All posts by James Robinson

New software to get you started with high-altitude ballooning

Post Syndicated from James Robinson original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/pytrack-skygate-hab-software/

Right now, we’re working on an online project pathway to support you with all your high-altitude balloon (HAB) flight activities, whether you run them with students or as a hobby. We’ll release the resources later in the year, but in the meantime we have some exciting new HAB software to share with you!

High altitude ballooning with Pi Zero

Skycademy and early HAB software

Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to conduct several high-altitude balloon (HAB) flights and to help educators who wanted to do HAB projects with learners. In the Foundation’s Skycademy programme, supported by UKHAS members, in particular Dave Akerman, we’ve trained more than 50 teachers to successfully launch near-space missions with their students.

high-altitude balloning Raspberry Pi
high-altitude balloning Raspberry Pi
Dave Akerman high-altitude balloning Raspberry Pi

Whenever I advise people who are planning a HAB mission, I tell them that the separate elements actually aren’t that complicated. The difficulty lies in juggling them all at the same time to successfully launch, track, and recover your balloon.

Over the years, some excellent tools and software packages have been developed to help with HAB launches. Dave Akerman’s Pi In The Sky (PITS) software gave beginners the chance to control their first payloads: you enter your own specs into a configuration file, and the software, written in C, handles the rest. Dave’s Long Range (LoRa) gateway software then tracks the payload, receiving balloon data and plotting the flight’s trajectory on a real-time map.

Dave Akerman high-altitude balloning Raspberry Pi

Dave at a Skycademy event

These tools, while useful, present two challenges to the novice HAB enthusiast:

  • Exposing and adapting the workings of the software is challenging for novice learners, given that it is written in C
  • The existing tracking software and tools are fragmented: one application received LoRa signals; another received radioteletype (RTTY) data; photos were received and had to be manually opened elsewhere; and so on

Introducing Pytrack and SkyGate

Making ballooning as accessible as possible is something we’ve been keen to do since we first got involved in 2015. So I’m delighted to reveal that over the past year, we’ve worked with Dave to produce two new applications to support HAB activities!

Pytrack

Pytrack is a Python implementation of Dave’s original PITS software, and it offers several advantages:

  • Learners can create their own tracker in a simpler programming language, rather than simply configuring the existing software
  • The core mechanics of the tracker are exposed for the learner to understand, but complex details are abstracted away
  • Learners can integrate the technology with standard Python libraries and existing projects
  • Pytrack is modular, allowing learners to experiment with underlying radio components

SkyGate

After our last Skycademy event, I started to look for a way to make tracking a payload in flight easier. For Skycademy, we made a hacky tracking box using a Pi, a 7” screen, and a very rough GUI app that I wrote in a hurry lovingly toiled over.

Skygate high-altitude balloning Raspberry Pi
Skygate high-altitude balloning Raspberry Pi

 

Since then, we have gone on to develop SkyGate, a complete tracking application which runs on a Pi and fits nicely on a 7” screen. It brings together all the tracking functionalities into one intuitive application:

  • Live tunable LoRa reception and decoding
  • Live tunable RTTY reception and decoding (with compatible USB SDR)
  • Image reception and previewing
  • GPS tracking to report your location (when using compatible GPS USB dongle)
  • Data, images, and GPS upload functionality to HabHub tracking site
  • An Overview tab presenting a high-level summary and bearing to payload
  • Full customisation via the Settings tab

You can get involved!

We would love HAB enthusiasts to test and experiment with both Pytrack and SkyGate, and to give us feedback. Your input will really help us to write the full guide that we’ll release later this year.

To get started, install both programmes using your command prompt/terminal.

For your payload, run:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install python3-pytrack

And your receiver, run:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install skygate

Follow this guide to start using Pytrack, and read this overview on SkyGate and what you’ll need for a tracking box. To give us your feedback, please raise issues on the respective GitHub repos: for Pytrack here, and for SkyGate here.

We’ve developed these software packages to make launching and tracking a HAB payload easier and more flexible, and we hope you’ll think we’ve succeeded.

Happy ballooning!

Disclaimer: each country has its own laws regarding HAB launches and radio transmissions in their airspace. Before you attempt to carry out your own HAB flight, you need to ensure you have permission and are complying with all local laws.

The post New software to get you started with high-altitude ballooning appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Crusoe: how a Pi got lost at sea

Post Syndicated from James Robinson original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/lost-high-altitude-balloon/

The tale of the little HAB that could and its three-month journey from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy in the UK to the coast of Denmark.

PACA Computing on Twitter

Where did it land ???? #skypaca #skycademy @pacauk #RaspberryPi

High-altitude ballooning

Some of you may be familiar with Raspberry Pi being used as the flight computer, or tracker, of high-altitude balloon (HAB) payloads. For those who aren’t, high-altitude ballooning is a relatively simple activity (at least in principle) where a tracker is attached to a large weather balloon which is then released into the atmosphere. While the HAB ascends, the tracker takes pictures and data readings the whole time. Eventually (around 30km up) the balloon bursts, leaving the payload free to descend and be recovered. For a better explanation, I’m handing over to the students of UTC Oxfordshire:

Pi in the Sky | UTC Oxfordshire

On Tuesday 2nd May, students launched a Raspberry Pi computer 35,000 metres into the stratosphere as part of an Employer-Led project at UTC Oxfordshire, set by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The project involved engineering, scientific and communication/publicity skills being developed to create the payload and code to interpret experiments set by the science team.

