GPS Guided Parachutes For High Altitude Balloons

Most amateur high altitude balloon payloads descend back to earth with a simple non-steerable parachute and can land hundreds of kilometers from the launch site in inaccessible areas. [Yohan Hadji] experienced this first-hand during a balloon launch conducted by his high school, which inspired him to R2Home, a GPS-guided parachute recovery system.

A Teensy runs the show, and controls a pair of sail winch servos pulling the brake lines

[Yohan]’s first challenge was to create a steerable parachute that can deploy reliably, so he started doing tests with a borrowed scale model paragliding wing. He quickly learned that a canopy aspect ratio of below two was needed for reliable deployment, so he started sewing his own canopies. Steering a parachute involves pulling on a pair of brake lines, one for each side of the parachute. A control stroke of about 20 cm was required, and [Yohan] found that RC sailboat winch servos work perfectly for this application. The entire system is designed to fit in a 7×40 cm tube, and the parachute is deployed with the help of a small drogue chute and a servo-operated release mechanism.

[Yohan] is working on a custom flight controller, built around a Teensy 4.1, GPS receiver, and digital compass. A possible alternative is Ardupilot, which we’ve seen used on several autonomous drones, gliders, and rovers. While this system might not be possible to return to the launch point, it could certainly close the gap, and land safely in a designated area.

So far [Yohan] has done a series of test drops from a drone at low altitude to test deployment and steering, using an RC controller. The project is open source, and the mechanical design files and control code is up on GitHub. As with most 16-year-olds, [Yohan]’s resources are limited, so feel free to drop him some financial help on the R2Home GoFundMe page. See the videos after the break for a development montage and project presentation. Continue reading “GPS Guided Parachutes For High Altitude Balloons”

Custom Powerbank In Compact Form Factor

The wide availability and power density of 18650 lithium-ion cells have made them a good option for everything from electric cars to flashlights. [Theo] needed a new power source for his FPV drone goggles, so he designed his own power bank with a very compact charge controller.The narrow PCB slips in between the cells

While [Theo] could charge the batteries with an RC battery charger, he preferred the convenience of one with a standard 5V micro USB input, and wanted battery level indication to avoid having the FPV goggles die unexpectedly mid-flight. When four 18650 cells are held in a cube arrangement, a 8x8x65 mm gap is formed between the cells. In this space [Theo] was able to fit a custom PCB with a micro USB jack, 1.3 mm power jack, BQ25606 charge controller, TPS61085 boost converter, and ATtiny MCU with LED for battery level feedback. The charge controller also allows 5V devices to be charged via USB, while the boost converter outputs 9V via the 1.3mm jack for [Theo]’s FPV goggles. Everything fits inside a nice compact 3D printed enclosure.

The project was not without hiccups. After ordering and building the PCB he discovered some minor PCB layout mistakes, and realized the boost converted could only output 600mA at 9V, which was not enough for his more power-hungry googles. He plans to fix this in the next version.

We’ve seen custom power banks in quite a few shapes and sizes, including one that runs on power tool batteries (which probably also have 18650s inside) and one that has just about every output you could want, including AC and wireless QI charging.

Microstepping A PCB Motor

Over the last 2 years [Carl Bujega] has made a name for himself with his PCB motor designs. His latest adventure is to turn it into a stepper motor by adding position control with microstepping.

The NEMA stepper motors most of us know are synchronous stepper motors, while [Carl]’s design is a permanent magnet design. It uses four coils on the stator, and two permanent magnets on the rotor/dial. By varying the current through each of the four poles with a stepper driver (microstepping), the position of the rotor should theoretically be controllable with good resolution. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. He achieved position control, but it kept skipping steps in certain positions.

