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Planning Project Horizon

Discussion in 'Modding' started by Awoken, 23 Mar 2012.

  1. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    I started visiting Bit-tech back in 2001 when I was looking into building my first computer and I joined up in 2003. Years of happy building, modding and upgrading followed (much cheesecake was eaten). As time has gone on the pressures of moving home, moving from university into work and starting a family have meant I haven’t had as much to contribute but I continue to read the site and the forum regularly. Since joining Bit-tech I have become a teacher and my job has kept me very busy but I miss having a project.

    In January I started following ‘MIT: Hack the Tubes’ and saw Erin King’s near space balloon project. I hadn’t seen anything like it before and my first thought was ‘I could do that!’ I started to research my idea and stumbled upon other groups who had carried out similar projects in the UK. As my research progressed the project evolved in my head and I decided that if I would enjoy it, my pupils would love it (I teach mechanics and mathematics). I drafted an outline of the new, bigger project and arranged to see my headmaster who gave me the green light and some initial capital.

    I have assembled a team of 18 pupils and we have founded the school’s near space exploration club (dubbed ‘Horizon’ as a result of a school competition). Over the coming year we plan to design, build and launch a series of projects, carried by weather balloon, into the stratosphere (we’re aiming for 28-35km above the Earth’s surface initially).

    The pupils have been organised into four departments:

    - Publicity and fundraising (Designing and running both a sponsorship campaign and a publicity campaign)

    - Balloon team ( responsible for the overall build, radio tracking, launch, retrieval, weather advice and flight predictions)

    - Payload team (responsible for designing and building our Arduino based flight computers, sensor arrays and any scientific experiments pupils come up with)

    - IT and Media (Our website design, twitter account, video production and photo editing)

    The team structure is as flat as possible with a central online storage repository being used by all team members to store a diary of their work and any information turned up by their research.

    I know this isn’t strictly a pc build project so it cannot go in the project logs but as it will include the building of two custom in-flight computers (Tracking and Environmental Monitoring) it would be suitable for the modding section.

    The first box of electronics has arrived today (I bought a bit of new kit to supplement my old modding box).
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    I’ll be buying two identical kits for the payload team after the Easter holidays so that they can get used to the Arduino.
    I’ll keep you posted on my progress with my Arduino Uno over the Easter break (it’s the first time that I will have used it).

    For now, that’s all folks!
    ::edit - electronics kit photo added::

    27/03/2012 - Our first team meeting and our first radio
    Our first team meeting went well, the excitement is palpable. everyone is off to do research over the Easter holidays.
    We have also received the offer of a Radio loan from Cambridge University which I have gratefully accepted. It is a Yaesu FT790R and would have set us back more than £140 if we'd had to get it ourselves. This means we now have a radio for testing the flight computer and for tracking the payload once it is airbourne.
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    15/04/12 - Arduino Projects and our new Camera
    Ahh the holidays! Unfortunately I've been ill for most of the past two weeks thanks to the strain of Norwalk virus currently doing the rounds in the UK. I have started to learn the language which underpins the Arduino board (its a lot like C apparently). So far I've been messing around with LED projects, variables, logic tests and using the serial bus to communicate with the board. My next project involves using an IC (first time I have ever done this!) to drive a motor.
    We secured a camera for the project, it's a Canon A560. It doesn't look like much but it will run off Lithium AA batteries (to keep it working in temperatures below -50C) and we'll be tinkering with its firmware (using CHDK) so that it will do our bidding.
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    20/04/12 - Our first sponsor and the payload team meet my electronics kit
    With exams looming for seven of my nine classes I'm being kept very busy marking past papers, preparing exam practice questions and designing revision ressources. Although I haven't had any more time with the Arduino I have found time to write letters to potential sponsors. The first reply came back today from Chris at Rapid Electronics. They were very enthusiastic about the project and not only have they offered to sponsor us by providing much of the electronics required but they are also going to put us in touch with someone they know in the field of High Altitude Ballooning who may be able to offer some guidance for the project.
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    A big thank you to Chris and the team over at Rapid for their generosity and kindness.
    I introduced the pupils in the payload team to my electronics kit and the two laptops donated to us by our school ICT Support Team. Watching their smiles as they hunted through the boxes of LCDs, ICs, LEDs, resistors and sensors was great and took me back to my first PC build. They looked like they had been handed the keys to the toyshop and told to go nuts. I'm looking forward to see them get stuck in and start building projects, I don't think it'll take them very long to get the hang of programming the Arduino.
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    16/05/12 – New electronics kits
    The parcel of electronics arrived from Rapid Electronics today:
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    We now have nearly everything we need to build the flight computer and the environmental monitoring computer.

    18/05/12 – Examination break
    The project teams will be taking a break for four weeks whilst they sit their A-Level exams. We plan to get going again on Monday 18th June once the exams are over.

