Tag Archives: Dave Akerman

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.

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Community profile: Dave Akerman

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/community-profile-dave-akerman/

This column is from The MagPi issue 61. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition through your letterbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve our charitable goals.

The pinned tweet on Dave Akerman’s Twitter account shows a table displaying the various components needed for a high-altitude balloon (HAB) flight. Batteries, leads, a camera and Raspberry Pi, plus an unusually themed payload. The caption reads ‘The Queen, The Duke of York, and my TARDIS”, and sums up Dave’s maker career in a heartbeat.

David Akerman on Twitter

The Queen, The Duke of York, and my TARDIS 🙂 #UKHAS #RaspberryPi

Though writing software for industrial automation pays the bills, the majority of Dave’s time is spent in the world of high-altitude ballooning and the ever-growing community that encompasses it. And, while he makes some money sending business-themed balloons to near space for the likes of Aardman Animations, Confused.com, and the BBC, Dave is best known in the Raspberry Pi community for his use of the small computer in every payload, and his work as a tutor alongside the Foundation’s staff at Skycademy events.

Dave Akerman The MagPi Raspberry Pi Community Profile

Dave continues to help others while breaking records and having a good time exploring the atmosphere.

Dave has dedicated many hours and many, many more miles to assist with the Foundation’s Skycademy programme, helping to explore high-altitude ballooning with educators from across the UK. Using a Raspberry Pi and various other pieces of lightweight tech, Dave and Foundation staff member James Robinson explored the incorporation of high-altitude ballooning into education. Through Skycademy, educators were able to learn new skills and take them to the classroom, setting off their own balloons with their students, and recording the results on Raspberry Pis.

Dave Akerman The MagPi Raspberry Pi Community Profile

Dave’s most recent flight broke a new record. On 13 August 2017, his HAB payload was able to send back the highest images taken by any amateur flight.

But education isn’t the only reason for Dave’s involvement in the HAB community. As with anyone passionate about a specific hobby, Dave strives to break records. The most recent record-breaking flight took place on 13 August 2017, when Dave’s Raspberry Pi Zero HAB sent home the highest images taken by any amateur high-altitude balloon launch: at 43014 metres. No other HAB balloon has provided images from such an altitude, and the lightweight nature of the Pi Zero definitely helped, as Dave went on to mention on Twitter a few days later.

Dave Akerman The MagPi Raspberry Pi Community Profile

Dave is recognised as being the first person to incorporate a Raspberry Pi into a HAB payload, and continues to break records with the help of the little green board. More recently, he’s been able to lighten the load by using the Raspberry Pi Zero.

When the first Pi made its way to near space, Dave tore the computer apart in order to meet the weight restriction. The Pi in the Sky board was created to add the extra features needed for the flight. Since then, the HAT has experienced a few changes.

Dave Akerman The MagPi Raspberry Pi Community Profile

The Pi in the Sky board, created specifically for HAB flights.

Dave first fell in love with high-altitude ballooning after coming across the hobby in a video shared on a photographic forum. With a lifelong interest in space thanks to watching the Moon landings as a boy, plus a talent for electronics and photography, it seems a natural progression for him. Throw in his coding skills from learning to program on a Teletype and it’s no wonder he was ready and eager to take to the skies, so to speak, and capture the curvature of the Earth. What was so great about using the Raspberry Pi was the instant gratification he got from receiving images in real time as they were taken during the flight. While other devices could control a camera and store captured images for later retrieval, thanks to the Pi Dave was able to transmit the files back down to Earth and check the progress of his balloon while attempting to break records with a flight.

Dave Akerman The MagPi Raspberry Pi Community Profile Morph

One of the many commercial flights Dave has organised featured the classic children’s TV character Morph, a creation of the Aardman Animations studio known for Wallace and Gromit. Morph took to the sky twice in his mission to reach near space, and finally succeeded in 2016.

High-altitude ballooning isn’t the only part of Dave’s life that incorporates a Raspberry Pi. Having “lost count” of how many Pis he has running tasks, Dave has also created radio receivers for APRS (ham radio data), ADS-B (aircraft tracking), and OGN (gliders), along with a time-lapse camera in his garden, and he has a few more Pi for tinkering purposes.

