Building a Tricopter

IMG_1883Jason Shows his Completed Tricopter – Phase 1.

As part of our work in both doing things in the space sector or our HAB (High Altitude Balloon) flights, we have always needed video from overhead. Building this tricopter is our way of achieving this. Tricopters are stable platforms for video cameras if built right.

This is Jason’s project. He is 11 years old and in Year 7. He has a vast knowledge on flight and also has a model aeroplane and a few small toy helicopters. This is nothing like that. This is a workhorse for our aerospace projects and to monitor details on the ground when we are preparing for a balloon flight or other project. Eventually we expect that we will be able to park the tricopter in the air and have it video the ground without movement in the sky and without anyone having to control it. We will also have point of view screens for the pilot radioing back the front image from an on-board camera. This will be overlaid with instrumentation to help guide the pilot.

If you would like to build such a craft, we will be having a full build video and information. One thing that surprised me was that the craft was very quiet. We can fly it in our yard without any complaints from neighbours.

Before we show you how to get involved, I will show a couple of videos so that you can judge for yourselves. The fully flying tricopter costs about US$300 and the controller and transmitter costs about US$50. Not a bad price for a workhorse like this. Please note that the basic unit does not have a camera. We have added a GoPro in the unit for testing, but we will be building a proper camera mount in later phases of this project. In fact the camera mount will have head tracking. You can look down, up, even left and right to some degree.

Below is our first test flight in our yard. It flew straight away. That was yesterday.

Today we have made it very stable and very manageable. It has been raining so little chance to refine the machine, but unit is looking great. Below is a bit today’s flights.

We will be taking this tricopter to Croatia to assist with Team Stellar’s balloon flights, taking students experiments into the stratosphere. We will have to have batteries shipped ahead of our arrival as we will not be allowed to transport these batteries with us.

 

Stellar Balloon Mission Gaining Momentum

UpLift-1 Securing the neck and the payloadStellar Balloon – Stratosphere

This is the background detail on the Team Stellar High Altitude Balloon mission that Jason and I are flying to Croatia to assist. The article below is from the Team Stellar website:

http://teamstellar.org/#news-19

Team Stellar is developing a project competition “STELLAR BALLOON – STRATOSPHERE”, open to teams from all interested high schools throughout Croatia.

Team Stellar will launch a science balloon into the stratosphere, about 30 km above the Earth’s surface, to collect data for the purposes of diverse student-designed experiments of the competition participants.

Through this innovative project, high-school students are given the opportunity to work with scientists and engineers from Team Stellar and experience an authentic flight mission from the start to the finish firsthand, while learning practical math, science and engineering skills, among others.

“STELLAR BALLOON – STRATOSPHERE” COMPETITION AIMS TO:

Stellar Balloon flight to the stratosphere in Croatia• stimulate the students’ interest in science and technology

• challenge their imaginative thinking and creativity

• support educational needs of gifted children

• encourage inter-institutional cooperation

• develop teamwork skills

• create a “healthy” environment and interest to improve the educational system and free-time activities

• raise awareness about the natural phenomena and ecological values of the planet Earth

CONDITIONS AND FUNDING:

There is no limit to the number of teams that can apply and every high school in Croatia can participate.

In order to join the competition, the applicants must submit an official proposal containing all the necessary documentation, including a clear description of the experiment, scientific objectives, technical plan, team organization, etc. A wide variety of topics may be pursued, including science and weather observations, remote sensing and image processing, engineering demonstrations, electronics, robotics and communications, etc.

Team Stellar and the committee members will select the first 20-50 candidates to participate in the balloon launch.

The selection will be made based on the originality of the idea and the quality of the student-designed experiments.

The schools are responsible for the funding of their teams’ experiments. Team Stellar will provide the necessary resources for the balloon [payload] design.

RESULTS:

Team Stellar will award the best three experiments.

Team Stellar will uplift the balloon [payload], track it, collect it upon landing, and return the payloads comprising of various experiments, planned by the students, to the participating teams for further analysis of the gathered data.

Each team is obligated to submit a final report, including the experiment description and the results, along with the entire work process within the team. All the participating high-school teams will have access to the complete results of the experiments.

HAB Data From a Recent Flight

DCIM100GOPROHAB Data from 37km Flight

Recently I published a story on a High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flight I help with for my friend Andy from Melbourne. I was asked about the data collected.

The flight data was only stored from transmissions from the Payloads on the balloon. The payload did not carry a recording device for such data. There were two sets of data returned. RTTY on UHF frequencies and HAM radio APRS. APRS relies, like RTTY, on a number of stations picking up the transmissions and sending the resulting data to the network for storage and display (maps) on a server via the Internet.

Simply this post is to display the data collected and help decode the data. I have not cleaned up the results. They are simply in Text and Word (Docx) format.

Andy Flight 20140208 Text File

Sorry about the formatting in the above file. I will try and fix that shortly, but it does not matter. The formatting is only in the legend for the data.

Andy Flight 20140208  Word File (docx)

This from the data file:

This is the breakdown of the raw HAM Radio APRS data strings. I have chosen the first line of APRS data as an example:

Server Date                             2014-02-08

Server Time                             00:43:06 UTC

Call-sign of the balloon:          VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7    (including the APRS data and call sign of the relay station if applicable)

Beacon TX time                       004300h (time of transmission from the payload)

Latitude and Longitude           3532.44S/14456.90E

Course                                    O052/    Note “O” + course in degrees “052”

Speed                                      000/   knots

Altitude                                     A=000314   feet above sea level

Packet number                        143  – starts at “1” with the first packet of data and increases with each packet.

After this point, the data strings are determined by the user / builder of the tracking unit and spaced by commas. This unit is configured with the following:

Number of satellites                   9

GPS lock (3D)                            3

Navigation Mode                        6     Will work over 60,000 feet

Not used                                    0.0,0.0,

Volts (mV) of Battery                  3296   Note, the battery voltage falls over time and with temperature. The voltage increases as the battery warms before landing

The first few APRS packets of data transmitted every 36 seconds by the tracker:

2014-02-08 00:43:06 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004300h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000314,143,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:43:42 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004336h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,144,10,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:44:18 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004412h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,145,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:44:54 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004448h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,146,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:45:30 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004524h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,147,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296  (launch)
etc

 

Balloon flight Payload Recovered

High Altitude Balloon Success. Payload Recovered.Andy PS1 Preparing to fly

Jason and I went to Deniliquin NSW (Australia) to help a good friend, Andy from Melbourne, launch and recover a high altitude balloon / payload. I am part of Team Stellar going for the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP). I am in charge of Communications, Tracking and Data. Jason (11) is their Australian Student Representative. Jason and I have launched and recovered 16 payloads to date and assisted with others and we love High Altitude Balloons (HABs).

I brought my fellow Team Stellar member, Tim Blaxland and his son Rhys (9) along for the experience. Tim is Stellar’s chief of Navigation. The launch was at Deniliquin and we traveled part of the way there on Friday and the rest early on Saturday morning to be there for a 9:30 start. It was an 8 hour drive and we intended to do another 8 hours back later on Saturday after we recovered the payload.

Fellow HAB enthusiast Todd Hampson also traveled from Sydney in his own vehicle. it was great that we all arrived at the designated point in a timely fashion and started the final preparations for launch. Other than Tim and Reece, we all have Amateur Radio licenses and on this flight we would have 2m APRS tracking system. See earlier posts about APRS. In addition there was also RTTY on UHF. The RTTY system s available for non amateur radio hobbyists to use.

Andy had a video camera camera hooked up to a Raspberry Pi unit. Its job was to break up the video into smaller packets of data and send it along with the RTTY GPS information. The pictures are then sent to a server on the internet and the packets reassembled into a complete picture if all of the packets are received. The transmitter is very low powered and many people set up their equipment to help receive and download the images. Below is an image from the flight. The grey strips are missing packets that no one managed to receive successfully.

Note that at this time of the year, the wheat and other crops  have been harvested and the temperatures are in the 40C range at times. With little rain, the fields are a brown cover. The dark areas are either farms with crops still growing or trees around the rivers that flow through the region.

Andy PS1 flight Deniliquin NSW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo is only from a low resolution camera but the payload also carried a GoPro that took photos. The top image is a small section from the flight camera while it was on the ground.

Here are the details that Andy distributed before the flight:

FYI, there will be a HAB launch from Deniliquin NSW this weekend, Sat 8th Feb 2014 at 11am EST.

