Launching a balloon and not landing in the ocean

In just a few short hours, the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association will launch their 4th high altitude balloon project into the rarefied air of the stratosphere and with any luck bring back pictures of the view high above Connecticut  Long Island, Rhode Island, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Inside their surprisingly strong unibody chassis is two GoPro cameras and a triple-redundant telemetry system consisting of a custom radio system capable of transmitting over 40 miles, a cell-phone based comms system and a SPOT satellite tracker.

There is one very large problem the Yale Aerospace team has had to cope with; Because they’re launching their Skyview balloon from the eastern seaboard of the US, it’s very likely their payload could end up taking a drink in the Atlantic. To solve this problem, the team developed a novel cut-down solution: a piece of nichrome heater wire is wrapped around the line tying the payload to the balloon. If the hardware receives a signal from the ground, or has a software problem, or runs out of battery power, the nichrome circuit will release the balloon from its launch vehicle to hopefully return it to solid ground.

The Yale Aerospace team has also written a custom iOS app allowing the chase cars to track the balloon in real time – a great feature if you’re trying to communicate with several cars going down the highway. You can check out the live data from the balloon on the Yale Aerospace tracking site or just head over to their twitter to read the latest news about the flight.

Checking out Mount Olympus from 38 km

The image above shows Mount Olympus in the center, with a tiny bit of the western suburbs of Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, in the lower right hand corner. These two points are 70 kilometers apart, but we’re not seeing a picture taken from the International Space Station. This is a picture from the SlaRos project, a high altitude balloon launched last summer that ascended to 38 kilometers above Greece.

On SlaRos’ project page (Facebook warning), the team covers the hardware that went in to lofting a camera high above the cruising altitude of commercial airplanes. A GPS module tracked the balloon in real time and relayed this to a GSM module to the mobile command and tracking team.

There are a ton of high altitude pictures of Greece over on the project’s Facebook page as well as a time lapse video of the Grecian wilderness after the SlaRos payload landed. The payload spent a full night in a field before it was recovered, but we’re very glad the team was able to recover these awesome pictures.

Can a Kickstarter project actually build a space elevator?

It’s the stuff that Science Fiction is made of: an elevator that climbs its way into space rather than needing a rocket to get there. Can it be done? No. But this Kickstarter project aims to fund research that will eventually make a space elevator possible. They’re already way over their goal, and plan to use the extra funds to extend the reach of the experiments.

A complete success would be a tether that reaches into space, held taught by a weight which is pulled away from earth by centrifugal force. That’s not really on the radar yet (last we heard humans weren’t capable of producing a substance strong enough to keep the tether from snapping). What is in the works is a weather balloon supporting a ribbon which a robot can climb. The team isn’t new to this, having built and tested several models at University and then in a start-up company that closed its doors a few years ago. Now they’re hoping to get a 3-5 kilometer ribbon in the air and to build a new robot to climb it.

For now we’ll have to be satisfied with the 1000 ft. climb video after the break. But we hope to see an Earth-Moon freight system like the one shown in the diagram above before the end of our lifetimes.

Continue reading “Can a Kickstarter project actually build a space elevator?”

Task scheduler for Arduino

For their recent high altitude balloon project LVL1 member [Brad] programmed a pretty complicated brain based on an Arduino. It was responsible for collecting data from all of the sensors, and reporting back in a few different ways. One of the things he did to simplify the project was develop a task scheduler for the Arduino board. It lets you add functions to a queue of jobs, along with data about when they should be run.

The task scheduler does make coding a bit easier, but where it really shines is in situations like this where you don’t have access to the hardware if there’s a problem. In his description of the scheduler [Brad] mentions the possibility that one of the sensors could fail as the cold of the upper atmosphere takes its toll. This could leave the whole system stuck in a subroutine, and therefore it will stop sending reports back to the team on the ground. Since he was using the task scheduler it was a snap to add watchdog timer servicing to the mix. Now if program execution gets stuck the watchdog will reset the chip and all is not lost.