    28/05/12 – Last of the electronics components ordered
    We put in orders for the more specialist components today; the GPS chip and aerial, the radio chip, the Arduino Mini and the radio antenna (for the flight computer). Hopefully they will arrive just after half term.

    11/06/12 – Last of the electronics components arrive
    The last of the electronics components arrived today. They make up most of the components of the flight computer and will transmit GPS data back to earth.
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    From left to right: The Arduino Mini Pro (brains of the flight computer), Radiometrix NXT2 Radio Module and the uBlox Max 6 module with a Sarantel Antenna.

    26/06/12 – Project Horizon online
    Thanks to our ICT Team members the facebook page, twitter feed and website are officially live today. They are only skeleton accounts at present and are waiting for content but all news will be online from this point forward.

    13/09/12 – Summer Break and a fresh start
    With the summer over we gathered the whole team and set out the project goals for the next term. There is a lot to do now that the research phase is over. To break up the work, each team has received a list of tasks to divide up amongst themselves. The main goals for this term are to get the website up-to-date, build the flight computer and sensor array, and start the fundraising campaign as we must find half of our capital ourselves.

    24/09/12 – Our secret benefactor
    I received a surprise visit from the Headmaster this morning to tell me that a parent, who wished to remain anonymous, had made a donation to our project! This is superb news and takes us much closer to our funding target. We may even be able to buy our own radio which would mean I could offer this project to other year groups. Apparently they were one of the many people I talked to when we had an event at the school last Friday. My team is over the moon that we are so close to our target (we’ve still got a little way to go but it’s manageable).

    25/09/12 – A big step forward
    The payload team have been hard at work learning how to build circuits and control them using the Arduino. Tonight they made a huge leap forward and built the first section of our flight computer. They built a radio transmitter circuit and connected it to an Arduino. They programmed the Arduino to send a text string as an audio pulse using the radio module.
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    On the other side of the room we had a radio connected to a soundcard and laptop. This setup enabled us to receive the signal and translate it back into text. After a brief moment of panic filled with the static of dead air we realised that one of the resistors in the transmission circuit was grounding against the casing of the radio module and as soon as this was corrected the signal was received loud and clear.
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    The radio transmitter will be attached to a GPS circuit which will send the data to the Arduino which will then transmit it using the radio circuit. This transmitter will have a range of 50km or more and our intended altitude is 28-30km. Next on the to-do list is to build a GPS circuit, get a 3D fix on the GPS and read the details using the Arduino.

    26/09/12 – Fundraising events planned
    The Sponsorship and Publicity Team have planned two events for this term; a Samosa Sale (bought in from a local restaurant that caters weddings etc so are used to dealing with volume orders) and a bag packing event at a local supermarket (closer to Christmas). They are now in the process of making bookings and working out the finer detail. The money we raise will help buy equipment which can be used in future projects and fund future launches. We are still hopeful that we may find a few new sponsors as Project Horizon gathers momentum and publicity. We are still trying to find a company willing to sponsor us a Go Pro Hero.

    27/09/12 – F.A.Q., interviews and photos
    Over the next two weeks the ICT and Media team will be organising a whole team photo, interviewing the individual team members and planning the next iteration of the website (the current iteration was only meant to be temporary and has not changed for a while due to exams followed by a long summer break). I have done my part and written a F.A.Q.:

    Where does your budget come from?
    We were lucky to receive a kind donation of start-up capital from the school and the rest we plan to raise ourselves. We are hoping to buy our own radio so that we can continue to offer this project to other groups and we would also like a High Definition Extreme Sports Video Camera so that we can film the balloon’s journey. Once the initial equipment is bought, future flights will cost approximately £230 (including diesel for the minibus which is used to recover the project once it lands).

    Is the project just for people who want to be scientists and engineers?
    There are currently four teams working on the different aspects of the project. The teams are composed of pupils with a wide variety of interests and skills.
    The publicity and sponsorship team design and run the fundraising and sponsorship campaign to raise funds for our equipment. They will also help the ICT and Media team with news for our Facebook page and Twitter account. Once the funding has been raised and the project is being tested they will run a publicity campaign to raise media awareness of what we are doing.
    The balloon team have a diverse set of skills and all of them have very different roles. Two of them plan and build the complete structure of the balloon, its payload and all of the linkages in between. One of them will plan and run the launch day. He or she must try to identify problems and find solutions before they occur. Another team member will handle the ground based tracking equipment and make sure we know where the balloon is at all times during the flight. Lastly, our meteorologist monitors weather patterns, adjusts the amount of helium in the balloon, gives the final okay for launch and predicts the final landing location.
    The payload team design, build, programme and test the project’s computer systems. They have to build a flight computer which will read GPS information and transmit it back to Earth. They also have to construct an Environmental Sensor Array that will take regular measurements of atmospheric conditions and store them on a flash memory card. Once the project is built they will plan and carry out a rigorous series of tests to make sure that all systems will continue to function despite the environmental extremes that they will be exposed to. Finally they will prepare the systems on the day of the launch.
    The ICT team design, build and update our online presence. This includes a dedicated web page (which will feature all of the project news, photos and video), a Facebook page and a Twitter Account. They act as in house reporters; collecting information from the different teams about all the different tasks they are working on. The team also edit our photos and produce our videos. They are responsible for writing custom firmware for our camera so that it will operate autonomously when in flight. They are also responsible for setting up all of the media equipment which will go up with the payload.