 Payloads will be:
– SSDV RTTY 300baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 434.650Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW quarter-wave antenna
– APRS 1200b 145.175Mhz 100mW with dipole antenna
– Cutdown RTTY 100baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 432.220Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW downlink, quarter-wave antenna.
RTTY tracking will be on spacenear.us, callsigns PS and PSPI
SSDV images will be uploaded to ssdv.habhub.org, callsign PSPI
APRS tracking will be on aprs.fi, callsign VK3YT-11

The temperature was 42C / 108F for much of the day and UV protection was essential. Recovery was easy, so we did not have an issue with tracking through the forests looking for the payload.

The flight lasted around 2hrs 50mins, reached max altitude of 36,789m / 120,699ft / 22.9 miles  before the balloon burst and landed in a paddock.

The following images were transmitted whilst in flight:

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9 2014-02-08--01-43-42-PSPI-8CB2014-02-08--02-04-48-PSPI-8CC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-02-08--02-44-03-PSPI-8CE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last image was taken close to maximum altitude.

GoPro3 images in the next post. Below, the flight path from left to right. The tropospheric winds (Jet Stream) where pushing the balloon to the eastand the stratospheric winds blew us west . When the balloon burst, the winds eventually took us east again as we passed through the Jetstream.

The Flight PS1 Map The Flight PS1 terrain

 

Live images from Balloon Flight

Balloon FligAndy Flight still images from balloonI-896ht Scheduled Jan 8th 2014

My friend Andy from Melbourne, Australia is launching a balloon tomorrow. It is expected that the balloon will be sending back live images from over 30km altitude. We will be launching from the NSW country town of Deniliquin at 10am EDST. That is 2300Z Jan 7th.

I will be there with Jason assisting as will a few other of the regulars.

Andy Writes:

Hi Robert,

 Here are some info for the launch:

– Payloads will include SSDV, APRS, RTTY and cutdown

– balloon tracking positions will be uploaded to spacenear.us

– SSDV images will be uploaded to ssdv.habhub.org.

– Expected altitude is more than 33km

You can track the Balloon on APRS on http://aprs.fi  – I will send the callsign later as a comment on this page

Jason and i will be leaving about 1 hour after I post this story. You can track us on the APRS service with the callsign of  VK2URB-7 as we travel to Deniliquin. We will probably stop on the way at a motel!

Jason Delivers 18 Lectures in 3 Days

UpLift-16 AlburyScience Week at Albury, Australia 2013

I was delighted when the organisers of the Border Stargaze and Science Fair invited Jason and myself to deliver 18 x 30 minute talks over three days to both public school students and high school students. I threw Jason in the Deep end and told him, it was his job to deliver the talks. We were also asked to fly a small balloon with just a tracking payload. It was designated sequentially in our UpLift series as UpLift-16. We were not planning on recovering the tracker, but with our record of recovery, it seems that we were destined to even get this one returned to us. That was mentioned in an earlier post. See: Australians Applying to CASA for a HAB Flight More on that later.

Here is a bit about the event:

Border Stargaze and Science Fair

The event is open to all ages, the wider community, schools and amateur astronomers. The Border Stargaze has grown over the past 7 years and with it the annual Science Fair. It is event such as these that have inspired individuals, groups, schools, the community and universities in our region.

When: Monday, August 12 2013 till Sunday, September 8 2013. 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Where: Albury, NSW, 2640
What: Festival, Hands-on activity, Talk / Lecture
Theme: Energy and transport, Environment and nature, Health and medical, Space and astronomy, Innovation and technology
We drove down from Sydney – a solid 6 hour drive and of course we had to drive back after the event. They had offered to fly us there, but the amount of gear we needed even for the simplest balloon flight and props for the lectures was too much to fly to Albury. Jason Delivered 18 Lectures in 3 Days.
We left after School on Monday afternoon and got to Albury late Monday ready for the lectures the next morning. It was a great event and after a few talks with me assisting, Jason (11)  found his stride and he was delivering the talks like he had been doing them all his life. The subject was launching and recovering stratospheric balloons. We passed around the tools of the trade we use to get a high altitude balloon into the stratosphere. Balloons, parachutes, even the thin cord used to suspend the payload from the balloon and of course the GPS tracker.
On Thursday morning we got up before dawn on a very cold winters morning and headed out to the designated launch site. Although it was the required 5km from the airport we had to liaise with Albury airport because we were in the landing circuit. We had to release our balloon between landings. We were able to give the airport our tracking web page and they were able to monitor our balloons flight, ensuring adequate safety for those in the air. We successfully launched our small balloon and tracker – no parachute as it would fall slowly with its super-light weight bubble wrap cover. We only used the bubble wrap to insulate from the extreme cold of the jet stream. The winds would take the payload to the east and over inaccessible land. We did not expect to see the tracker again, but we did thanks to the host of Canberra Fuzzy Logic Science Show, Rod Taylor. We still have a 100% recovery record after 16 balloon flights. Rod’s trip to recover the payload will be in another post.

Jason and I have HAM radio licenses and we use a HAM radio compliant tracker for these flights. We are amateur radio operators, (nick named HAMs). Jason got his foundation license at age 9 because he wanted to help with the radio systems that we use to communicate. His license is not high enough to use the APRS (digital) systems, but I have a “full” license that allows me to use the systems. My call-sign is VK2URB and Jason’s is VK2FJAB. You can look up your local club on the Wireless Institute or Australia’s website and select “Radio Clubs” on their menu.

. Contact you local club for more information..
UpLift-16 Albury - before sunrise - it was cold
UpLift-16 Albury – before sunrise – it was cold
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UpLift-16 Albury - Preparations
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparations
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IMG_0076
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparations
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 UpLift-16 Albury - Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
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UpLift-16 Albury - Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
UpLift-16 Albury – Preparation of the HAM Radio APRS Tracker
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Jason in Class with the balloon being tracked across country
Jason in class delivering a lecture with the balloon being tracked across country.
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  UpLift-16 Flight 01
UpLift-16 Flight over the lakes near Albury – Lake Hume on the right.
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UpLift-16 passing overt the old Honeysuckle Creek Dish Site.
 UpLift-16 passing overt the old Honeysuckle Creek Dish Site.
Note the harsh mountain forests and difficult terrain.
Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station brought the world
Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon  – Apollo 11

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UpLift-16 breaks our personal best altitude record.
UpLift-16 breaks our personal best altitude record.
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Jason Brand and Dr Barry Jones - past Science MinisterThe flight made it to well over 30km altitude and set down in a field near the Monaro Highway as the small village of Michelago. It was too easy to recover after avoiding so many impossible places. The classes that watched the tracking in class cheered every time we set a new record. Jason was also given the privilege of representing his school in Sydney and wore his school uniform – Leichhardt Public School (Y6)
Jason with Dr Barry Jones – Past Minister for Science and quiz show contestant extraordinaire. Now in his eighties, he is still a huge supporter of science and was a key note speaker at the Albury National Science Week event where Jason was a guess presenter. Jason was excited when Dr Jones mentioned that he had heard of Jason’s balloon flight that landed south of Canberra in the ACT. He said that it was lucky to land south as all the hot air would have kept it from landing in Canberra (full of politicians). — at Charles Sturt University.
Our return drive to Sydney on Thursday night was uneventful and Jason was back at school the next day. He did have to give the same talk to his Y6 students at his school.

UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald (Archives)

Sydney’s very own space agency: Brand and son

*** Recovered from the Archives ***

This excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald, January 16, 2012. UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney’s Space Agency

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand, with the help of local school students has built and launched a weather balloon a quarter of the way to space.

Sydney space enthusiast Robert Brand and his 9-year-old son Jason recently launched a high-tech weather balloon a quarter of the way to space, retrieving images and flight data to help school children get a better understanding about space.

Mr Brand, of Dulwich Hill, has a history with space – at age 17 he wired up some of the Apollo 11 communications gear in Sydney during his term break from college. He was also stationed at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory in New South Wales at the request of the European Space Agency for spacecraft Giotto’s encounter with Halley’s comet in 1986 and Voyager’s encounter with Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and ’89. Also under his belt is an award from NASA for support of STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program, presented personally by the commander and moon walker John Young.

So when it came time for Mr Brand to launch his own gear towards space he was well prepared, documenting his do-it-yourself journey on his personal blog wotzup.com for other space enthusiasts to watch and track.

Jason and his father Robert celebrate retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space.

Jason and his father Robert celebrate with ginger beer (soda/soft drink) after retrieving their weather balloon, which captured data and images on a mission a quarter of the way to space. Photo: Supplied

“[The balloon launch] was being done to help science education in the Sydney area and anywhere else in fact because we were publishing [on the internet] all of the information and data that we got from the balloon launch,” said Mr Brand, 59.

