Automated Radiosonde Tracking Via Open Source

Meteorological organisations across the world launch weather balloons on a regular basis as a part of their work in predicting whether or not it will rain on the weekend. Their payloads are called radiosondes, and these balloons deliver both telemetry and location data throughout their flightpath. Hobbyists around the globe have devoted time and effort to tracking and decoding these signals, and now it’s possible to do it all automatically, thanks to Radiosonde Auto RX.

The basis of the project is the RTL-SDR, everyone’s favourite low-cost software defined radio receiver. In this case, software is used to first hunt for potential radiosonde signals, before then decoding them and uploading the results to a variety of online services. Some of these are designed for simple tracking, while others are designed for live chase and recovery operations. Currently, the software only covers 3 varieties of radiosonde, but the team are eager to expand the project and have requested donations of other radiosondes for research purposes.

The team recently conducted a talk at linux.conf.au regarding the project, which goes into detail as to the decoding and tracking of the radiosonde data. If you’re eager to try it out, download the software, fetch your TV dongle and get cracking. You might also consider tracking cubesats while you’re at it. Video after the break.

via [crazyoperator], thanks to Slds Ernesto for the tip!

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Autonomous Spaceplane Travels to 10 km, Lands Safely 200 km Away

Space balloons, where one sends instrument packages to the edge of space on a weather balloon, are a low-cost way to scratch the space itch. But once you’ve logged the pressure and temperature and tracked your balloon, what’s the next challenge? How about releasing an autonomous glider and having it return itself to Earth safely?

That’s what [IzzyBrand] and his cohorts did, and we have to say we’re mightily impressed. The glider itself looks like nothing to write home about: in true Flite Test fashion, it’s just a flying wing made with foam core and Coroplast reinforced with duct tape. A pair of servo-controlled elevons lies on the trailing edge of the wings, while inside the fuselage are a Raspberry Pi and a Pixhawk flight controller along with a GPS receiver. Cameras point fore and aft, a pair of 5200 mAh batteries provide the juice, and handwarmers stuffed into the avionics bay prevent freezing.

After a long series of test releases from a quadcopter, flight day finally came. Winds aloft prevented a full 30-kilometer release, so the glider was set free at 10 kilometers. The glider then proceeded to a pre-programmed landing zone over 80 kilometers from the release point. At one point the winds were literally pushing the glider backward, but the little plane prevailed and eventually spiraled down to a perfect landing.

We’ve been covering space balloons for a while, but take a moment to consider the accomplishment presented here. On a shoestring budget, a team of amateurs hit a target the size of two soccer fields with an autonomous aircraft from a range of almost 200 kilometers. That’s why we’re impressed, and we can’t wait to see what they can do after a release from the edge of space.

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Radiosondes: Getting Data from Upstairs

Ever since I first learned about radiosondes as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by them. To my young mind, the idea that weather bureaus around the world would routinely loft instrument-laden packages high into the atmosphere to measure temperature, pressure, and winds aloft seemed extravagant. And the idea that this telemetry package, having traveled halfway or more to space, could crash land in a field near my house so that I could recover it and take it apart, was an intoxicating thought.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods over the intervening years, but I’ve never seen a radiosonde in the wild. The closest I ever came was finding a balloon with a note saying it had been released by a bunch of schoolkids in Indiana. I was in Connecticut at the time, so that was pretty cool, but those shortsighted kids hadn’t put any electronics on their balloon, and they kind of left me hanging. So here’s a look at what radiosondes are, how they work, and what you can do to increase your chances of finding one.

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Solar Tetroon Spooks Albuquerque

An interesting take on Hackerspace outreach is spooking the local community into calling the FAA and even the Air Force. It wasn’t exactly the plan at Quelab, but after an experimental solar tetroon got away from [Gonner Menning], one of the space’s members, that’s exactly what happened.

This is the first we remember hearing of solar tetroons. A tetroon is actually a fairly common weather balloon design using four triangle-shaped pieces. The solar part is pretty neat, it’s a balloon that uses the sun to heat air inside of a balloon. Instead of filling the bladder with a lighter-than-air gas it is filled with regular air and the sun’s rays heat it to become lighter than the surrounding ambient air.

For this particular flight the balloon was never supposed to be off the tether. Previous iterations had turned out to be rather poor fliers. Of course it figures that when [Gonner] finally tuned the design with an optimal weight to lift ratio it slipped its leash and got away. The GPS package tracked it for quite a while but ended up dying and the craft was nary to be found.

We weren’t going to embed the local news coverage video, but at the end the talking heads end up rolling around the word “Hackerspace” in their mouths like it’s foreign food. Good for a giggle after the break.

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3D Printed Camera Battery Emulator

There are certainly battery hungry devices out there on the market and, unless you do some serious research before the purchase of said device, you really don’t know how it will perform. Needless to say, some of us get stuck with power hog device, and it seriously sucks because changing out batteries often is expensive and just plain annoying.

If you couldn’t tell, I am speaking from experience, my old Sony DSC-H5 camera works great with the exception of needing new batteries every hour. And if you get cheap batteries, the camera won’t even turn on! There’s a USB connector on the camera but it is only for transferring data and there is also no DC input jack. The entire situation is a totally bummer.

I’m happy (or disappointed) that I am not alone in the world. [Phil] wrote into the HaD tip line to tell us about his solution to this very problem. He has a Canon SD1000 camera and although the battery works fine he needs it to work at an altitude of 15km in order to take some sunrise photos. Cold weather testing (in the fridge freezer) showed that the battery isn’t going to cut the mustard for the hour-long flight. The rest of the balloon-lifted unit already has a battery pack and the plan would be to tap into that to power the camera. Unfortunately his camera, like mine, doesn’t have a DC input jack and can not be powered off the USB port.

[Phil] decided to make a 3D printed battery emulator. It sits in place of the stock battery and holds bare wire where the batteries terminals normally are. The other end of the wires are run out of the camera to a voltage regulator that converts the battery pack’s 6 volts down to the 3.9 that the camera needs.

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Listening in on weather balloons with RTL SDR

sonde

Every day, twice a day, over 800 weather balloons are launched around the world at exactly the same time. The data transmitted from these radiosondes is received by government agencies and shared with climatologists and meteorologist to develop climate models and predect the weather. Near [Carl]’s native Auckland, a weather balloon is launched twice a day, and since they transmit at 403 MHz, he decided to use a USB TV tuner to receive data directly from an atmospheric probe.

The hardware portion of this project consisted of building a high gain antenna designed for 162 MHz. Even though the radiosonde transmits at 403 MHz, [Carl] was easily able to receive on his out-of-band antenna.

For the software, [Carl] used SDRSharp and SondeMonitor, allowing him to convert the coded transmissions from a weather balloon into pressure, temperature, humidity, and GPS data.

Weather balloon payload that (almost) guides itself back to you

The biggest issue with sending expensive electronics into near space is trying to recover them. [Lhiggs] set out to solve this issue with his Senior project for a Mechanical Engineering degree. He figured that a payload dropped from 100,000 feet should be able to glide its way back to some predefined coordinates. Here you can see one of the tests, where the payload is guiding its descent using a parafoil.

Directional control is possible with a parafoil simply by shifting weight between the two supporting ropes. In this case [Lhiggs] designed the payload to hang from a pair of servo-motor-actuated arms. Since the payload already carries altitude and position hardware (such as a GPS, electronic compass, and altimeter) it’s just a matter of waiting for the target height before separating from the weather balloon, then using the servos to navigate to the landing zone.

Unfortunately the project was never fully completed. But you can see that he got pretty far. There is test footage embedded after the break showing the device being dropped from a plane.

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