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“Only a year? It’s felt like forever”: a twelve-month retrospective

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/12-months-raspberry-pi/

This weekend saw my first anniversary at Raspberry Pi, and this blog marks my 100th post written for the company. It would have been easy to let one milestone or the other slide had they not come along hand in hand, begging for some sort of acknowledgement.

Alex, Matt, and Courtney in a punt on the Cam

The day Liz decided to keep me

So here it is!

Joining the crew

Prior to my position in the Comms team as Social Media Editor, my employment history was largely made up of retail sales roles and, before that, bit parts in theatrical backstage crews. I never thought I would work for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, despite its firm position on my Top Five Awesome Places I’d Love to Work list. How could I work for a tech company when my knowledge of tech stretched as far as dismantling my Game Boy when I was a kid to see how the insides worked, or being the one friend everyone went to when their phone didn’t do what it was meant to do? I never thought about the other side of the Foundation coin, or how I could find my place within the hidden workings that turned the cogs that brought everything together.

… when suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a new job with a dream company. #raspberrypi #positive #change #dosomething

12 Likes, 1 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “… when suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a new job with a dream company. #raspberrypi #positive…”

A little luck, a well-written though humorous resumé, and a meeting with Liz and Helen later, I found myself the newest member of the growing team at Pi Towers.

Ticking items off the Bucket List

I thought it would be fun to point out some of the chances I’ve had over the last twelve months and explain how they fit within the world of Raspberry Pi. After all, we’re about more than just a $35 credit card-sized computer. We’re a charitable Foundation made up of some wonderful and exciting projects, people, and goals.

High altitude ballooning (HAB)

Skycademy offers educators in the UK the chance to come to Pi Towers Cambridge to learn how to plan a balloon launch, build a payload with onboard Raspberry Pi and Camera Module, and provide teachers with the skills needed to take their students on an adventure to near space, with photographic evidence to prove it.

All the screens you need to hunt balloons. . We have our landing point and are now rushing to Therford to find the payload in a field. . #HAB #RasppberryPi

332 Likes, 5 Comments – Raspberry Pi (@raspberrypifoundation) on Instagram: “All the screens you need to hunt balloons. . We have our landing point and are now rushing to…”

I was fortunate enough to join Sky Captain James, along with Dan Fisher, Dave Akerman, and Steve Randell on a test launch back in August last year. Testing out new kit that James had still been tinkering with that morning, we headed to a field in Elsworth, near Cambridge, and provided Facebook Live footage of the process from payload build to launch…to the moment when our balloon landed in an RAF shooting range some hours later.

RAF firing range sign

“Can we have our balloon back, please, mister?”

Having enjoyed watching Blue Peter presenters send up a HAB when I was a child, I marked off the event on my bucket list with a bold tick, and I continue to show off the photographs from our Raspberry Pi as it reached near space.

Spend the day launching/chasing a high-altitude balloon. Look how high it went!!! #HAB #ballooning #space #wellspacekinda #ish #photography #uk #highaltitude

13 Likes, 2 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “Spend the day launching/chasing a high-altitude balloon. Look how high it went!!! #HAB #ballooning…”

You can find more information on Skycademy here, plus more detail about our test launch day in Dan’s blog post here.

Dear Raspberry Pi Friends…

My desk is slowly filling with stuff: notes, mementoes, and trinkets that find their way to me from members of the community, both established and new to the life of Pi. There are thank you notes, updates, and more from people I’ve chatted to online as they explore their way around the world of Pi.

Letter of thanks to Raspberry Pi from a young fan

*heart melts*

By plugging myself into social media on a daily basis, I often find hidden treasures that go unnoticed due to the high volume of tags we receive on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on. Kids jumping off chairs in delight as they complete their first Scratch project, newcomers to the Raspberry Pi shedding a tear as they make an LED blink on their kitchen table, and seasoned makers turning their hobby into something positive to aid others.

It’s wonderful to join in the excitement of people discovering a new skill and exploring the community of Raspberry Pi makers: I’ve been known to shed a tear as a result.

Meeting educators at Bett, chatting to teen makers at makerspaces, and sharing a cupcake or three at the birthday party have been incredible opportunities to get to know you all.

You’re all brilliant.