Launch day was December 28, 2011 from Rankins Springs near Goolgowi in Central NSW. As the balloon got up to about 85,000 feet (25.9 kilometres) above Earth before it burst, Mr Brand and his son tracked it using amateur radio.

“During the flight we were actually relaying data back to the ground and off to a server and that allowed people from all over the world to actually participate with this flight and track it as it was going,” Mr Brand said. “We were getting back a lot of comments on some of the social media [services] such as Facebook just really helping us understand what they were sort of getting out of the whole project. People were sort of yelling loudly if you could put it that way, on the [wotzup] website claiming ‘Hey, they’ve reached this height and that height’, and so there was a lot of really great audience participation in this.”

Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch.

Robert and his son pump the weather balloon with helium before launch. Photo: Supplied

The data being sent back from the balloon – which was later recovered about 50 kilometres away from where it was launched – tracked altitude, position, rate of climb, payload temperature, payload voltage and air pressure, Mr Brand said. The balloon also has a camera on board that captured still images. “We could actually see as [the balloon] hit different wind levels in the atmosphere and eventually we got up into a jet stream and actually found that we had two jet streams,” Mr Brand added.

When the balloon finally popped it came hurtling back towards Earth at about 40 metres per second, according to flight data.

“So this thing was falling a bit like a brick would fall at ground level but it slowed down and eventually the parachute dropped it on the ground at about six metres per second,” Mr Brand said.


The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commerical jets will normally fly at.

Photos from Robert and Jason Brand’s weather balloon flight

The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commercial jets will normally fly at. Photo: Robert and Jason Brand

  • The view from 10,666 metres, the height at which commerical jets will normally fly at.
  • The view from 21,977 metres.
  • The view from 22,222 metres.
  • The view from 22,470 metres.
  • The view from 22,969 metres.
  • The view from 24,305 metres.
  • The view from 26181 metres.
  • The view from 300 metres.
  • The view from 3235 metres
  • The view from 4153 metres.

The balloon (payload) was put together with the help of senior students at Sydney Secondary College at Blackwattle Bay, who Brand sought to get involved with the project and tasked them with doing a whole stack of materials testing. They tested the Styrofoam and how it reacted in zero atmosphere as well as the glue, ensuring it would hold throughout the flight. “The students were putting these materials in a bell jar and sucking the air out of it . . . and checking all of the materials held together – and to protect some of the electronics from the very cold temperatures of about minus 50 Celsius we simply used bubble wrap. … You’d be surprised to know that bubble wrap doesn’t explode when it gets into pretty much zero atmosphere.”

What's in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon's payload.

The photos that came back from maximum altitude look “pretty much like that taken from a space shuttle”, Mr Brand said.

“So very dark skies looking at this very thin blue line around the Earth which is our atmosphere and protective layer. It’s a bit scary when you see that photo and realise how thin the Earth’s atmosphere really is.”

Picture right: What’s in the box? Jason shows the weather balloon’s payload. Photo: Supplied

When it came time to recover the balloon it was tracked to landing on a field near the small town of Weethalle in NSW, Mr Brand said. “There was nothing growing on it. It seemed to have been abandoned.”

After knocking on a farm door to no avail, he and his son entered the field to locate the balloon. After driving “pretty much right on top of it” it was recovered, allowing for the father and son duo to publish the photos it captured that weren’t sent back live but stored on the camera attached to the balloon.

Mr Brand hopes to do more balloon launches and get schools involved.

“I’ll keep doing this each year and trying to get . . . more interest in the school year earlier in the year. I’m very keen to hear from people that might be interested in getting involved.”

End of article: UpLift-1 in the Sydney Morning Herald

13th Australian Space Science Conference Pt1

13th ASSC Uni NSWSpace Education

by Robert Brand

I was fortunate to present at the 13th Australian Space Science Conference at Sydney University a little over a week ago. The only unfortunate thing was a mix-up by yours truly and I ended up there on the wrong day. I was meant to be delivering a talk on “Triple Play in the Space Sector” and poor Alice Gorman, who was hosting the panel, was asking if I had turned up. My biggest apologies ever Alice!

I did however get a chance to present in the education stream and I am including this presentation here. My son Jason came along to help me as it was school holidays. Luckily every talk was about some of the work that he does with me, so it was pretty interesting most of the time.

Below is the PDF version of my PowerPoint presentation. It is interesting to note that we are doing so much that I can easily put together a complete presentation during a few other people’s talks. As you can see I gave my WotzUp website a plug!

You can download it here:  Click to Download

Download (PDF, 3.5MB)

Stellar Launch Rocket

WotzUp Update (Archives)

Stellar Launch RocketWotzUp Update

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

Published March 25th 2013

Team Stellar

It is full steam ahead with a range of activities. The biggest one of all is the risk assessment of the navigation systems and choosing the system that best fits the mission. As for that activity, usually a risk assessment is done of a mission plan, we are changing that to be the other way around – developing a mission plan after we chose the navigation systems. Having said that we would like to land somewhere historic to be able to visit some amazing leftover systems like Apollo sites or other landers.

We do have one favoured site where man walked on the moon, but we are yet to see if the navigation capability supports the mission. NASA have a “No Go” zone around some of these sites and also do not want rocket exhaust too close to their site so it will be a long haul for our little rover if we do visit.

As well as the everyday navigation available to anyone, I am looking at developing my own ideas about a novel system to give precise distance to our landing site and an exact speed. This will enable us to be very efficient with fuel. It will be interesting to see if we can construct a system to achieve this and thus need a very good secondary system. More later…

Some of my radio broadcast have focused on Team Stellar. Stay tuned.

kicksatKickSat

Seems that our KickSat will be launched later this year. Some good news on that front and I have a prototype of what will fly – lots of updates soon.

Better still I have been taking pictures from the ISS with EarthKAM – WOW. Lots of photos of Australia and if you students in high school can get your science teacher across this, you too can take your very own ISS photos. Read more below.

EarthKAM

ISS EarthKam Coopers CreekDid you know that there is a 12 MegaPixel camera on the ISS that students can control and snap photos from space? All you need to do is get your science teacher to sign up to the site and get an allocation of photos for students to take pictures of almost anywhere on Earth. More in a future article, but to get you going, here is a photo taken by my good friend David Galea (a Melbourne Science teacher) of the Exmouth area in Australia.

Note I have not checked whether these photos are north up or North down and sorry, but I don’t have the time.

and below another one of David’s photos of the Kakadu Area

Like around New Orleans in the US, you can see how sediment from this river has extended the river mouth out to sea.
In the News

Linda mottramLinda Mottram Sydney ABC 702 Mornings

It seems that Australia’s new space policy about to be tabled may not suit everyone and especially entrepreneurs like me. I personally want to see more funds for space and to make sure our brilliant minds graduating from university have somewhere in this country to actually work and not be lost to other countries.

Because of that I have engaged with several groups and I am hoping that we can develop a common narrative so that the general public and the media will know our desires and capabilities in the space sector.

I have been on many programs, but two in particular in Australia – One in Melbourne with a panel to discuss the issues and one on ABC radio in Sydney where I discuss the issues and also Team Stellar. Links to those broadcasts shortly.

http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2013/02/21/3695429.htm

On another note I made it into a Croatian TV show all about Team Stellar!! My piece was videoed in Abu Dhabi during the first Team get-together in December last year.

Public Speaking

I start professional Public Speaking gigs soon and it will be all about SPACE! For the moment I will be with Ovations exclusively, but they have been slow to kick off. I will still do free talks for universities and other deserving groups for free, but I am now in an interesting area.

I have a long history supporting space missions starting at the age of 17 when I wired up some of the Apollo 11 video and switching equipment in Sydney Australia back in June 1969. I supported most NASA missions from then to 1986 and that included communications support for NASA’s Apollo, Shuttle, Voyager and other missions. Also ESA’s Giotto Mission to Halleys Comet.

But the real interesting stuff is that I am involved in current space missions. Team Stellar’s lunar mission within the next 2 years and the UK’s Median experiment scheduled to touch down on Mars in 2020 (lots of green lights to get past) plus all the other great space stuff like EarthKAm and KickSat

If you want to get me to speak at your event go over here and you can book me:

http://www.ovations.com.au/speakers/robert-brand.html

I can promise you lots of great photos, the odd video and an amazing tale of being at the heart of so many incredible projects. I am also very animated. Don’t expect me to stay still when I get so excited about the subject. I also have a great tale about changing careers from Telecommunications to Aerospace!
UpLift Videos

I have completed a number of UpLift flights that were commercial. Since our first flight in December 2012, we completed 14 flights and 13 were commercial. We recovered all 14 payloads for 100% success rate. We are also available for commercial payloads with prices starting at $5,000.