The motor and controller consist of a single flexible PCB, to reduce the layer spacing and increase the coils’ magnetic field strength. However, this created other problems, since the motor shaft didn’t have a solid mounting point, and the PCB flexed as the stator coils were energized. Soldering the controller was also a problem, as the through-hole headers ripped out easily and the PCB bulged while reflowing on a hot plate, in one case even popping off components. [Carl] eventually mounted one of the PCB motors inside a 3D printed frame to rigidly constrain all the motor components, but it still suffered from missed steps. Any suggestions for fixing the problem? Drop them in the comments below.

Like his other PCB motors, the torque is very low, but should be suitable for gauges or clocks. A PCB clock with an integrated motor would be pretty cool to have on the workshop wall.

The TMC2300 stepper driver [Carl] used belongs to the same family of drivers that enable silent stepping for 3D printers. We’ve covered a few of [Carl]’s PCB actuator adventures, from his original design to linear actuators and a flexible POV display.

Continue reading “Microstepping A PCB Motor”

So Close To Landing A Model Rocket On Its Tail

We’ve become so used to seeing SpaceX boosters land themselves back on the pad with clockwork reliability, that it’s easy to forget it took them a good number of attempts to get right. Inspired by SpaceX’s work, [Joe Barnard] of [BPS.Space] started working to replicate it at the model scale five years ago, with no engineering education or experience. On the latest attempt with a brand-new thrust vectoring Scout E rocket, he has gotten tantalizingly close to doing a controlled propulsive landing with a solid-fuel rocket motor.

We’ve all been thrilled to see the SpaceX rockets return to earth, landing elegantly on a floating pad. But those are liquid-fueled. The trick with a solid-fuel rocket motor is it can’t be throttled directly, which is a challenge when you need precision control to land. Thanks to [Joe]’s custom AVA flight computer and the remarkably consistent thrust curve of the Estes F15 black powder motors he used, it becomes a matter of igniting the descent motor at the right moment to make the vertical velocity zero at touchdown. However, [Joe] found that the time between sending the ignition signal and when peak thrust is reached was inconsistent, so he had to work around that. He did this by controlling how much of the thrust is spent in the vertical direction, by vectoring the motor side to side to spend some trust horizontally.

View from rocket of the ascent motor falling away immediately after being ejected

In this attempt, the rocket tipped over on landing due to excessive horizontal movement at touchdown. Joe tracked the cause down to a weak GPS signal caused by antenna position and a possible bug in the Kalman filter that fuses all the sensor data for position and velocity estimation. Thanks to incredibly detailed telemetry and logging done by the flight computer, data from every launch are used for future improvements. We are looking forward to the next flight in a few weeks, during which [Joe] plans to tune and test the control software, among other minor improvements.

Almost every single part of this rocket is a display of engineering ingenuity. The landing struts are designed to absorb as much impact as possible without bouncing while being light and quick to deploy. The ascent motor is ejected simply by moving the thrust vectoring mount to one of its extremes, allowing the descent motor to drop into place. The rocket also features a complete emergency abort system with a parachute, which can be activated manually, or by the flight computer if it calculates that landing isn’t feasible. We already covered [Joe]’s latest launch pad, which is a very interesting project all by itself.

Continue reading “So Close To Landing A Model Rocket On Its Tail”

Minimalist Low Power Supercapacitor Sensor Node

One of the biggest challenges for wireless sensor networks is that of power. Solar panels usually produce less power than you hoped, especially small ones, and designing super low power circuits is tricky. [Strange.rand] has dropped into the low-power rabbit hole, and is designing a low-cost wireless sensor node that runs on solar power and a supercapacitor.

The main components of the sensor node is an ATMega 328P microcontroller running at 4Mhz, RFM69 radio transceiver, I2C temperature/humidity sensor, 1F supercapacitor, and a small solar panel. The radio, MCU, and sensor all run on 1.5-3.6V, but the supercap and solar panel combination can go up to 5.5V. To regulate the power to lower voltage components a low-drop voltage regulator might seem like the simplest solution, but [strange.rand] found that the 3.3V regulator was consuming an additional 20uA or more when the voltage dropped below 3.3V. Instead, he opted to eliminate the LDO, and limit the charging voltage of the capacitor to 3.6V with a comparator-based overvoltage protection circuit. Using this configuration, the circuit was able to run for 42 hours on a single charge, transmitting data once per minute while above 2.7V, and once every three minutes below that.