The Queens of Robots, both shoddy and otherwise

Last year we welcomed the Queen of Shoddy Robots, Simone Giertz to Pi Towers, where we chatted about making, charity, and space while wandering the colleges of Cambridge and hanging out with flat Tim Peake.

Queen of Robots @simonegiertz came to visit #PiTowers today. We hung out with cardboard @astro_timpeake and ate chelsea buns at @fitzbillies #Cambridge. . We also had a great talk about the educational projects of the #RaspberryPi team, #AstroPi and how not enough people realise we’re a #charity. . If you’d like to learn more about the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the work we do with #teachers and #education, check out our website – www.raspberrypi.org. . How was your day? Get up to anything fun?

597 Likes, 3 Comments – Raspberry Pi (@raspberrypifoundation) on Instagram: “Queen of Robots @simonegiertz came to visit #PiTowers today. We hung out with cardboard…”

And last month, the wonderful Estefannie ‘Explains it All’ de La Garza came to hang out, make things, and discuss our educational projects.

Estefannie on Twitter

Ahhhh!!! I still can’t believe I got to hang out and make stuff at the @Raspberry_Pi towers!! Thank you thank you!!

Meeting such wonderful, exciting, and innovative YouTubers was a fantastic inspiration to work on my own projects and to try to do more to help others discover ways to connect with tech through their own interests.

Those ‘wow’ moments

Every Raspberry Pi project I see on a daily basis is awesome. The moment someone takes an idea and does something with it is, in my book, always worthy of awe and appreciation. Whether it be the aforementioned flashing LED, or sending Raspberry Pis to the International Space Station, if you have turned your idea into reality, I applaud you.

Some of my favourite projects over the last twelve months have not only made me say “Wow!”, they’ve also inspired me to want to do more with myself, my time, and my growing maker skill.

Museum in a Box on Twitter

Great to meet @alexjrassic today and nerd out about @Raspberry_Pi and weather balloons and @Space_Station and all things #edtech 🎈⛅🛰📚🤖

Projects such as Museum in a Box, a wonderful hands-on learning aid that brings the world to the hands of children across the globe, honestly made me tear up as I placed a miniaturised 3D-printed Virginia Woolf onto a wooden box and gasped as she started to speak to me.

Jill Ogle’s Let’s Robot project had me in awe as Twitch-controlled Pi robots tackled mazes, attempted to cut birthday cake, or swung to slap Jill in the face over webcam.

Jillian Ogle on Twitter

@SryAbtYourCats @tekn0rebel @Beam Lol speaking of faces… https://t.co/1tqFlMNS31

Every day I discover new, wonderful builds that both make me wish I’d thought of them first, and leave me wondering how they manage to make them work in the first place.

Space

We have Raspberry Pis in space. SPACE. Actually space.

Raspberry Pi on Twitter

New post: Mission accomplished for the European @astro_pi challenge and @esa @Thom_astro is on his way home 🚀 https://t.co/ycTSDR1h1Q

Twelve months later, this still blows my mind.

And let’s not forget…

  • The chance to visit both the Houses of Parliment and St James’s Palace

Raspberry Pi team at the Houses of Parliament

  • Going to a Doctor Who pre-screening and meeting Peter Capaldi, thanks to Clare Sutcliffe

There’s no need to smile when you’re #DoctorWho.

13 Likes, 2 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “There’s no need to smile when you’re #DoctorWho.”

We’re here. Where are you? . . . . . #raspberrypi #vidconeu #vidcon #pizero #zerow #travel #explore #adventure #youtube

1,944 Likes, 30 Comments – Raspberry Pi (@raspberrypifoundation) on Instagram: “We’re here. Where are you? . . . . . #raspberrypi #vidconeu #vidcon #pizero #zerow #travel #explore…”

  • Making a GIF Cam and other builds, and sharing them with you all via the blog

Made a Gif Cam using a Raspberry Pi, Pi camera, button and a couple LEDs. . When you press the button, it takes 8 images and stitches them into a gif file. The files then appear on my MacBook. . Check out our Twitter feed (Raspberry_Pi) for examples! . Next step is to fit it inside a better camera body. . #DigitalMaking #Photography #Making #Camera #Gif #MakersGonnaMake #LED #Creating #PhotosofInstagram #RaspberryPi