    What is the payload?
    The box containing the power supply (lithium battery packs), media equipment, the flight computer, tracking devices, environmental sensors and the antenna is called the payload. It must be strong enough to survive buffeting by violent winds, rain, freezing temperatures, vacuum conditions and a bumpy landing. It must float in case it lands in water, it must be waterproof to survive the elements and it should be light enough that it will be unable to cause any damage when it lands.

    How high will it go and how will it get there?
    We are hoping to attain a height of between 28 and 30km. From that height we should see the curvature of the Earth ringed by a thin blue band which marks the breathable atmosphere. That’s three times higher than the cruising altitude of passenger planes (~10km). The payload is lifted by a special weather balloon containing helium. As the balloon rises the atmosphere becomes less dense and the pressure on the outside of the balloon drops which means the balloon expands until eventually it bursts. When it is close to bursting the balloon will be roughly spherical in shape with a diameter of approximately 8-9m.

    Won’t it come plunging back down to Earth and hit something?
    The balloon is attached to the top of a parachute and the bottom of the parachute is attached to the payload box. The balloon is designed to burst into shreds leaving just a few fragments attached to the top of the parachute. This allows the parachute to open when the atmospheric density is sufficient (under 10km) and it will slow the descent of the payload to about 10mph.
    The payload will be very light and packed into a structure that will absorb any impact to protect the equipment inside. The balloon will only be launched if the projected landing site is not in a densely populated area or over the sea.

    How do you know where it’s going to land and how do you find it?
    Before we launch the balloon we use weather mapping software to simulate its flight. This gives us an estimated landing zone and allows us to decide whether or not to launch it that day. After it has launched its flight computer will transmit GPS data (latitude, longitude and altitude) back to Earth which we will pick up using a radio, decode using a laptop and plot as a flight path on Google Maps. This means anyone can watch the online tracking page to follow the flight as it happens.
    When the balloon lands the radio signal will be blocked by the surrounding terrain so we will use a second tracking device. The payload will contain a smartphone with a tracking application installed. We can text this phone and it will send us its final position which we can plot on a map.

    Why can’t you do all the tracking using a smartphone?
    The mobile phone network is set up to broadcast horizontally not vertically and so coverage does not extend above ~2km. Most GPS chips do not function at altitude; they are designed for location services on the ground or close to it.

    Is there a chance it will hit a plane?
    No. We have to request permission to launch from the Civilian Aviation Authority over a month in advance and they will send as a certificate and put a NOTAM (Notice to airmen) into place so that everyone flying in the area can see where our balloon will be. On the day we will contact the local air traffic control before launch to make sure the balloon will not be in the way of anything else in the air.

    Why are you collecting this data?
    We collect environmental data for two reasons:
    1) It will help us build up a picture of how the conditions in the atmosphere vary with altitude. This will help us plan future flights and adapt our equipment to cope with the extreme conditions it will experience.

    2) If anything were to go wrong the data collected may give us a better understanding of why it went wrong.
     
    Last edited: 14 Oct 2012
  2. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    When are you going to launch?
    There will be a test launch with basic equipment on the first Saturday of February 2013. This will give us a chance to test our tracking equipment and to practise our launch day roles. If the test flight is a success then there will be a full launch on the first Saturday of March 2013 (weather allowing).

    What will happen on the launch day?
    We are planning to launch in the early morning as there will be very little wind. We must fill the balloon with enough helium to lift our equipment and the balloon. The less we put in the more room the gas will have to expand and so the higher the balloon will fly before it bursts. If the balloon ascends too slowly it will drift a long way and may leave the country. If it ascends too quickly the equipment will cool too rapidly and may stop working. We are aiming for an ascent rate of 5ms-1.

    That seems like a long way off. Why does it take so long?
    The equipment we are building is quite complex (the computers are built and programmed from scratch) and we are all learning on the job so progress is a little slow at times. All the equipment must be tested thoroughly to prove that it can cope with the conditions that it will be subjected to. The software needs to be very reliable and so will have to be extensively tested. We also have to stop work for exam periods and holidays.

    What are you going to do in the future?
    Once we have a working and reliable tracking system we can expand the project. We have discussed helping classes in years 7, 8 and 9 design their own high altitude experiments which could be enclosed in small containers and carried beneath the main payload. They could attend the launch day and then track the flight on their home computer while watching our twitter feed for updates from the team chasing the payload as it returns to Earth. When they came back to school after the weekend they could get their experiment back as well as a DVD of the flight.
    We have also discussed making an attempt on the amateur altitude record (currently held by the UK).