Here is one video for a frozen Yoghurt company – we froze the yoghurt in the clouds!!

HAB / Weather Balloons

We sold the 20 x 350g weather balloons that I bought in November last year. They sold out within a month! I have tried to get more balloons, but no luck.

Andrea Guzmán

Just got a Skype message from Andrea Guzmán from Columbia. I encouraged her to not only follow here dreams but to take action. I interviewed her recently and she had done so well. Now she seems to have even done better and so fast. This interview from June 2011.

Andrea Guzmán: Hey Robert. Long time no talk to you. Hope you’re Okay. Let me tell you I’ve done very interesting stuff so lately. I earned an internship in Mexico, I was there a whole month working at the 1meter Telescope.
Robert Brand: Wow – great work!
Andrea Guzmán: Now, im working with the second colombian satellite and well, everything is going just great
Robert Brand: Living the dream !!!
Andrea Guzmán: just wanted to let you know, as you have been also my mentor 🙂
Robert Brand: It is one thing to Dream, it is another to make it happen! One day we will meet!
Andrea Guzmán: I was actually applying for a workshop in satellites in Australia. Let’s wait and I’m sure we will meet someday.
Robert Brand: That will be fun. Lots to see if you are here!
Andrea Guzmán: sooo… thanks a lot to have confidence in me, without even knowing who I was
Robert Brand: It is easy to see who will make and who will not!
Andrea Guzmán: Thanks Robert 🙂

Wow! Things seem to be going great for Andrea and I want to remind everyone that you HAVE TO TAKE ACTION and not just dream. I encouraged Andrea to follow her dreams with action and she would have done this without my help, I am sure! It is, none the less, a great example of success through hard work.

UpLift-2

Weather Balloon Success (Archives)

UpLift-2 Payload Recovered

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

by Robert Brand

As I mentioned previously I was flying a weather balloon on Sept 25th. I cannot tell you too much about the helium filled weather balloon flight other than it was a success, because of a “Non Disclosure Agreement” (NDA). I can tell you that all objectives were met. It carried an amateur radio APRS tracker that sent back GPS details every 20 seconds.

Why the NDA,? A company actually paid me to be a consultant on an earlier launch that day. Although this payload was not fully commercial, they do not want too much said about the flight at all for the moment. I will post a comment for those interested to see the flight information in about 2 weeks.

It flew on schedule and reached the required altitude.

We had hoped to broadcast preparations for the flight, but unfortunately the local Telstra 3G base station was off the air! We had no mobile coverage and thus live TV showing the launch was not possible, nor was it possible to warn people that the tracking call sign had changed. I managed to get it onto my Facebook page briefly, but coverage was so poor that I could not warn anyone else.

Why the change?

We had 2 trackers fail! Luckily there was a third, thanks to fellow HAB enthusiast, Todd Hamson, but by flight time, we had to run with an adjusted call sign.

The payload capsule landed within 1/2 a metre of a farmers dam! Very close indeed.

Max altitude was 68,466 ft or 20868 m. The jetstream was running at 213kph (132mph) max. We had a lot of trouble catching up with the payload.

 

Below: High Cloud being streaked by the Jet Stream in the Troposphere. The yellow fields are conola:

UpLift-2 clouds with wind sheer

Below: Max Height

UpLift-2 Maximum Altitude

Below: They say it is not all over until the “fat lady sings”. We spotted this lake (normally dry) and my son Jason said it looks like a fat lady! Since the balloon had popped and it was descending on parachute, I guess she was singing! She also looks like she has burst a gasket singing the highs.

Below: Todd (L) amd Mark (R) Hamson – 2 fellow High Altitude Balloon enthusiasts and part of our recovery team. The Parachute was 1/2 a metre from the water of the farmers dam. The payload was under an NDA and thus I have had to blur it out. The cameras had been knocked off the capsule on impact. We will be adding a lanyard in future.

UpLift-2

Below: The “Stills” camera snapped this shot of my son Jason (10), VK2FJAB  recovering the cameras that were torn from the payload capsule after a hard landing. That is me in the background, VK2URB

UpLift-2

Below: The flight path:

UpLift-1 Prediction

Our First High Altitude Balloon Flight (Archives)

UpLift-1 PredictionUpLift-1 Mission Announced

Fuzzy Logic Science Show

Jason and Robert Brand on Canberra Radio

In April 2013, Jason and Robert Brand joined with Rod Taylor, the host of Canberra’s science show, Fuzzy Logic, for an hour of chat about space and what we are doing here in Australia. Jason got to talk about his involvement with high altitude balloon flights. He even got to back announce one the musical interludes. He had just turned 11 a few days earlier.

I discussed everything from my early days supporting space missions like Apollo 11 and right through to my work with Team Stellar.

You can listen to the show by clicking here

You can also use our flash player below:


“Canberra 2013-4-14 Interview about Space on the Fuzzy Logic Science program”

From Radio Interview Fuzzy Logic 2XX. Posted by Robert Brand on 4/15/2013 (6 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2


UpLift-1 Raw Data 28th Dec 2011 (Archives)

WotzUp_Black_logo.135x100.jpg*** Retrieved from Archives ***

UpLift-1 Flight Data 2011-12-28

I have already detailed the top level science that is easily seen from the data returned by radio telemetry from the flight. The radio link returns data approximately every 20 seconds and it has a variety of information as described previously. There are a few plots missing from the start and end of the flight as the tracking system only 863worked when the receivers could see the balloon. We were effectively over the radio horizon due to the distance from the receivers – much like a light house cannot light the ocean around it unless it is on a high headland. There are also 3 plots missing during the 2.5 hour flight. I have added these in to smooth out the plots, but the estimations are all in red. I have not tried to extrapolate data from the landing as I was not present to see the course it took.

The Database information is available in metric form and not imperial. You will need to convert that yourself, but that is very easy.

You can download the database here for educational purposed and similarly any photos are available for education purposes, but are copyright – Robert Brand 2011

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the DATABASE

The file contains both flight data and graphs as used in the posts on this website re UpLift-1′s flight. There is also a list of photograph numbers. Many were unusable due to sun, glare, direction of the photo, etc. All photos indicated with a “1′ are available on this website in subsequent posts.

As far as position accuracy is concerned, the data from the telemetry also contain a parameter called HDOP. Firstly let’s look at DOP:

The following information is from http://gpsinformation.net/main/dopnontech.htm

Dilution of Precision

The DOP factor is used in a very simple equation:

SD(position) = DOP * SD(inputs)

This means that the standard deviation of the position is simply the standard deviation of the inputs multiplied times the DOP factor. Of course, this formula isn’t as simple as it looks, since for GPS a multidimensional solution is required, and therefore matrix mathematics is used. But the idea is good.

One interesting thing about DOP is that it does not depend on the anything that cannot be predicted in advance. It only depends on the positions of the GPS satellites relative to the GPS receiver’s location. The satellite positions can be calculated in advance, so you can determine the quality of your GPS position fix in advance, without even using the GPS system.

Satellite geometry

DOP only depends on the position of the satellites: how many satellites you can see, how high they are in the sky, and the bearing towards them. This is often refered to as the geometry. The satellites move, so the geometry varies with time, but it is very predictable.

HDOP = Horizontal Dilution of Position

HDOP is horizontal DOP. It is one component of the total DOP. Others are VHOP for Vertical DOP, PDOP for 3D positions, TDOP for time, and GDOP for geometic DOP. Altogether they =DOP.

UpLift-1  was outdoors and the receiver facing the sky with only a layer of bubble-wrap and Styrofoam that had already been tested for GPS integrity. It offered no apparent impediment to GPS signals. In fact the entire flight was a DOP=1. This is the lowest error estimate and means the horizontal position information was estimated to be very accurate. It has not been included with the figures. The vertical position also appears to be accurate with the repetition of the data and the expected rates of slowing on descent. The smoothness of the curves attests to the quality of the results.

UpLift-1 Flight Data Pt-3 (Archives)

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

UpLift-1 Facts and Figures 28th Dec 2011 Pt-3

Time for some SCIENCE. I have cleaned up all the data from the flight removing duplicated figures and out of place data that sometimes occurs from having lots of receiving stations all trying to add it to the database. The figures are certainly interesting and even fun to see what is going on during the flight.