19 Likes, 1 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “Made a Gif Cam using a Raspberry Pi, Pi camera, button and a couple LEDs. . When you press the…”

The next twelve months

Despite Eben jokingly firing me near-weekly across Twitter, or Philip giving me the ‘Dad glare’ when I pull wires and buttons out of a box under my desk to start yet another project, I don’t plan on going anywhere. Over the next twelve months, I hope to continue discovering awesome Pi builds, expanding on my own skills, and curating some wonderful projects for you via the Raspberry Pi blog, the Raspberry Pi Weekly newsletter, my submissions to The MagPi Magazine, and the occasional video interview or two.

It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for joining me on the ride!

The post “Only a year? It’s felt like forever”: a twelve-month retrospective appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Skycademy 2016

Post Syndicated from Dan Fisher original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/skycademy-2016/

Over the next three days, we have 30 educators arriving at Pi Towers to learn how to build, launch, and track a High Altitude Balloon (HAB). For the uninitiated, Skycademy 2016 is our second CPD event which provides experience of launching balloons to educators, showing them how this can be used for an inspiring, project-based learning experience.

Skycademy_Header_v2

This is my first year preparing for Skycademy, and it has been a steep but worthwhile learning curve. Launching a HAB combines aspects of maths, physics, computing, design and technology, and geography, and the sheer scope of the project means that it’s rare for school-age children to get these types of experiences. It’s great news, then, that Raspberry Pi have the in-house skills, ambition, and commitment to run such things, and train others to run them too.

Skycademy runs over three days: on the first day, delegates form teams and take part in several workshops aimed at planning and building their flight. Day Two sees them launch, track, and recover their payload. Day Three has them regroup to reflect and plan for the year ahead. The support doesn’t end there: our Skycademy graduates go on to take part in a year-long project that will see them launch flights at their own schools and organisations, helped by their own students.

Tracking tomorrow’s launch

If you’re interested in watching the launch tomorrow, you can follow our progress by searching for #skycademy on Twitter. You can also use the links below to track the progress of different teams. Today, you will begin to see their payloads appearing on the map, and tomorrow you’ll be able to follow the chase.

 

TrackingImages
All teamsrpf.io/flightsrpf.io/flights/images
Altorpf.io/altorpf.io/alto/images
Cirrusrpf.io/cirrusrpf.io/cirrus/images
Cumulusrpf.io/cumulusrpf.io/cumulus/images
Nimbusrpf.io/nimbusrpf.io/nimbus/images
Stratusrpf.io/stratusrpf.io/stratus/images

 

Our current launch plan is to set the balloons free slightly to the west of Cambridge around 10am, but we’ll be posting updates to Twitter.

If you aren’t lucky enough to be taking part in Skycademy today, don’t worry: we’ll be making lots of resources available in the near future for anyone to access and run their own flights. Alternatively, you can also visit Dave Akerman’s website for lots of HAB information and guides to get you started.

Welcome to Dan Fisher’s ‘Fun with HABs’

I recently found out what lay in store for our latest crop of educators when I took part in a test launch two weeks ago…

We made our way to the launch site at Elsworth, Cambridgeshire, feeling nervous and excited. We arrived at 09.30, as experts Dave Akerman and Steve Randall were already starting to assemble their kit. The hope was that we might actually be able to break the world record for the highest amateur unmanned balloon flight. Dave and Steve are continually leapfrogging each other for this title.

IMG_0478

The payload Dave is making in the picture weighs about 250g and consists of a Raspberry Pi A+ connected to Pi-In-The-Sky (PITS) and LoRa boards. The lighter the payload, the higher the potential altitude. The boards broadcast packets of data back to earth, which can be decoded by our tracking equipment.

IMG_0554

Surprisingly, the payload’s chassis assembly is hardly high-tech: a polystyrene capsule gaffer-taped to some nylon cord and balsa wood, to which the balloon and parachute are attached. For this launch, Dave and Steve used hydrogen rather than helium, as it enables you to achieve higher altitudes. Having no previous experience working with pure hydrogen, I had visions of some kind of disaster happening.