    28/09/12 - Parachute and other bits and pieces ordered
    The engineers are keen to start testing designs for the payload box and they have lots of ideas. The biggest consideration is weight; ideally the box needs to weigh less than 400g (given the weight estimates for the rest of the equipment). If it is a windy day there is little chance that the box will land on its base, it is just as likely to land on a corner, an edge or a side as the parachute may bring it in almost sideways. There is also the possibility of a water landing so it needs to be able to float. They also to develop a test which will look at the effects of the impact on the cargo inside the payload.
    They have asked me to order the parachute so now we need to find a nice high place from which to perform drop tests (just as much fun as they sound!).

    09/10/12 - Satellite Lock achieved!
    The Payload Team members have been hard at work on getting the GPS circuit working following their success with the radio transmitter.
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    A second attempt this afternoon by two of the boys built upon the work done by the rest of the team and achieved a lock on four satellites, giving us our first clear GPS positioning data.
    The team is now working towards the challenging goal of combining the two circuits so that the Arduino can transmit GPS data using the radio transmitter. Watch this space...

    11/10/12 - Samosa sale success
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    The Samosa Sale was a roaring success and 500 Samosas were sold in just 10 minutes. We took £156 profit thanks to the hardwork of Sponsorship and Publicity Team, and the generosity of pupils who turned out to support us. We now have enough to buy our own radio instead of borrowing one, this gives the project a bright future.

    16/10/12 - New posters
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    Now that a provisional launch date has been set and we have a new website up and running it seemed a good idea to retire the old teaser posters and bring in a new poster for the project complete with the launch date and our web address. They are already attracting interest amongst the pupils and the gimmick of a QR code has set us apart from the usual boring posters hung around school.

    On a side note, I like QR codes and now that most pupils have a Samsung iphoneblackHTC thingy with which to scan them they offer up some great possibilities for multimedia cryptographic treasure hunts around school...maybe when this first run of the project is over I'll revisit this idea.

    16/10/12 - Smartphone added to the payload
    A kind member of the school support staff has sold us a LG Optimus 7.
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    The phone will function as a secondary tracking system which will help us locate the project once it returns to Earth. Although it will have a small role in the first flight of the project, the extensive functionality of the phone offers many possibilities for future flights.

    16/10/12 - More success for the payload team!
    The Payload Team made a big push forward today on both computer systems. One half of the team managed to get the barometric pressure sensor working, although they are not happy with their algorithm which uses air pressure to estimate altitude (they see a 100m error as unacceptable but considering the altitude being covered is 30km it is only 0.3%). The other team built the prototype flight computer and began planning the structure of the programme for it. Getting the code for the flight computer built is a big mountain to climb but what they lack in coding experience they make up for in perseverance, patience and raw enthusiasm.

    17/10/12 - An odd conversation and a weird question...
    My conversation with Amy began with the words, "I'd like to drop something off your roof..."

    Now that we have a parachute we need to start trying out designs for the payload box which will carry all of our valuable electronic equipment. We also need to test the ability of these designs to protect the equipment when falling from a great height. This involves tying the parachute to a prospective box loaded with something fragile (eggs) and dropping it from a great height. A quick survey of the local area showed that there was really only one candidate - a multi-storey office block. One slightly surreal conversation with the building manager later and I have a provisional agreement to allow us to carry out drop tests as well as an invitation to stop over for a cuppa, and a tour of their roof.

    02/11/12 - Tameway Tower offers to help
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    Omnia Offices at Tameway Tower in Walsall have very kindly offered to let us use their building for our 'drop tests'. These tests will help us assess our designs for an effective payload box. The box must protect the fragile electronics from the elements during flight, from impact when the project returns to Earth on it's parachute and from water if we have a water landing. We'll be filming each test so watch this space for the footage. We would like to say a big thank you to Amy and the team at Omnia Offices as they have been really friendly and helpful from the start and the results of the tests will help us ensure the safety of our equipment.

    05/11/12 - Rapid Electronics features Horizon
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    Project Horizon has been featured on the Rapid Electronics website and on their Twitter feed. This is our first piece of publicity on the wider web and we are getting excited about starting our own publicity campaign once we are happy that the computer systems are completely ready. The first build of the flight computer is nearly complete so keep watching our news feeds for more information.

