Fly me to 20ish km…..
Space Ops Australia in collaboration with PAAS UTS conducted our first High Altitude Balloon (HAB) mission on the 21st of July 2018. The mission was a success with the recovery of the payload.
The mission objectives include:
- Testing the operation of the onboard computer for our Return to Sender (RTS) No.1 mission
- Testing the GPS accuracy and stability whilst at high altitudes for RTS1
- Testing the chosen Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) for motion.
- Capture test video footage of the terrain for use in remote sensing
- Learn how to conduct HAB missions
- Collaborate with other students
The inclusion of the down facing camera was last minute. The origin of this was from an enquiry from Rural Fire Services to the University regarding methods of quickly obtaining imagery of a fire front. The proposal for using a high-altitude balloon was mentioned. Given the timing and low mass cost, we decided to see what type of footage we could obtain.
The HAB payload included
- RTS 1 mission computer
- RTS 1 mission IMU
- RTS 1 mission GPS
- Computer container
- Commercial Spot GPS
- 1080p dash camera for horizon video recording
- 1080p Motorola RAZRHD mobile phone for down facing video
- LiPo battery to power the mission computer
- USB powerbank to power our dash cam
- Styrofoam box for external insulation and impact protection
- Aluminum tape for radar reflection to make the box visible to aircraft
To support the payload, we needed:
- 600gram latex balloon
- 7ft parachute to safely descend the payload
- G Class Balloon Gas Helium from BOC
- Helium or Oxygen or Argon Valve
- Filling tubes
Conducting the mission required us to inform the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) that we planned for the launch.
Using Habhub.org we used its online tools to size up the balloon and predict its flight path. The HAB Predictor tool has a limited prediction time forward but during the day of launch, we found the predictions to be incredibly close to actual flight path.
- Helium is expensive. The mission costs for a HAB are dependent on the size of payload, the altitude you want to reach, the balloon size selection. We wanted a faster return to limit the amount of driving needed to retrieve payload downrange. Except we had quite the large balloon stocked and not enough helium available. The choice was then to reduce the size of the balloon. After searching university for one, we found a spare 600gram balloon for use which saved the mission.
- Transporting helium tanks of a certain size has road rules. We were required to transport the tank in an open top environment, i.e not inside of a car. This meant the need to hire a trailer which adds more cost. This also affects the ease of setting up the mission.
- Helium tanks use an A10 thread. This is the same thread used in an oxygen or argon regulator. We fortunately had a spare oxygen regulator around and was able to save some money.
- The commercial GPS unit was fixed to the top side of the payload. During landing the payload tumbled. The GPS was now beneath the box and was unable to communicate or get a GPS signal. We got very lucky with the final GPS location also happen to be the landing site. Within 40m of the last GPS position.
- Mobile phones with android has a recording limit. The mobile phone worked amazingly with footage but ended recording before we saw the balloon burst. I would recommend, leaving the mobile phone setup till the final minute to begin recording to maximize aerial footage.
- Our horizon facing camera had issues of setup. The sd card in fact was corrupted and we’ve had no success in recovering footage. The phone was a far easier setup, albeit has far less recording durations.
In the future Space Ops will be conducting further high-altitude balloon missions and looking for more collaboration opportunities with this type of platform. It was an incredibly fun experience although the driving and recovery of payload was tiresome.
We’ll be releasing a web tool that can help estimate the balloon requirements like Habhub provides but will also estimate for costs.
We used BOC for our gas and equipment supplies and would like to thank the Mascot team for their help during our time in the shop.
Many thanks to the PAAS UTS team for their help. Special mention to Anup and Sundip for their assistance on the day.
Also thanks to the local residents who helped us retrieve the payload whilst on their property. Incredibly supportive of our work.