Wind Speed at Altitude

We all know what the weather is like in our own countries and the news and documentaries will often let you know about other countries. I live in Australia on the SE coast. For my high altitude balloon flight I traveled to the centre of my state (New South Wales – NSW) for a number of reasons. Predominantly it was because of the prevailing winds and the flat open farmland. Easier to ensure a clean landing with few trees and no mountains to have to climb. When I say prevailing winds, I am talking about those at all altitudes that my balloon will be passing through. I mentioned that in previous posts that I use a balloon prediction site and that I get a good idea of wind speeds and thus the direction of the flight. The site even outputs the file as a kml file that can easily be opened by Google Earth.

We can easily use the weather service for the ground winds, but the upper level winds can be a bit fickle and not easily forecast by the prediction service, but the balloon does not stay in those regions too long. The main winds that will govern most of the flight as my latitude (-33 degrees – south of the equator)  are those of the jet stream.

Jet Streams (from Wikipedia):

Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow air currents found in the atmospheres of some planets, including Earth. The main jet streams are located near the tropopause, the transition between the troposphere (where temperature decreases with altitude) and the stratosphere (where temperature increases with altitude).The major jet streams on Earth are westerly winds (flowing west to east). Their paths typically have a meandering shape; jet streams may start, stop, split into two or more parts, combine into one stream, or flow in various directions including the opposite direction of most of the jet. The strongest jet streams are the Polar jets, at around 7–12 km (23,000–39,000 ft) above sea level, and the higher and somewhat weaker Subtropical jets at around 10–16 km (33,000–52,000 ft). The Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere each have both a polar jet and a subtropical jet. The northern hemisphere polar jet flows over the middle to northern latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia and their intervening oceans, while the southern hemisphere polar jet mostly circles Antarctica all year round. Jet streams are caused by a combination of a planet’s rotation on its axis and atmospheric heating (by solar radiation and, on some planets other than Earth, internal heat). Jet streams form near boundaries of adjacent air masses with significant differences in temperature, such as the polar region and the warmer air towards the equator.

So what did we find? The following charts shows the balloon flight right up to burst point and also from burst point to landing. It shows the wind strengths that it encountered in kilometers per hour. For reference 40km per hour = 25 miles per hour. Altitude is in meters and similarly 10,000m = 6.2 miles. The chart showing descent should be similar but the rate of fall is exponential and not linear so there will be some compression and expansion of the horizontal axis. Due to the fall taking 1/3 the time of the climb there will be fewer plot points and also a greater potential for GPS inaccuracy.

Wind Speed vs Altitude - Climb

Wind Spped vs Reverse Altitude - Fall

In the chart below I have labelled the major points of change in the chart. Of interest there were three layers of wind prior to the balloon entering the jet stream or streams. The major point of interest was that there were two jet streams both traveling in the same directions. The winds of the troposphere were approximately half of the strength of the jet streams and in the opposite direction by chance. If the balloon had made it to higher levels in the troposphere, it may have encountered other wind directions, but the winds may have been much lower in strength.

Wind Speed vs Altitude - Climb - modified

Air Pressure and Altitude

The chart below shows plot points and both altitude and air pressure in Pascals. Pascals for those in non metric countries are defined in Wikipedia as:

The pascal (symbol: Pa) is the SI derived unit of pressure, internal pressure, stress, Young’s modulus and tensile strength, named after the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher Blaise Pascal. It is a measure of force per unit area, defined as one newton per square metre. In everyday life, the pascal is perhaps best known from meteorological barometric pressure reports, where it occurs in the form of hectopascals (1 hPa ≡ 100 Pa) or kilopascals (1 kPa ≡ 1000 Pa). In other contexts, the kilopascal is commonly used, for example on bicycle tire labels. One hectopascal corresponds to about 0.1% of atmospheric pressure slightly above sea level; one kilopascal is about 1% of atmospheric pressure. One hectopascal is equivalent to one millibar; one standard atmosphere is exactly equal to 101.325 kPa or 1013.25 hPa or 101325 Pa.

Simply at sea level there will be 100,000 Pascals (left side of graph and the start of the plot from the balloon). Air pressure (Pa)  is plotted in red and altitude (m) in blue. The rate of climb is near linear while air pressure is more exponential. Note that the initial rate of climb on the left corner is high as it appears that we were in a thermal or rising air mass.

Altitude and Air Pressure

That concludes the science breakdown of the flight. there are plenty of more breakdowns of the data that can be carried out, but in this and the previous 2 posts I have explored most of the more relevant information that can be derived from the flight. My next post will provide access to the data from the flight.

UpLift-1 Flight Data Pt-2 (Archives)

*** Retrieved from Archives ***

UpLift-1 Facts and Figures 28th Dec 2011 Pt-2

Time for some SCIENCE. I have cleaned up all the data from the flight removing duplicated figures and out of place data that sometimes occurs from having lots of receiving stations all trying to add it to the database. The figures are certainly interesting and even fun to see what is going on during the flight.

Temperature.

Unfortunately, UpLift-1 did not have an external temperature sensor – just a payload sensor. The payload sensor will be useful to see the stresses that the payload has to handle, but due to the thermal properties of the capsule (polystyrene is an insulator) and the thermal wrap around the electronics (bubble-wrap) the payload temperature will be both reduced and delayed slightly. The capsule did have some small penetrations that made its insulation poor and the transmitter also produced some small amount of heat that would have affected the cooling effects slightly. It was mainly the bubble-wrap that protected the electronics from the -40 to -50 degrees Celsius (  -40 to -68F). So what happens and why the cold temperatures?

The atmosphere has many layers and the first that we live in is the Troposphere. The following (Troposphere and Stratosphere) are from Wikipedia:

Troposphere

The troposphere begins at the surface and extends to between 9 km (30,000 ft) at the poles and 17 km (56,000 ft) at the equator, with some variation due to weather. The troposphere is mostly heated by transfer of energy from the surface, so on average the lowest part of the troposphere is warmest and temperature decreases with altitude. This promotes vertical mixing (hence the origin of its name in the Greek word “τροπή”, trope, meaning turn or overturn). The troposphere contains roughly 80% of the mass of the atmosphere.

The tropopause is the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere.

Stratosphere

The stratosphere extends from the tropopause to about 51 km (32 mi; 170,000 ft). Temperature increases with height due to increased absorption of ultraviolet radiation by the ozone layer, which restricts turbulence and mixing. While the temperature may be −60 °C (−76 °F; 210 K) at the tropopause, the top of the stratosphere is much warmer, and may be near freezing. The stratopause, which is the boundary between the stratosphere and mesosphere, typically is at 50 to 55 km (31 to 34 mi; 160,000 to 180,000 ft). The pressure here is 1/1000 sea level.

Our balloon flight will start at the bottom of the Troposphere 34C (93F) at ground level, pass through the thin Tropopause at a bit less than 17 km (56,000 ft), where temperatures could be as low at -50C (-68F) and into the stratosphere where temperatures could warm to just above or below freezing. The climb will end in the Stratosphere when the balloon expands until it explodes and then falls back to earth and back through the cold. The chart below provides critical data on payload temperatures:

Payload Temperature vs Altitude

Above we see the effect of passing through the very cold temperatures of the Troposphere and then the warming of the Stratosphere – even though it is only warming to about freezing! The descent takes the already cold payload back through freezing conditions in the Troposphere again further cooling the payload to a maximum of -12C (10.4F) before warming to a balmy +3C (+37.4F) by the end of the flight. By the time of recovery 2 hours later the  payload had warmed to outside temperatures.

Thermal delay

The chart below shows an approximation of the outside temperatures encountered during the flight plotted alongside of the payload temperatures:

Payload Temperature and Estimated Outside Temperature

There is a good possibility that the temperature in the Stratosphere was above freezing as the payload was warming up substantially. It is not likely to have been from the electronics as the transmitter was extremely low power with a small duty cycle (10%).

Battery Conditions due to Temperature

Simply put, batteries fail when they get cold. This got a little colder than I would have liked. Extra bubble-wrap would have been helpful or sealing the camera penetration better would have helped. In future, I will do both. The battery volts dropped to very low levels due to the cold, but since they were Lithium batteries they worked okay at -12C (10.4F). Battery volts had fallen from 5.8V at the start of the flight to 5.1 in the extreme cold and returned to 5.8v by the time of recovery of the capsule.

Payload Temperature (C) and Battery Volts

In the graph above the battery voltage had started to recover as the capsule landed on the ground. The size of the batteries meant that they would have remained cold the longest even though the electronics warmed up relatively quickly the thermal mass of the batteries took much longer to warm. The batteries were inside the many layers of bubble-wrap.

