Unless you’ve been living under a high voltage transformer, you’ve probably heard that NASA has grounded the Space Shuttle fleet. This makes getting stuff to and from the International Space Station slightly more difficult. With the growing need to get small experiments back to the surface quickly and safely, NASA is researching an idea they call Small Payload Quick Return, or SPQR (pdf warning). Basically, they toss the experiment out of the window, use drag to slow it down, and then use a High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) self guiding parafoil to steer the thing down to a predefined location on the surface.
Now, what we’re interested in is the self guided parafoil part, as it takes place in known hacker territory – around 100,000 feet. This is the altitude where most high altitude balloon experiments take place. NASA is throwing a bunch of money and brainpower to research this part of the system, but they’re having problems. Lots of problems.
Stick around after the break and see if you can help, and maybe pick up some ideas on how to steer your next High Altitude Balloon project back to the launch pad.
Want to get on NASA’s radar? Send up a HAB payload to the Stratosphere and return it to a specific GPS address in one piece. Post it on Hackaday.io and keep your phone handy. Because they are having a lot of trouble doing this, and would surely be interested in your tech.
So the basic idea is:
- Deploy para foil
- Get GPS lock.
- Use a microcontroller to move some servos and steer the Near Space Craft to a specified GPS address.
- Corkscrew down to the surface.
Pulling this off is not as easy as it sounds, and NASA is finding this out the hard way. The AMES Research Center has delegated the HAHO part of the SPQR project to a handful of select universities. They have done several studies and experiments, most of which have ended in complete failure. (All links are pdf)
To summarize just a few of the problems –
- There is a tendency for the system to develop a flat spin, where the payload and para foil ‘orbit’ each other at a high speed, proving to be unrecoverable.
- The para foil will not inflate because of the low air density.
- The lines get tangled easily.
Be sure to check out some of the studies and let us know your thoughts. NASA just might be listening. How would you solve these difficult problems?