Another challenge was undervoltage protection. [strange.rand] discovered that the ATmega consumes an undocumented 3-5 mA when it goes into brown-out below 1.8V. The small solar panel only produces 1 mA, so the MCU would prevent the supercapacitor from charging again. He solved this with another comparator circuit to cut power to the other components.

We see challenges like these a lot with environmental sensors and weather stations with smaller solar panels. For communication, low power consumption of a sub-Ghz radio is probably your best bet, but if you want to use WiFi, you can get the power usage down with a few tricks.

Advanced Model Rocket Flight Computer Reaching For The Stars

When you’re building and launching a variety of advanced model rockets like [Joe Barnard], you don’t want to spend time building (and debugging) specialized flight computers for every rocket configuration. This challenge has led him to create AVA (All Vehicle Avionics), an impressive model rocket flight computer that he intends to use on all his future rockets.

All of [Joe]’s rockets feature active stabilization and guidance, and comprehensive telemetry using a variety of sensors. On the board there are three separate microcontrollers connected over I2C or SPI, each with its own micro USB port. The two smaller microcontrollers are both ATSAMD21s, also used on the Arduino Zero. The first is used for GPS and inertial navigation, and uses data from onboard and external sensors like the two IMUs (one is a backup), GPS and barometer to estimate the rocket’s position, velocity and attitude, The second is for telemetry, and it handles all external communications via a Bluetooth modem or long range 900 Mhz radio. The main processor (MPU) is a NXP MK20DX256 (also used on the Teensy 3.2), which receives data from the other microcontrollers and handles all the real-time operations and control outputs.

AVA’s predecessors

[Joe] gives a very detailed overview on the board, it’s capabilities, and the reasoning behind some of his design choices in the video after the break. Most of the sensors and microcontrollers were selected partly because of his experience with them. All three microcontrollers have Arduino bootloaders, also due to familiarity with the framework. AVA is the 12th in the line of flight computers [Joe] has built, and it is clear that a lot of work and hard-earned experience went into the design. Continue reading “Advanced Model Rocket Flight Computer Reaching For The Stars”

The Ultimate Model Rocket Launchpad

When you’re building advanced rockets as BPS.Space are, an unreliable launchpad is the something you really don’t want to be struggling with. [Joe Barnard] is working on a model rocket that can land vertically under its own power, like the Falcon 9, and has upgraded his launchpad in the process. A lot of thought and hard-earned experience has gone into its design, and the video after the break is a fascinating look the engineering process.

[Joe]’s rockets don’t use guide rods and fins for stabilization in the way most amateur rockets do, but instead have thrust vectoring motor mounts and reaction wheels for active stabilization during launch and flight. The rockets are clamped to the launchpad right up to ignition, and then need to release quickly and reliably. His previous clamps looked very cool, but suffered from high friction forces during release, and the integrated covers prevented easy inspection. These were replaced by much simpler spring-loaded clamp held in place by a small locking bar, which is knocked out by a servo to release the clamp. It also has no static friction, since it moves up and away from the clamping surfaces on the rocket.

The launch pad also features a ATSAMD21 based launch computer named Impulse, which at the most basic level controls the igniter, clamps, buzzer and indicator lights. It also has a number of inputs and outputs to allow for expansion. [Joe] experienced a number of inexplicable failures of rocketry electronics in the past, but believes he has finally tracked down the culprit: Tennessee humidity. He has since started conformal coating all his electronics.

The launchpad itself is made from plywood, so to protect it from the hot exhaust it has in integrated flame trench. This was made from 1 inch steel plumbing components, and directs most of the exhaust out of one side of the platform. It can also be reconfigured to allow a three core rocket like a Falcon Heavy to be launched. Continue reading “The Ultimate Model Rocket Launchpad”