More on the flight data in the next post

UpLift-16 Grazing Property near Michelago

Australians Applying to CASA for a HAB Flight

Are you Australian and want to fly a High Altitude Balloon (HAB) in Australia?

CASA  Civil Aviation Safety Authority

Although I have been adding archives back to the site, there is one key post that I was unable to restore – the all important letter to CASA for the launch with details of the flight, so i will ad this one to the site. It was for UpLift-16 launched only 2 months ago for Science Week.

First some background: There is a real problem with the rules for releasing balloons in Australia. Simply put, there is a mistake in the regulations for light balloons. It says a “Light” balloon cannot every be more than 2m (about 6ft)  at any altitude. Of course that is nearly impossible, especially when lifting heavy payloads in the light balloon category. We launch up to 2.5kg payloads so most missions fit this profile.

You will need to contact CASA with a request – simply call and ask for a contact in your state.

Second you need to detail your flight and include predictions for the flight. There are websites that will give predictions, but since these are good for only 24 hours prior to launch, you need to give an estimate based on the average for the days seen. It is important that you give CASA plenty of time to process the application. Why? Because you may be asked to make changes. This is especially for first time flights. I had 3 delays in getting my first application through the system. I suggest that you allow 2 weeks minimum. If your application is okay, it is actually a requirement that CASA process the application within 2 days and issue the NOTAM (notice to Air Men – pilots) if there are no problems with the application.

This is the sort of letter required:

——————————————————————————

Please find below a request for a balloon flight that is a little different from our normal flights. This is from Albury, 5.42km NNW of the airport. If further distance is required, we can arrange that. Jason and I are traveling to Albury to assist in their mentoring for science students over 3 days. Jason (11) and in Year 6 will be giving 18 x 30 minutes science lessons to classes up to Year 8 over a 3 day period and we intend to launch a balloon with tracking as part of the mentoring sessions.

Regards, Robert Brand

1 The name, address and telephone number of the person who will release the balloon: Robert Brand, xx xxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxx NSW 2xxx  Phone: xxxxxxxxxx

2 The date and time the release is to begin 7am 15th August 2013

3 Where it is to be carried out Elizabeth Mitchell Drive and Ettamogah Road Albury NSW  Lat: -36.0267  Long: 146.9876

4 The estimated size and mass of the balloon’s payload: 10cm high x 5cm wide x 5cm deep of bubble wrap. The mass of the payload 70g.

5 If more than 1 balloon is to be released at a time, how many balloons are to be released at the time Only one.

6 The balloon will have a very light weight 4 layer bubble wrap protection for the extremely light weight electronics. Cut down is not included at this point and the balloon expansion is not likely to be more than 2m before it exits normal air traffic altitudes. The balloon will only carry enough helium to lift itself and the payload at a reasonable rate. It is a 350 gram Totex Balloon. Tracking is by HAM radio APRS and can be followed on the Internet during the flight. We will be in good phone coverage during the flight. Tracking will begin before launch.

7 The Balloon will likely not burst until well out to sea over 400km east of the coast and is expected to follow a line of slightly below east (by about 10 degrees and slowly increasing to just above east (10 degrees after it has left the coast. It is expected to be out of controlled air space within 50km of launch (30 minutes).

8 It is part of the Science celebrations in Albury for school students.

Your help in this matter is truly appreciated.
——————————————————————————

UpLift-16 Grazing Property near MichelagoNote, in the above letter there is a comment that the balloon will not be over 2m – this was simply because for this flight, I did not want the additional weight of a radar reflector. A simple radar reflector may be required for most balloon flights in Australia.

Also not that the ability to cut down a heavy payload may also be needed – either by CASA or to ensure that you can recover your payload before it gets into country difficult for recovery. Also note that our balloon had some previous damage from Ultra Violet exposure and burst earlier than expected. It came down south of Canberra and the electronics has been retrieved from a grazing property just east of the NSW village of Michalago.

My good friend, Rod Taylor, host of Canberra’s FuzzyLogic Science Show went down and retrieved the payload. He also interviewed me for the show the following Sunday. I will provide a link in the near future. That is Rod below with the payload.

Rod Taylor with the UpLift-16 balloon and Payload at Michelago NSW

The CASA response is below:

——————————————————————————

Hi, Robert . . .

Airservices Australia require you to telephone the Albury Air Traffic Control Tower (ATC) on the day of launch to provide advance notice of a proposed launch time, and again at that time for approval to launch. The telephone number is (02) xxxx xxxx. No launch is to take place unless contact with ATC is made and approval provided.

The following NOTAMs have been issued in relation to your proposed launch.

ALBURY (YMAY)                                             C114/13

MET BALLOON RELEASE BRG 010 MAG 2.7NM FM VOR

BALLOON WILL TRACK GENERALLY EAST. FOR MORE INFO CTC xxxx xxx xxx

SFC TO UNL

FROM 08 142110 TO 08 150100

 

MELBOURNE FIR (YMMM)                                     C4868/13

MET BALLOON RELEASE BRG 010 MAG 2.7NM FM YMAY VOR

BALLOON WILL TRACK GENERALLY EAST. FOR MORE INFO CTC xxxx xxx xxx

SFC TO UNL

FROM 08 142110 TO 08 150100

Regards, xxxx xxxxxx

UpLift-1 Launch (Archives)

UpLift-1 Takeoff 28th Dec 2011.

UpLift-1 launch weatherBefore we even left home we needed a massive list to make sure that we did not leave anything behind. After all, a 600km / 400 mile trip for nothing would not be a lot of fun. It was a huge list for such a small balloon and payload. It included the balloon, parachute, payload, helium, spare balloon, test equipment, hoses, cameras, tripod, 2-way radios, tracking radios, decoders, computer, USB cables, mobile phones, car chargers and much, much more. But this is not about that story, this is launch day! We traveled to West Wyalong in NSW (Australia) and spent the night in a great little hotel ready for an early morning departure. We still had 100km / 60 miles to drive to the launch site. The first thing was to check the weather. We had already looked at a long distance forecast before setting the date as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia have to issue an alert to pilots for our balloon. CASA have been wonderful UpLift-1 Launch site with Jason Brand age 9and amazingly helpful. A peek out the door reveals a perfect day for a balloon flight. The photo on right shot outside my hotel room reveals a brilliant day with little wind early in the morning. We packed the car and headed to Rankins Springs near Goolgowi. I had fallen in love with this little town in the middle of nowhere. With about 50 people living in town, it was just a speck on the map at the intersecting of some sealed main roads. What struck me was that it was a place that people cared about. The public places were clean and the grass cut, perfect for preparing a balloon flight.

We found a clear grassed area next to an old Railway water tank used for filling steam engines. The contrast was great – the old and the new. This story is going to be a bit instructive so lots and lots of pictures. First I had my son Jason (9) laidUpLift-1 fill - Latex Gloves out the clean plastic sheet for the filling operation. We placed items in the corner in case a breeze kicked up the corners and destroyed the balloon. We also used Latex gloves to stop acids and other oils from transferring from our hands to the balloon and potentially causing an early failure of the balloon when the UV and other chemicals in the air act on it. We could also have used clean cotton gloves. The problem there was two fold. Sweat from our hands filled the gloves and needed to be changed occasionally to prevent and drops from landing on the balloon. The second problem was that every time we wanted to use duct tape, our gloves stuck very well to the tape! That is me on the left taping the hose to the balloon to protect it and getting the gloves stuck to the tape. There were cable ties under the tape and I used the tape to protect the balloon from sharp edges. The cable ties held the balloon to the flexible PVC tube. I also had the other end of the tube over the balloon fill regulator on the helium tank. That was just sealed with duct tape.

