RFD900. V1.x (non multipoint) is suitable for point to point links – the sourcecode is located at: https://github.com/RFDesign/SiK The user manual / datasheet can be found here : RFD900 Datasheet A software manual for SiK firmware is here : RFD900 Software manual RFD900 configuration tool: http://rfdesign.com.au/downloads/ RFD900 binary firmware repository: http://rfdesign.com.au/firmware/ 3DR/RFD900 compatible configuration tool : http://vps.oborne.me/3drradioconfig.zip Wiki for the 3DR radios (RFD900 has same commands): http://code.google.com/p/ardupilot-mega/wiki/3DRadio Integrated support for configuring the RFD900 radios is supported by APM Planner, with other GCS solutions in development. The default settings are at 57600 baud, N, 8, 1, and 64k air data rate. Software features include:
Frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS)
Transparent serial link
Point to Point, or Multipoint networking
Configuration by simple AT commands for local radio, RT commands for remote radio
User configurable serial data rates and air datarates
Error correction routines, Mavlink protocol framing (user selectable)
Mavlink radio status reporting (Local RSSI, Remote RSSI, Local Noise, Remote Noise)
Automatic antenna diversity switching on a packet basis in realtime
Automatic duty cycle throttling based on radio temperature to avoid overheating
website, http://rfdesign.com.au for more information.