Hindenberg

We weighed the payload to calculate how much hydrogen we would need to fill the balloon and ensure the correct ascent rate. Too much hydrogen means the balloon ascends too quickly and might burst early. Too little hydrogen results in a slow balloon which might not burst at all, and could float away and be lost.

IMG_8205

After Dave filled the balloon with hydrogen, we attached the real payload (lots more gaffer tape) and we were ready for a good ol’ launch ‘n’ track. However, as is often the case, it didn’t exactly go to plan…

Home, home on the range

Picture the scene: two Raspberry Pi staffers are driving off-road through a military firing range. Behind the wheel is Dave Akerman, grinning broadly.

“It’s so much more interesting when they don’t just land in a ditch,” he says, speeding the SUV over another pothole.

We’ve tracked our high altitude balloon for two hours to an area of land in Thetford Forest, Norfolk which is used for live ammo practice: not somewhere you’d want to go without permission. Access is looking unlikely until we get a call from the nearby army base’s ops team: we’re in. We make our way past the firing range and into the woods.

IMG_0564

After tracking as far as we can by car, we continue on foot until we spot the payload about ten metres up in a fir tree with very few branches. There’s no way of climbing up. Fortunately, Dave has come armed with the longest telescopic pole I’ve ever seen. It even has a hook on the business end for snagging the parachute’s cords. I act as a spotter as Dave manoeuvres the pole into position and tugs the payload free.

IMG_0568

Giddy with the unexpected success of our recovery, we head back to the SUV and make for the exit, only to find we’ve been locked in. Scenarios where we’ve unwittingly become contestants in the next Hunger Games cross my mind. Armed only with long plastic poles, I worry we might be early casualties.

IMG_0569

After feverish calls to the base again, they agree to come out and free us: a man in a MoD jacket dramatically smashes the lock with a hammer. We race back to Cambridge HQ, payload in hand and with a story to tell.

The Great Escape

Uploaded by David Akerman on 2016-07-26.

That’s it for now; look out for our post-Skycademy follow-up post soon!

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A new high-altitude ballooning record

Post Syndicated from Liz Upton original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/new-high-altitude-ballooning-record-dave-akerman/

Liz: As some of you clever people have pointed out, the new Pi Zero with camera connector might have been designed with one person very much in mind. That person’s Dave “high-altitude ballooning” Akerman. We got one to him before they went on shelves so he could schedule a flight for launch day. Here’s Dave to tell you what happened (spoiler: he’s got another record for the highest amateur live-transmitted pictures). Thanks Dave!

As many reading this will know, I flew the new Pi Zero on the day it was announced, in order to test a prototype of our new PITS-Zero tracker board.  I’d been pleading with Eben since I first saw a prototype of the original Pi Zero, that its low weight would be ideal for live-imaging HAB applications, if only it had a camera port.  The camera is much the entire reason for using a Pi for HAB – if you don’t want pictures then a smaller/lighter/simpler AVR or PIC microcontroller will easily do the job (and with less battery power) – so I felt that the CSI-less Pi Zero was a missed opportunity. Eben agreed, and said he would try to make it happen.

PiZero1.3_700

So, when I received a sample Pi Zero with CSI port, I was keen to try it out.  However launching an unreleased device, to possibly parachute down in front of a curious Pi fan, might not be the best idea in the world, so I had to wait.  Fortunately the wind predictions were good for a balloon launch on the Pi Zero CSI launch day, and the flight went well albeit the burst was rather lower than predicted (balloons vary).

Sony Camera

I had hoped to fly the new Sony camera for the Pi, but in testing the camera would become invisible to raspistill after about 2 hours and roughly 2-300 photos.  2 hours isn’t long enough for a regular flight, and mine was expected to take more than 3 hours just to ascend, so this wasn’t good.  I searched the Pi forum and found that a couple of people using time-lapse photography had found the same issue, and as it was a new issue with no fix or workaround yet, I had to opt for the Omnivision camera instead.  This of course gave me a reason to fly the same tracker again as soon as there was a solution for the Sony firmware issue; once there was I tested it, and planned my next flight.