It was then time to prepare the payload. I had decided to block off one of the port holes for the video camera as I wanted this balloon to rise quickly. I was also going to overfill the balloon above specifications to ensure that it would explode a bit earlier than normal. All precautions for a first flight. While we were preparing for the flight, Wally, one of the locals came by on his ride-on mower and remembered me calling in at the petrol / gas station a month earlier. He was excited that we had chosen his town for the launch and APRS Tracker being wrapped in bubble wrapwent off to find the kids in town so that they could join in with all the excitement. Wally was the unofficial “mayor” of the town! A lovely character that obviously cared about kids. The photo on the right shows me preparing the GPS transmitter (Amateur Radio APRS). I am wrapping it in bubble wrap as a thermal insulator to protect it from the cold at the outside air temperature at times during the flight will be between -40 (-40F) and -50C (-58F) or possibly even lower. The capsule is also made from Polystyrene so that too will provide some protection from the cold, but with openings for the camera, there will be some cold air entering the capsule. Care was taken to ensure the dipole antenna (the two gold wires) was mounted vertically in the capsule in the correct place and the small GPS receiver was on top so that it would get a strong signal from the GPS satellites orbiting the earth. The balloon was on a 10m (30ft) cord so that the antenna had no chance of puncturing the balloon. The final benefit was that the capsule would never land upside down so the GPS receiver would always be able to receive satellite signals and report its position once on the ground. Lots to consider. The batteries were also the best that we could buy. Failure was not an option and the cold can kill batteries. We also wanted UpLift-1 Tracker competethe transmitter to last for as long as it took to recover the balloon. The unit was switched on and the receiver in my car was used to checked it was operational and all systems working. The unit reported position, altitude, atmospheric pressure, payload temperature and battery voltage. All parameters where checked and normal. APRS normally will allow you to see the track on the Internet, but we were too far away from any receivers to register. That would only happen when the flight was high enough for the distant receivers to “see” the balloon – once it was high enough to overcome the radio shadow caused by the curvature of the earth, allowing “line of sight” radio signals to be heard. Similarly when we landed, we would lose the signal close to the ground. We were going to rely on the receiver in our car to pick up the transmitter signals and read the location. This would be super important in a couple of hour. More on that later. The photo at right show the transmitter with one layer of bubble wrap. Two more were added with the GPS receiver wrapped to the top – above the side that you can see the unit with care taken to get it the right way around.

UpLift-1 CapsuleThe camera batteries were charged the night before and the camera then required special care. We had it in a sealed box with desiccant overnight to ensure that there was as little moisture as possible in the camera. This would otherwise cause condensation during the flight and fog the images. It was inserted quickly into the housing and the almost closed housing was flushed with helium from the filler hose. This ensured that water in the air was removed and the housing was sealed. The camera was turned on and set to commence taking photographs – the counter on the front began incrementing every 30 seconds. Both the camera and the transmitter were mounted in the capsule. The picture shows the camera in place secured with blocks of polystyrene  and the transmitter in place with the GPS receiver at the top. The payload bay was covered and sealed with duct tape and the capsule was ready to fly. All that waited was to fill the balloon.

UpLift-1 Balloon FillWe had brought a large bed sheet to hold over the balloon in case the wind was too strong for a simple fill. The wind was light and we did not need this, but if we had we would have asked volunteers to hold each corner down while we filled the balloon. The balloon fill was simple, but we needed to measure the diameter to get the fill right. If we under filled the balloon then it might never burst or even rise fast enough and drift long distances before popping. Either way I had made a decision to lighten the payload UpLift-1 measuring the diameterby leaving out the video camera and to overfill the balloon slightly. It was, from the manufacturer’s specifications meant to be 1.2m (3.937ft) in diameter.  I was going to fill it to 1.35m (4.43ft). Since the day was sunny, it was easy to accurately measure the diameter. We simply used a tape measure across the centre of the shadow – perpendicular to the rising sun. This meant that any stretch of the shadow from the angle of the sun would not affect the measurement. In the picture at left you can see that the sun is behind me and Jason is in the right place. The local that was helping just needed to move the measure up closer to the camera to get the final measurement (the photo was a few seconds early). We had the right diameter now and were ready to remove the hose and secure the payload. The helium tank valve needs to be shut off at this point in case the hose gets pulled and the tank either topples or adds more helium to the balloon. If the tank falls, then you could damage the regulator.

This next operation was the most difficult part of the procedureUpLift-1 Securing the neck and the payload. We had already wrapped a cable tie in duct tape to lower the chance of tearing the balloon when inserted. it would secure the nylon cord that secures the parachute and payload. First though, we needed to cut away the cable ties securing the balloon to the hose – all without cutting the balloon. The protective duct tape was peeled away and side cutters were used to sever the heads of the cable ties. This kept sharp edges away from the balloon. That is me on the right cutting the cable ties away (sorry no close-ups). Once the hose is removed then the balloon needs to be sealed and secured. I have no photos of this but the fill tube of the balloon is folded once and then a second time (4 folds thick). The cable tie with duct tape that was prepared earlier was inserted in the middle of the bottom folds ready to secure the payload. I then secured the balloon and and its UpLift-1 ready to launch with help from the locals at Rankins Springsgas with three cable ties above that making them tight around the fill tube. It must be tight to keep the gas in during the flight, especially as the outside pressure gets down to a few percent of sea level and the inside pressure remains the same. I cut the loose ends of the cable ties and used duct tape to keep them from touching the balloon. The cable tie that secured the payload was looped and the payload tied to the balloon. Again duct tape was used to secure the knot holding the payload to the balloon. Nothing was left to chance. The knot used was a bowline and few half hitches – sufficient if you have the duct tape to stop them unraveling. We were ready to launch. The local mission control countdown team were assembled (all but one shy kid and a few adults) and provided the all essential countdown – that’s Wally in he green/yellow safety shirt.

UpLift-1 Launch with Jason BrandIt was a great moment. Rankins Springs’ first near space mission. The countdown proceeded with the kids leading the chant. At zero, my son Jason released the balloon and it was away. Note the old steam engine water tank behind Jason – the old and the new. At about 270 metres the distant APRS receivers saw the balloon’s transmissions and we breathed a sigh of relief that we would be able to track and recover the balloon. We saw the updates every 20 seconds on our smart phones with all the details of the flight. We watched as the balloon stayed in clear view right up to 5km. We kept losing site of the tiny white dot, but the odd reflective glint from the shiny black duct tape brought our eyes back to the tiny 1.35m (4.5ft) white dot up in the clear blue skies of central NSW.  It should be noted, that none of these photos have been altered. They are directly from a number of cameras. The colours have not been corrected! The final job was to pack the car and chase the balloon.

It was serendipity that the first photo snapped by the payload camera at around 270m (900ft) was of the town itself. A wonderful memento of the occasion.

Below is the photo from Rankins Springs. You can click on most of the photos above and below to see a large version of the image (requires that you click through an intermediate page). I have uploaded the image of the town in the highest format possible.

UpLift-1 Rankins Springs 60 seconds after launch

60 seconds after release (below). This photo looking east above Rankins Springs:

The Space Show (Archives)

David Livingston*** Retrieved from Archives ***

Robert Brand – Guest on The Space Show

Robert Brand was a guest of Dr David Livingston on the Nov 1st 2011 edition of The Space Show. The program disussed Do-It-Yourself Space and was well received by all that heard it. The WotzUp website and the various missions were discussed at length during the broadcast.

The program can be hear by Click Here to Listen 

The Space Show page for the show archive can be viewed by Clicking Here to View

The page details are as follows:

Guest: Robert Brand.

Topics: Australian space history, Save Our Space Systems, old style radio dish antennas, space education outreach in Australia. You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, http://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright. We welcomed Robert Brand as our guest to discuss space advocacy, space interests, education, and projects in Australia. I suggest you visit and have available the following websites while listening to this program: 1) http://wotzup.com. This site has the tabs and pages for many of the programs discussed by our guest. 2). http://echoesofapollo.com. 3) http://pluscomms.com. Click on the Space-Comms tab. In our first segment, Mr. Brand began by talking about the Global Space Network he was creating by utilizing outdated equipment such as 30 meter dishes that have been abandoned. He described his concept in detail, including costs and the likely customer base. Later in this segment, we took several calls from listeners such as the one by Roger that commented on the outstanding space education outreach projects undertaken by Mr. Brand so we moved along to the topic of kids and space education. Robert talked about 3D lunar photography from Apollo and some of his Middle School outreach projects. Later, Monroe called in to mention Team Prometheus and their satellite project as well as the N-Prize. You can learn more about Team Prometheus at www.teamprometheus.org. Kimberly emailed in requesting Robert share his vision for 21st century space awareness. Robert replied saying “making space everyday for everyday people.” Trent called from Australia to ask Robert what he thought were the greatest space needs for Australia. Robert talked about the need for disaster recovery information, data, facilities, etc. using real time space resources. In the second long segment, Robert directed us to his various websites listed at the start of this summary. We talked about Moon Bounce and Space-Quest, amateur radio , the UpLift project with balloon launches, and more. Robert went through the other programs on www.wotzup.com site including SugarShot, MissionTrax, Kidz-In-Space, and we talked about cubesat swarms and owning your own personal satellite. Later, he told us about his building a satellite tracker in his basement, he talked about holding workshops in his area to promote space education and personally owning a satellite, plus getting kids to take ownership of the technology, research, and data which inspires them with the projects, all of which is part of Do-It-Yourself-Space. Later, we talked about Australian space interests, the Australian space program, and space awareness in Australia. During the last few minutes of our two hour discussion, we talked space history, the Apollo program, the Parkes Radio Telescope, Honeysuckle Creek, the Challenger disaster, Robert’s leaving the industry and then his return to promote space education among kids. You can email Robert Brand at Robert.Brand@pluscomms.com

After you have listened, please post a comment on the following blog for The Space Show:

http://thespaceshow.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/robert-brand-tuesday-11-1-11/

UpLift-1 APRS Tracking (Archives)

APRS – The Best Balloon Tracking Solution

There are many ways to track balloons. There is the Radiosonde, Mobile Phone (3G), HAM radio APRS and many more. Since I both work in Radio Telecommunications and I am a HAM radio operator (VK2URB), then it is an easy choice. The amateur radio APRS system is ideal.