    13/11/12 - Big breakthrough - It's alive!
    We'll news has been a little slow because we've been reading GPS manuals and Arduino programming guides. The Payload Team sat down to a biscuit fuelled coding session this afternoon and managed to get the first prototype build of our flight computer working.
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    We held our breath as we tuned the radio trying to find the signal, praying that the code worked.
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    The sigh of relief was audiable when the lovely warble of RTTY transmissions broke through the static. A quick bit of tuning in the software and we were receiving clear transmissions of GPS data across the classroom using radio to transmit an audio message which is encoded digitally.
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    Horizon Tracker v1.0 can read GPS data from up to 12 satellites at once, convert the data into an audio signal and transmit it back to Earth as a radio wave. Satellite lock was quickly achieved with 6 satellites and it didn't take long to tune in the radio to receive the signal. We also connected the GPS to google maps and got an exact fix on our school classroom.
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    The next job is to work out how to convert and assemble the GPS data in a string which can be read by the online tracking page http://spacenear.us/tracker/
    This is the easier part of the project and once it's done we'll start the extreme conditions testing. In the mean time we have to prepare for our drop tests from Tameway Tower.

    19/11/12 - Temperature sensors up and running
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    The Payload Team met this afternoon to continue their work on Horizon's Sensor Array. They managed to get the temperature sensors working despite a few teething problems with the code and the software libraries. The sensors will map the temperature change against altitude and bring back a really useful set of data. They will also provide us with a measurement of the temperature difference between the inside of the payload and the surrounding atmosphere which will tell us how effective our insulation is.

    20/11/12 - Flight computer code nearly ready for beta testing
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    The Payload Team met this afternoon to continue their work on Horizon's Flight Computer Software. They are putting the finishing touches to the code so that it will transmit exactly the data we need, in the correct format to be uploaded and tracked online. This is the final hurdle to overcome before the flight computer is ready for assembly and testing and it is proving tricky. We can format the final sentence but we're having trouble calling specific data from the GPS so it's back to the handbook and more research before we try again next week.

    21/11/12 - Work begins on the humidity sensor
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    The Payload Team met this afternoon to continue their work on Horizon's Sensor Array. They have started work on the humidity sensor. It is the most difficult of our group of sensors as it will need calibration and some special code. The Humidity sensor will measure relative humidity. This is the measure of how much water is in the air divided by how much it can hold.The relative humidity reading is given as a percentage and the relative humidity for saturated air is 100%. Research indicates that after the Trophopause water vapour doesn't exist in the atmosphere, so we are expecting sensor data to be produced up to an altitude of 11-17km (the height of the boundary layer varies across the Earth’s surface and is at its lowest at the poles).

    22/11/12 - Behind the scenes...
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    Away from the glamorous coding and computer building there is a lot of organisation taking place. We're trying to organise the day of the launch, catering for the hardy few who will turn out to watch, arranging transport for 20 pupils and 3 teachers to chase down a low altitude satellite hurtling back to Earth at terminal velocity and looking into the wonderful world of video streaming for the launch. We're also organising video interviews with a few key members of the project, ordering materials for construction of the payload box and restoring the project website from backup after our IT manager's portable HDD broke costing us all the recent work on the website. Thank god for an informal backup policy!

    14/12/12 - Breakthrough for the Payload Team!
    The Payload Team finally got the tricky Humidity sensor to work after weeks of problems with Library files. They now have working code for all four sensors. The next step is to build a data logger that will record the sensor data to flash memory. Once the data logger is built they will add in the four sensors and combine the code. Work starts on the data logger next week.

    21/12/12 - Merry Christmas to you all
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    Despite the lack of news on the website recently there is a lot going on behind the scenes for Project Horizon. The Publicity and Sponsorship team are planning our next two fundraising events. Rebecca and Samprit from the ICT Team are preparing to film interviews with some of the team. Anthony from the ICT Team is installing custom firmware on the project’s camera. Joe from the balloon team is testing methods of live video streaming so we can stream the launch on the day. Oliver from the Balloon Team is training to use our radio and tracking software. Manprit and Aaron from the Balloon Team are busy designing and building the payload containers ready for testing. Joe and Adam from the Payload Team are hard at work on the latest revision of the flight computer software which is proving a real challenge. Zain, Jaskaran and Amandeep from the Payload Team are testing the last instrument for the Sensor Array. Lastly, I am in the process of applying to the Civilian Aviation Authority for permission to launch and filling out our risk assessments.

    The New Year will bring with it another flurry of activity but over the next week we’ll be winding down and getting ready for the holiday season. With one week of school left to go the Team would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

    08/01/13 - We're back - Test Launch coming soon!
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    The Horizon Team met up this lunchtime to discuss progress. The meeting can be summarised best by the words of Douglas Adams:

    "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

    This term will be challenging as many of the team have exams. The website may be a little quiet over January as a result but we will be updating it more frequently as preparation for the Test Launch on Saturday 2nd February picks up pace.

    29/01/13 - The Balloons, Batteries and Helium are here
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    Today we took delivery of the final supplies for the test launch. We now have two 1200g Hwoyee Latex Balloons (one for the test launch and one for the final launch), 3.6m{param} of Helium and fresh Lithium Batteries for all of the equipment being launched on Saturday 2{param} February.

    29/01/13 - Preparations for the Test Launch are underway
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    The team is busy as we make final preparations for the test launch of Horizon this weekend. The payload container is under construction, the flight computer is being soldered to stripboard and the smartphone is undergoing tests to make sure that it can send accurate location data on request. There will be a meeting for all Team Members on Friday to make the final decision for the launch.