Skycademy

Over the past few years, we’ve seen schools and their students explore the possibilities that high-altitude ballooning offers, and back in 2015 and 2016 we ran Skycademy. The programme was simple enough: get a bunch of educators together in the same space, show them how to launch a balloon flight, and then send them back to their students to try and repeat what they’ve learned. Since the first Skycademy event, a number of participants have carried out launches, and we are extremely proud of each and every one of them.

The case of the vanishing PACA HAB

Not every launch has been a 100% success though. There are many things that can and do go wrong during HAB flights, and watching each launch from the comfort of our office can be a nerve-wracking experience. We had such an experience back in July 2017, during the launch performed by Skycademy graduate and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Dave Hartley and his students from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA).

Dave and his team had been working on their payload for some time, and were awaiting suitable weather conditions. Early one Wednesday in July, everything aligned: they had a narrow window of good weather and so set their launch plan in motion. Soon they had assembled the payload in the school grounds and all was ready for the launch.

Dave Hartley on Twitter

Launch day! @pacauk #skycademy #skypaca #raspberrypi

Just before 11:00, they’d completed their final checks and released their payload into the atmosphere. Over the course of 64 minutes, the HAB steadily rose to an altitude of 25647m, where it captured some amazing pictures before the balloon burst and a rapid descent began.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi
Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi

Soon after the payload began to descend, the team noticed something worrying: their predicted descent path took the payload dangerously far south — it was threatening to land in the sea. As the payload continued to lose altitude, their calculated results kept shifting, alternately predicting a landing on the ground or out to sea. Eventually it became clear that the payload would narrowly overshoot the land, and it finally landed about 2 km out to sea.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

The path of the balloon

It’s not uncommon for a HAB payload to get lost. There are many ways this can happen, particularly in a narrow country with a prevailing easterly wind like the UK. Payloads can get lost at sea, land somewhere inaccessible, or simply run out of power before they are located and retrieved. So normally, this would be the end of the story for the PACA students — even if the team had had a speedboat to hand, their payload was surely lost for good.

A message from Denmark

However, this is not the end of our story! A couple of months later, I arrived at work and saw this tweet from a colleague:

Raspberry Pi on Twitter

Anyone lost a Raspberry Pi HAB? Someone found this one on a beach in south western Denmark yesterday #UKHAS https://t.co/7lBzFiemgr

Good Samaritan Henning Hansen had found a Raspberry Pi washed up on a remote beach in Denmark! While walking a stretch of coast to collect plastic debris for an environmental monitoring project, he came across something unusual near the shore at 55°04’53.0″N and 8°38’46.9″E.

This of course piqued my interest, and we began to investigate the image he had shared on Facebook.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

Inspecting the photo closely, we noticed a small asset label — the kind of label that, over a year earlier, we’d stuck to each and every bit of Skycademy field kit. We excitedly claimed the kit on behalf of Dave and his students, and contacted Henning to arrange the recovery of the payload. He told us it must have been carried ashore with the tide some time between 21 and 27 September, and probably on 21 September, since that day had the highest tide over the period. This meant the payload must have spent over two months at sea!

From the photo we could tell that the Raspberry Pi had suffered significant corrosion, having been exposed to salt water for so long, and so we felt pessimistic about the chances that there would be any recoverable data on it. However, Henning said that he’d been able to read some files from the FAT partition of the SD card, so all hope was not lost.

After a few weeks and a number of complications around dispatch and delivery (thank you, Henning, for your infinite patience!), Helen collected the HAB from a local Post Office.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

SUCCESS!

We set about trying to read the data from the SD card, and eventually became disheartened: despite several attempts, we were unable to read its contents.

In a last-ditch effort, we gave the SD card to Jonathan, one of our engineers, who initially laughed at the prospect of recovering any data from it. But ten minutes later, he returned with news of success!

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi
Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi
Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi
Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi

Since then, we’ve been able to reunite the payload with the PACA launch team, and the students sent us the perfect message to end this story:

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

The post Raspberry Crusoe: how a Pi got lost at sea appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

1000 Raspberry Pi Certified Educators

Post Syndicated from James Robinson original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/1000-raspberry-pi-certified-educators/

This week, we trained our 1000th Raspberry Pi Certified Educator at a Picademy in Cardiff, south Wales. These teachers, librarians and other educators are now equipped to begin sharing the power of digital making with their learners, their local communities and their peers.

An animated gif: a group of new Raspberry Pi Certified Educators celebrate by pulling party poppers

Our newest Raspberry Pi Certified Educators: now there are 1000 of them!

Picademy is a free CPD programme that gives educators the skills and knowledge to help learners get creative with computing. Classroom teachers, museum educators, librarians, educator coaches, and community educators can all apply. You don’t need any previous experience, just an enthusiasm for teaching computing and digital making.

Apply for Picademy

We’ve just announced the dates and venues for Picademy in the US throughout 2017. Take a look at the schedule of UK Picademy events for this year: we’ve just added some new dates. Check out what educators say about Picademy.

Are you interested? DO IT. APPLY.

Demand for Picademy places is always high, and there are many parts of the world where we don’t yet offer Picademy. In order to reach more people, we provide two free online training courses which are available anywhere in the world. They’re especially relevant to educators, but anyone can take part. Both started this week, but there’s still time to join. Both courses will run again in the future.

Hello World

Wherever you are, you can also read Hello World, our new magazine about computing and digital making written by educators, for educators. It’s free online as a downloadable PDF, and it’s available to UK-based educators in print, free of charge. In its pages over the next issues, we know we’ll see some of our first 1000 Raspberry Pi Certified Educators inspire some of our second 1000.

We hope that you, too, will join this creative, supportive community!

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