So what are these systems in brief:

Radiosonde: Wikipedia says: “A radiosonde (Sonde is French for probe) is a unit for use in weather balloons that measures various atmospheric parameters and transmits them to a fixed receiver. Radiosondes may operate at a radio frequency of 403 MHz or 1680 MHz and both types may be adjusted slightly higher or lower as required.” This sounds more like a license is required and special Radiosonde equipment is needed.

GPS enabled mobile / cellular smart phones: We all know what these are, but do they work?. Firstly you had better hope that your payload drops in a coverage area. These work by sending an SMS to the phone on the balloon and it then relays its position back to you via another SMS. Mobile telephone coverage in rural areas might not allow you to get a fix on the balloon as it parachutes back to earth. There is also the issue of the GPS receiver. Most do not work at heights over 60,000 feet (20kms) and thus you do not know how high it got or when it is descending. Many people on a tight budget try to use cellular phones and many have great success.

UHF Tracking: Similar to Radiosonde, yet it operates on a low power UHF channel, often used for garage door openers, etc. It transmits the co-ordinates for the GPS location and must be tracked by radios especially set up to receive the transmissions. The data is often ported to the internet for display on a web page. Handheld yagi antennas are directional and look like UHF yagi TV antennas seen on rooftops and are used to track the payload when it is on the ground or in the air.

APRS_TestTrackHAM Radio APRS:This is the choice that I feel best suits the situation and given that I already have a HAM license, then I do not have to ask others to help. What is APRS?: Wikipedia says: Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is an amateur radio-based system for real time tactical digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area. In addition, all such data is ingested into the APRS Internet system (APRS-IS) and distributed globally for ubiquitous and immediate access. Along with messages, alerts, announcements and bulletins, the most visible aspect of APRS is its map display. Anyone may place any object or information on his or her map, and it is distributed to all maps of all users in the local RF network or monitoring the area via the Internet. Any station, radio or object that has an attached GPS is automatically tracked. Other prominent map features are weather stations, alerts and objects and other map-related amateur radio volunteer activities including Search and Rescue and signal direction finding. APRS has been developed since the late 1980s by Bob Bruninga, call sign WB4APR, currently a senior research engineer at the United States Naval Academy. He still maintains the main APRS website. The acronym “APRS” was derived from his callsign.

Note the unusual off-white unit connected with wires in the top picture – it is the special high altitude GPS receiver. It will work up to very high altitudes but sacrifices some accuracy.

The picture above is the APRS Test Track around a street block on a hill near my home. Not precise, but very close. I was shaking the thing as I walked to make it hard for the system. I walked counter / anti clockwise from near the top without shaking and then where it goes a funny in the last quarter of the short walk I was really shaking it wildly. The unit reports on many details. These are:

VK2URB-11 is the balloon call sign

2011-09-10 02:59:41z is the date and time in GMT/Zulu

7 km/h was my walking speed

248 degrees was my bearing

alt 80m was my height above sea level

05.8v was the tracker battery voltage

20C was the temperature – about 70F

The other data is pressure, HHMMSS, and number of GPS satellites, the digipeater used (if used) and the iGate used.

Agilant systems APRS transmitter for balloonsPluses and Minuses

APRS is could always be better and there are not too many iGates (APRS gateways into the Internet) in rural areas, so you must check first. In fact I have chosen to have my balloon drop near Parkes for that very reason. There is an iGate in Parkes and the Digipeater (digital repeater) at nearby Mt Canobolas will also pick up the transmissions from my balloon. I have also chosen an area for good 3Gcellular coverage to assist with tracking and maps. Just to be sure, I will have a digipeater in my car so that if I am not too far away the position will be relayed by my car to the Internet for easy tracking. The unit I have chosen is specifically bought for ballooning. It is from Argent Data in the US. The unit weighs only 160 grams (5.6 ounces). It transmits half a watt (500mW). It is pictured top right and is a pre-release model.

The next issue is finding it when on the ground. Radiosonde and APRS are well suited to this task, but the APRS has a few tricks up it’s sleeve. Fist it might be able to radio its GPS co-ordinates to the Internet tracking system. As I get close with the digipeater, it will also do that job if no other iGates are in range. Secondly it may be picked up directly by my handheld radio, nice, but since it only transmits for 1-2 seconds, it will be hard to get a fix on the unit. Finally I can decode the data with my iPhone and simple read its exact co-ordinates. Nice! That is the directly decoded packets on the right. I did the test inside my house so the GPS coordinates will not be seen.

On the minus side, there is the need for an amateur radio license and access to the expense and homemade equipment that is either out of reach of some people financially or technically.

I also replaced the long general purpose whip antenna that you can see on the top image with a highly tuned light weight dipole. It is made of hollow brass and this also makes it easy to slide some stiff wire inside the antenna for tuning. The wire was then soldered in place to get the tuning very precise. This maximizes the antenna’s radiation ability at the precise frequency of the APRS system. We are using VHF at 145.175MHz. The pictures below show the modification. The work was done by my good friend Bruce who I have worked with on and off for over 40 years. He is also an amateur radio operator (VK2ZZM) and I am very appreciative of his advice and help on the APRS side of this project.

APRS Transmitter dipole antenna

The white Styrofoam under the unit is the lid of the UpLift-1 capsule. The antenna is mounted on a small printed circuit board, The copper wire is used to add strength to the copper on the board in case of mechanical failure that may make the copper peel from the board.

APRS Tracker with dipole antenna - back

The rear side above showing the bolts that pass through to the battery mounts on the tracker unit. A small amount of “locktight” was placed on the nuts to make sure that mechanical vibration did not make them fall off.

Spectrum / Network Analyser tuning the APRS tracker Dipole antenna

This is a state of the art network analyzer. It is measuring Return Loss. Send a signal to the antenna and what is not radiated comes back. The dip means that it is tuned to the frequency and radiating well. It is right on the tracker frequency. The Marker frequency. It is perfectly tuned and radiating the signal – not much is being reflected back into the cable. It is best practice as far as radio is concerned.

I will post a link to the tracker website that I will be using just before the day, but this link will let you see the few test drives that I have done in Sydney: http://aprs.fi/

 

UpLift-1 Science Questions (Archives)

Balloon Testing UpLift-1InnerwestCourier 20111110_p07*** Recovered From Archives ***

Students get Busy with UpLift-1

We are now well engaged with one Primary School and a 3 campus college. We are hoping for more schools to come on board, but so far the results are more than satisfying.

The senior students at Leichhardt Primary School in Sydney are having a naming contest for the capsule. Y3-6 will be involved and the teachers will pick the winning student. Their picture will be placed in the capsule and sent skyward.

The students at Sydney Secondary College’s Blackwattle Bay campus have already begun to build the capsule and have participated in a workshop with me. They have also been doing some science experiments to test the materials that we will be using. More on that below.

The students at Sydney Secondary College’s Leichhardt campus will meet with me shortly for their first workshop.

The workshop outline the mission and allow students to begin with science experiments to find out what will happen during the flight and what might cause problems.

The experiments that have already been conducted at Blackwattle Bay are:

  • Testing bubble wrap at 1/100th the sea level air pressure (our thermal payload blanket)
  • Testing Styrofoam for slow decompression (for a 2 hour ascent) and then a more rapid compression (over a 30 minutes descent).
  • Testing a jig and hot wire cutter for the Styrofoam for the capsule
  • Testing a suitable glue for Styrofoam

These high school students will be making up our mission team and the Leichhardt campus will be holding a special science workshop during the morning so that student swill be able to monitor the progress of the flight and doing the science experiments on the day. There will be discussions on the tracking system and returned data. They will also get video updates on the mission before and during the flight.

I would encourage students to estimate the burst altitude from information available on the web for a Kaymont 350 gram balloon from Totex and the conditions on the day. Lower temperatures will keep the balloon aloft longer.