Launch Diaries

Wasps in Space, Live Pictures and a Pi in the Sky

2017-03-16 15:39:44



This launch was full of firsts for Space Ballooning at European Astrotech, it was our first flight using the Raspberry Pi and Pi in the Sky telemetry tracker. It was our first flight using the Raspberry Pi camera to provide live images during the flight through SSDV and it was also the first flight by one of HAB by EALs new colleagues.

The CUSF predictor gave us a very narrow launch window with the 16th March the only opportunity. So we set about preparing the payload to get great photos that were not framed by polystyrene. Once everything was in place and secured tightly it was just a wait and see to check the weather did not drastically change for the following day.

Launch day and predictor showed we had a clear path, if flattened compared due to snow storms playing havoc in New York. As our predicted path took us close to the east coast of England we decided to overfill the balloon to force a faster ascent rate. We did not want repeats of painful memories of losing payloads in the sea. An incredibly large balloon and ever changing winds led to a hectic launch procedure but at 10:50 am we had our balloon and payload in the sky. No time to wait around as the predictor had our payload landing around the village of Sudbury a 2 hour drive with an estimate flight time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. We started to receive the first live images from the raspberry pi camera as we set of in our trusty HAB van. 

Following along on the habhub tracker, our decision to overfill our balloon was validated as our paths crossed over with fellow HABers from Sandringham which was destined to fall in the sea. Overfilling the balloon gave us an average ascent rate of 5.41 m/s which we hoped would guarantee burst before we ended up in the sea ourselves. It did get a little nervous as our balloon continued to ascend until we hit our max altitude of 32 km. The predictor had us in the sea if we had managed to ascend another 2 km, so we were able to relax a bit and enjoy our journey through Sussex as the sun came out. 

Only thing left to do was wait for the payload to come back down to earth and get ourselves in location. Watching the descent rate to make sure our parachute had deployed and stayed untangled with the addition of a very basic piece of cardboard to separate the cords, we had a nice steady rate between 4.5 m/s and 5.5 m/s. We lost transmission at 280 meters so the solution was to park up and search from the last known location, luckily for us a nice footpath took us right up to the last telemetry position and finding some high ground gave us a signal on the Yagi antenna.

Our payload was a little worse for wear when we found it but everything was in the surrounding debris so we were able to declare a successful first flight for our PITS board. 

Thoughts for next launch, stability was good but we can do more to reduce spinning. The Pi Cam we put on a 5 minute delay could be shorter to get more pictures from the flight #leaveitondefault. Also the boom arm length for the pi cam could be longer to get a better field of view, this was due to the boom arm of equal length on the other side which had the GoPro with a greater field of view.  So aims for next mission are to use the sense hat to get more data, decrease drag to increase time in microgravity and explore a cut down device.