    31/01/13 - Permission granted!
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    In the 11th hour the Civil Aviation Authority and the school's insurance company have both given us permission to launch. We should receive our certificate shortly. We owe our Finance Officer a great debt of thanks for fighting our corner with the insurance company, without his intervention we would not have been able to fly.

    01/02/13 - Test Launch cancelled
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    The wind on Saturday will be blowing strongly from the North and only one prediction shows a dry landing on the beach near Portsmouth. All other predictions show the project landing in the English Channel. To avoid the loss of equipment we have decided to cancel tomorrow's launch and will now aim to launch next Saturday (09/02/2013).

    05/02/13 - Test Launch rescheduled for Saturday 9th February
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    Having to change the date of the original Test Launch has left us a little shorthanded for the new launch date this Saturday. The weather on Saturday is looking very favourable at present with most predicted landings being in West Oxfordshire. The final decision to launch will be announced at Friday's meeting.

    06/02/13 - Welcome to the newest member of our team
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    The ICT Team have gained a new recruit to help develop the website and to assist with the launch. He is responsible for the new http://horizon.qmgs.walsall.sch.uk/gallery.html gallery on the website and he will soon be working on a Team Page.
     
    Last edited: 2 Mar 2013
  3. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    10/02/13 - Test Launch - Bittersweet but positive
    We arrived at QMGS in a small blizzard and conditions did not look promising for a high altitude launch. We slowly rounded up the members of the team who had braved the elements and sought shelter in a Squash Court, hoping for a break in the weather. We started an hour later than planned but as the construction of the payload began the team quickly pulled together. Everyone worked industriously to prepare our equipment for the launch.
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    Our filler tube which would carry Helium gas from our tank into the balloon was constructed from a bit of garden hose, a hozelock fitting, a few pieces of 40mm waste disposal pipe and a lot of duct tape to seal it. We rammed the garden hose onto the universal adaptor that came with our helium tank and fastened it in place with a screw clip. We planned to attach the balloon neck to the 40mm waste pipe using cable ties and a bit of duct tape. The motto of the day was, "Anything can be fixed with duct tape and cable ties!"
    The main antenna proved particularly tricky to construct as the thin copper strands from the coaxial cable had to be unwoven and then plaited into four separate strands to form a ground plane. It was only then that we discovered that one of our lead engineers had an innate ability for creating Gordian Knots. Never let him near an unfinished knitting project.
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    We ended up having to make a brand new antenna that morning which was a trial and set us back another hour.
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    This left us time to test the balance of the parachute.
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    Fortunately we got the break in the weather we were hoping for and headed out to setup the launch area on the field. Filling the balloon was an amazing moment and the shared excitement united everyone as we realised that all of the planning and hard work had paid off.
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    The radio tracker’s signal was bright and clear and a cheer went up when we saw the live online tracker accurately report our location.
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    [​IMG]
    Our guest from year 9 did the honours of releasing the balloon with the parachute and payload swiftly following it up into the sky. It was a moment of pure wonderment which brought with it a huge sense of achievement.
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    For video footage of the launch click the image below:
    [​IMG]
    At that point we began the clean up, said our goodbyes and the retrieval team set off in pursuit of Horizon as it soared through the sky.
    Whilst travelling in the mini bus we had great difficulty receiving the signal but this did not matter as several amateur radio operators were listening for us and uploading the telemetry coming back from Horizon. We were complimented on the clarity and strength of our signal by other high altitude enthusiasts.
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    Horizon’s balloon burst over Oxfordshire at an altitude of 34 368m (112 756 feet) which placed us at 44th in the Amateur World Altitude rankings on www.arhab.org (we also exceeded the altitude achieved by Sutton Grammar School in their first two launches). Horizon began its descent and we could see the moment the parachute began working as the rate of descent slowed dramatically. We continued our pursuit through. Oxfordshire and down into Hampshire where we received a final radio transmission at 852m, predicting a landing in the village of Old Basing.
    [​IMG]
    Unfortunately I had changed a SIM card in our onboard smartphone the night before had not registered it online so we could not get a final fix on the payload and we had to conduct a search of the area hoping to pick up the faint radio signal on the ground. With the night drawing in we had to abandon our search and head back to Walsall but before we did we talked to the community shop owner and called the local radio station in the hope that anyone who found the project would return it (It is clearly labelled with Queen Mary’s Grammar School and a contact phone number). We have since spoken to the local farming community who have promised to pass around the news and have promised to keep an eye out for it. We remain hopeful that it will be returned.