[Thanks  JAC_101]

Hackaday Links May 13th 2012

Amazing ass… for a robot

Yep, Japan still has the creepy robotics market cornered. Case in point is this robotic posterior. Don’t worry, they’ve included a dissection so you can see how the insides work too. [via Gizmodo]

Time-lapse camera module results

As promised, [Quinn Dunki] sent in a link to the photo album from her time lapse camera module. In case you missed it, she built it in a Tic Tac container and stuck it to the side of a racecar.

Kinect controlled killbot

Didn’t we learn anything from RoboCop? We could totally see this Kinect controlled robot (which happens to weigh five tons) going out of control and liquefying an unsuspecting movie extra standing near it. [via Dvice]

Laser popping domino balloons

apparently [Scott] has set a world record by using a laser to pop a line of 100 red balloons. We enjoy seeing the size of the 1W laser that does the popping… it can’t be long now before we get a hold of handheld laser pistols. [via Gizmodo]

Laser balloon targeting

If that last one was a bit of a let down, you might enjoy this automatic targeting system more. The blue triangle shaped icon is setting a target, the amber triangles have already been targeted. Once all the balloons are identified a laser quickly zaps each in order. Quite impressive, although no details have been provided. [Thanks everyone who sent in a link to this]

Beating the wrong amateur balloon record

Friday, we covered a little project that attempted to beat the UK altitude record for an amateur balloon launch. Things don’t always go as planned, but the APEX team did manage to beat the several other UK records, including ones for the longest distance and flight duration for a latex balloon.

The APEX team was originally trying to beat the altitude record set by [Darkside] and his Horus 15.5 payload that made it to 40,575 meters. The APEX balloon was launched and slowly climbed over the North Sea to the expected burst point. Unfortunately for the trackers, the balloon leveled off at about 36km and just kept going.

The total Great Circle distance of the APEX Alpha flight was 1347km, with a total flight time of 12 hours, 20 minutes. The balloon eventually drifted out the radio range of anyone aware of the project. Despite the valiant efforts of HAMs across Europe, APEX Alpha was lost in the “HAM wastelands of Eastern Europe,” somewhere over Poland.

Even though the APEX team lost contact with their balloon, Alpha was still transmitting at the time. The balloon surely burst at this point, so it could have landed anywhere from Poland to Ukraine to Russia. The APEX team is offering a reward for finding Alpha, so if you see a small styrofoam box in Eastern Europe, drop the APEX boys a line.

Of course this flight couldn’t have taken place without the efforts of HAMs across Europe. [Darkside], [2E0UPU], and so many others helped out with the tracking as Alpha passed over the Netherlands and continued towards Berlin. The last contact was made by the awesome [OZ1SKY], who was very gracious to stay up until the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Not a bad flight for something that was supposed to take a swim in the North Sea. If you’d like to see the raw data from the flight, the APEX team posted everything they pulled down.

Going for the amateur balloon altitude record

At 11 AM London time, October 22, the Sutton grammar school for boys is going to be launching Apex Alpha, a high altitude amateur balloon for an attempt at the UK altitude record. Unlike a few other balloons we’ve seen, the Apex team is doing it right and giving everyone the downlink details for the balloon.

The payload for the balloon was built entirely by student of the Sutton grammar school and weighs less than 300 grams. While it’s not carrying a camera for the all-important pretty pictures, the payload does have a GPS module and a transmitter; it’s just enough to do the required testing on the lead up to Apex III.

Right now, the UK amateur balloon record stands shy of 130,000 feet. The team gained a lot of experience with their Apex I and Apex II launches, and they’re pretty confident they have the experience to pull this one off. You can check out the progress of the Apex Alpha flight on the tracker. For us Yanks, the launch should start October 22nd at 6:00 am Eastern time and 3:00 in the morning for the West coast. The team says they’ll be updating that throughout the flight.

UPDATE: Apex Alpha just won’t burst. Any HAMs near Berlin in Eastern Europe are sorely needed. Head over to the IRC chat if you can help.