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”

A Tracker For Radio Sondes

Radiosondes – the telemetry packages carried aloft by sounding balloons for atmospheric weather data measurements – are regularly used by weather bureaus around the world to collect data, and there are quite a number of launches daily. Most of them are in Europe, but they also happen at many locations in North and South America, Japan, and Australia. The balloons burst when they reach a high enough altitude, the radiosonde falls back, and most often there is no effort made to recover them since they are deemed “expendable”. So it’s Finders Keepers, and rich pickings for any hacker who is fortunate enough to grab the fallen radiosondes. For successful recovery, you need to first be able to track those radiosondes, and that’s why leet guy [Robert Stefanowicz aka p1337] built his Weather ballon tracker (sic) project.

The hardware is all off-the-shelf, packaged in a pretty cool 3D printed package designed to make it look like the hand held radio that it is. At its heart is the ESP32 based TTGO T-BEAM V1.0 which has almost everything needed for this project. Add an OLED display, 18650 Li-Po cells, antenna and connectors and you can put it all together in an evening over your favourite beverage.

[DL9RDZ] wrote the software which runs on the T-Beam, available at the RDZ-Sonde repo on Github, that allows hunting these balloons. Setup is straightforward, and you need to fiddle with just a couple of well-explained config parameters. Once connected to your WiFi, config and settings can be accessed via convenient web URL’s and the single user action button on the TTGO offers quick access to different functional modes. At the moment, the software is written to decode signals from the widely used Vaisala RS41, Graw DFM06 and Graw DFM09 radiosondes. This LINK provides details for some of the popular radiosonde models.

Once you’re done building this piece of hunting gear, you’ll need some additional help finding out when and where the launches are taking place. If you’re in Europe, you luck out – there is a live radiosonde tracker map, thanks to the great work done by [Michał Lewiński – SQ6KXY]. If you live else where and know of similar resources, let us know in the comments. As a side note, Wikipedia tells us there are about 1300 launch sites worldwide and twice a day missions, so there’s quite a number of fallen pieces of hardware lying around just waiting to be picked up. At the very least, each will have a GPS module and temperature and humidity sensors that you can recover.

So, what do you do with the recovered radiosondes ? Here’s a tip on a “Fallen Radiosonde reborn as active L-band antenna“. And If you’d like to get the skinny on radiosondes, check out “Radiosondes: getting data from upstairs

Thanks for the tip, [Alex aka MD23F3].

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!

Continue reading “Automated Radiosonde Tracking Via Open Source”

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.

Continue reading “Autonomous Spaceplane Travels To 10 Km, Lands Safely 200 Km Away”

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.

Continue reading “Radiosondes: Getting Data From Upstairs”

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.

Continue reading “Solar Tetroon Spooks Albuquerque”

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.

Continue reading “3D Printed Camera Battery Emulator”