    Although the loss of the payload was a blow, it was a possible outcome for our first launch and the mistake that resulted in the loss is an easy one to correct in our next launch. There were some great positives to come out of the experience:

    • Our engineers' payload design was very strong and very easy to work with.
    • The planning and organisation of the Balloon Team made sure the whole team could organise themselves quickly and we had all of the correct equipment on the day.
    • The radio tracker which the Payload Team built and tested returned a beautifully clear signal from 34km above the Earth’s surface.
    • The funding and support afforded by the Publicity and Sponsorship Team made the launch possible. Two members of the team also pitched in on the day with last minute testing and construction – it couldn’t have happened without them.

    Every other aspect of the project went very well and I am immensely proud of the pupils responsible for this. We're all looking forward to our next launch with tremendous excitement.

    11/02/13 - The Hunt for Horizon - Day 1
    Unwilling to accept the loss of our first payload I contacted EE during my break on Monday and asked them if they could tell where the phone was. I spoke to a very helpful guy who talked to a couple of other people and was then able to tell me that the phone was connected to a phone mast in Tilehurst in Reading! A quick bit of mental maths told me that in order for the payload to have reached Reading from it's last transmitted coordinates it would have had to have had a horizontal velocity of 422mph!
    [​IMG]
    Someone had obviously picked up our payload, relief! Then I realised that they hadn't called. The project had our number on the side but that may have come loose in flight so I had sent a text to the project smartphone asking for it's safe return should anyone find it. I had also placed a missed call and a voicemail message asking for its safe return. Oh well, maybe they hadn't opened it yet and were wondering what to do with it. EE were very helpful and sent us the exact location of the mast and said that the area that the phone could be in was at most 1 mile in radius.
    With hope in my heart I contacted a couple of old friends who managed to get the phone tracking set up remotely (don't ask me how). That night we got a good GPS fix on the payload, it was at a residential address in Tilehurst Reading.
    [​IMG]
    Despite the blue circle I knew from experience that it was accurate to within a 5m radius (we got lots of practise playing hide and seek with the phone around the school site when we were testing it).
    [​IMG]
    I found out that the property next door had business offices and a quick google search furnished me with all of their details including a phone number. I then locked down the phone remotely with a message on the screen, "Dear Sir/Madam, If you have found this message then you have found our science experiment. Could you please call 07707xxxxx to arrange collection. We have put a great deal of work into it and we are very excited that it has been found. This phone's IMEI is currently being tracked by 'Everything Everywhere' and is known to be at a residential address in Tilehurst, Reading."

    12/02/13 - The Hunt for Horizon - Day 2
    We spoke to the business currently using the offices next door to where we thought the payload was and they agreed to pop a note through the door for us just asking if the occupant had found the payload and if so could they call 07707xxxxx to arrange for us to collect it. I checked the phone's tracker page later that afternoon only to discover it had moved.
    [​IMG]
    The satellite image showed that it was in a small car park, just a short walk from the residential property where we had received the last location. It was around the back of an office building of some kind, near some bins.
    It was at that point that we had a quick meeting and decided to appeal for help. We put out an appeal across several social networks and forums and we got a very speedy response from a Bit-tech member later that evening. Omega Point was on the wrong side of town but put us in touch with his friend Simon who was already on his way to the site. Simon and his friends searched the area thoroughly while I remotely activated the phone's alarm (I had jacked the volume up to full when I had put it in the payload just in case we had to use it this way). Unfortunately after hours of searching we couldn't find anything and Simon never heard the phone's alarm. The phone's power ran out about 1am. Simon offered to try going door-to-door the next day in the hope of someone handing it over and we both decided to call it a night.

    13/02/13 - The Hunt for Horizon - Day 3
    On Wednesday morning we followed the suggestion of someone responding to our online campaign and called the local police for the Tilehurst area to inform them that our project may be in their area. We asked them to get in contact if anyone handed it in. They offered to check the local lost property and to contact other dispatchers for us. On Wednesday afternoon we contacted several popular local papers and radio stations to see if they would help in the search and since then we have spoken to BBC Radio Berkshire who conducted a short interview and offered to send a reporter to the area to talk to local residents. Reading107 mentioned Horizon on their afternoon show and asked their listeners to look out for it for us. The Reading Chronicle ran an article on the missing project on their website.

    13/02/13 - The Hunt for Horizon - Day 4
    On Thursday morning we got in touch with the Council who passed on details of our project to the local refuse collection teams and asked them to keep their eyes open for it. Later that afternoon BBC Berkshire sent a reporter down to speak to local residents but despite a promising lead he only managed to find an abandoned fridge. Shortly after this, an article was published on the BBC Berkshire website.

    14/02/13 - The Hunt for Horizon - Day 5
    On Friday morning Newbury Today ran our story on their website.

    14/02/13 - The Hunt for Horizon - Day 6
    With the phone's battery dead I called EE and asked them to block the SIM and ban/blacklist the IMEI. It's time to get focused on the main launch and start again.