Waiting For Baudot

"It's currently a problem of access to gigabits through punybaud"

I’ve written previously about LoRa, but the key points about these Long Range Radio Modules when compared to the old (first used from the air in 1922) RTTY system are:

  • Higher data rates
  • Longer range with the same rate/power
  • Can receive as well as transmit
  • Low host CPU requirements even for receiving

The higher data rates mean that we can send larger images more quickly (throughput is up to 56 times that of 300 baud RTTY), and the receiving capability makes it easy to have the payload respond to messages sent up from the ground.  For this flight, those messages are used to request the tracker to re-send any missing packets (ones that the receiving stations didn’t hear), thus reducing the number of annoying missing image sections down to about zero.  To give you an idea of the improvement, the following single large picture was sent in about a quarter of the time taken by the inset picture (from my first Pi flight, and at the same pixel scale):

progress

 

LCARS Chase Car Computer

For this flight, I tried out my new chase-car computer.  This has a Pi B V2, Pi touchscreen, LoRa module, GPS receiver and WLAN (to connect to a MiFi in the chase car).  The user interface mimics the Star Trek LCARS panels, and was written in Python with PyQt.  It receives telemetry both locally (LoRa, or RTTY via a separate PC) and also from the central UKHAS server if connected via GSM.

The Flight

As per the previous Pi Zero flight, this was under a 1600g balloon filled with hydrogen.  Predicted burst altitude was 42km, and I hoped that this time it might achieve that!  The payload was the same as last time:

image

 

except of course for the new Sony camera (manually focused for infinity, but not beyond) and a new set of batteries.

On the launch day the weather was overcast but forecast to improve a little, so I decided to wait for a gap in the clouds.  When that came, the wind did too (that wasn’t forecast!), which made filling the balloon interesting.

No, my head hasn't turned into a giant clove of garlic.

No, my head hasn’t turned into a giant clove of garlic.

Fortunately, the wind did drop for launch, and the balloon ascended towards the gap I’d mentioned in the clouds:

 

P1110657-1024x768

The LoRa system worked well (especially once I remembered to enable the “missing packet re-send” software!), with the new camera acquitting itself well.  I used ImageMagick onboard to apply some gamma to the images (to replace contrast lost in the atmosphere) and to provide a telemetry overlay, including this one, which I believe is the highest image sent down live from an amateur balloon.

Cjaear8WEAA1ENN

Burst was a few metres later, comfortably beating my previous highest live-image flight.

And this was the last image it sent.  I guessed why.  Remember the camera stuck to the outside?  My guess was that after burst – when the payload suddenly finds itself without support – the line up to the balloon found its way behind the camera which it then removed as the balloon remnants pulled on it.  So, I can’t show you any images from the descent, but I can show you this shot of the Severn Estuary (processed to improve contrast) from the ascent:

15_20_48_shopped-1024x769

 

In the chase car, I stopped at a point with a good view towards the landing area, so I could get the best (lowest) last position I could.  With the payload transmitting both LoRa and RTTY, I had my LCARS Pi receiving the former, and a Yaesu 817 with laptop PC receiving the latter.  With no images, the LoRa side dropped to sending telemetry only, which was handy as I was able to receive a lot of packets as the balloon descended. Overall LoRa seemed to be much more reliable from the car than RTTY did, despite the much higher data rate, and I now would be quite happy to chase a balloon transmitting high bandwidth LoRa and nothing else.

With the final position logged, I carefully tapped that into the car sat nav and then drove off to get the payload back.  10 minutes later I remembered that I’d coded exactly that function into my LCARS program!  2 screen-taps later, I had on-screen navigation (via Navit); I would also have had voice navigation but I hadn’t connected a speaker yet.

Both Navit and the car sat nav took me to a hill with the payload about 300 metres away.  I waited for another HABber to arrive – his first time chasing – and meantime I updated the other enthusiasts online, and took some photographs of the scenery; Shropshire is very pretty.

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Once Andy arrived, we walked down to the payload, watched (as often the case) by the local populace:

Ewe looking at me?

Ewe looking at me?

As expected, the camera was missing, so if anyone wants a free Sony Pi camera, I can give you a 5-mile radius area to search.

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You don’t need CSI to see what went wrong here …

A lot of the balloon was still attached, which helps to explain how the camera was forcibly removed:

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So, a nice flight and recovery.  The Sony camera worked well; 868 LoRa worked well; the LCARS chase car tracker worked well.  Next time, more duct tape!

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