    19/02/13 - The Hunt for Horizon - Day 9
    This afternoon I got a call from BBC South today who want to help us track down Horizon. They're putting together a program and asked for media from the project. I'll be heading to the Mailbox in Birmingham for a short interview about the project. We've also had a few people contact the school and offer to help with our search. They've spent the afternoon canvassing all of the streets in the blue circle indicated by our last GPS reading. Flyers have been put through doors and residents have been asked if they had seen Horizon (we sent photos and produced the flyers from our end in Staffs).

    19/02/13 - The Hunt for Horizon - Day 11
    The interview at the Mailbox went well and the program was aired at around six o'clock this evening.


    25/02/13 - The Horion project goes on
    [​IMG]
    Most of the team have been on a school trip to Space Camp at the NASA training facility in Alabama over the half-term (3 days of sightseeing and 6 days of intensive NASA training) and are due back tomorrow. I've put a new parachute on order but we have just about all of the supplies we need for the main launch. The only thing we still need is a replacement smartphone.

    26/02/13 - Horizon 2 begins...
    [​IMG]
    The Payload Team have hit the ground running and are nearly finished building Horizon 2's flight computer. We ran a quick blink test on the Arduino only to find that the +3.3V output was shorted to the GND :grr: A few quick alterations and it was soon fixed.
    [​IMG]
    The one cloud on the 'horizon' (excuse the pun) is that the Sensor Array is a long way behind deadline and it'll be touch and go as to whether it is finished in time for the launch date :wallbash:
    [​IMG]
    One of the Sponsorship and Publicity Team has very generously donated a Sony Xperia X8. It needs to be rooted with Froyo or later but that shouldn't take us long to get done :thumb:

    04/03/13 - The publicity drive starts here
    The press release put together by our Publicity Team got the Headmaster's approval over the weekend and has now been sent to all local and regional radio stations, papers and tv channels. Fingers crossed that some of them bite as publicity means the prospect of future sponsorship and I'd love to run this project again (we've brainstormed loads of ideas for future launches).

    04/03/13 - Prototype for the sensor array
    The prototype for the sensor array is coming together but we're running very close to the wire on this one, most of the code still needs to be written as we're adding flash storage and time stamped logging - something none of our team has done before. They'll be back at it tomorrow.

    04/03/13 - Live online video stream vs School Network Proxy
    Our plan to offer a live video stream of the launch is on the rocks as we can't get the stream past the school's networking setup. Works fine on a home network. We're consulting with the IT Technicians to see if this can be rectified.

    05/03/13 - Payload under construction
    The Horizon 2 payload shell and internal frame are complete and the inserts are ready to be shaped around the components. Parachute balancing will take place later this week and then we will attach the antenna.

    05/03/13 - Flight computer dead
    The project engineers soldered in the final connections, powered up the flight computer and flashed it with our latest tracking code. A quick test followed and...nothing. A check of individual components revealed that the radio transmission module had broken. We have a new one on order.

    07/03/13 - Launch postponed
    [​IMG]
    With the weather looking hostile for most of the morning we have decided to postpone the launch. A new date will be chosen very soon. Watch this space for now.

    08/03/13 - A New Launch Date
    We held an emergency meeting this morning to catch up on news and decide upon a new launch date.
    There was some serious excitement as our Publicity Officer informed the rest of the team that there was a strong chance that the BBC would be coming out to cover 'the making of Horizon' and that ITV were showing interest in filming the launch. With a little bit of luck there will be good coverage of the pupils and all of their hard work.
    We settled upon a new date: Saturday 23rd March. This is the last day of our launch window and rescheduling would mean having to apply 28 days in advance, putting us uncomfortably close to exams so this is going to be 'make or break'. Hopefully the gamble will pay off and we'll get better weather.
    The radio module for the flight computer still hasn't shown up despite being ordered 'special delivery' on Tuesday. Royal Mail seem to have lost our school.
    The good news is that parachute testing and balancing starts next week so watch this space for more photos and footage.

    12/03/13 - Flight computer finished!
    Joe Hodgkinson soldered our new radio transmitter to Horizon 2’s flight computer and uploaded the Horizon 2 tracking code.
    [​IMG]
    We spent a few tense moments searching through frequencies before we heard the familiar warble of the flight computer’s transmission. A little fine tuning and we were soon getting information back from the five satellites above.
    [​IMG]
    With the flight computer now finished we set about finishing off the second antenna (a precaution put into place after the last launch in which an accident during installation broke the first antenna and meant that a replacement had to be hacked together there and then, delaying the launch by an hour).

    15/03/13 - A new smartphone
    The telemetry and tracking software we wanted to run on our Sony Xperia X8 needed Android v2.3 Gingerbread so we set about rooting it. One of our engineers had no trouble rooting it and I unlocked the bootloader a couple of evenings later. The problem we ran into was that installing a new kernal led to a boot loop. We tried several different kernals and tried wiping caches, etc to no avail. In the end we bit the bullet and splashed out on another second hand phone. Say hello to the latest Horizon phone (at a very cheep price!) the HTC Desire S
    [​IMG]

    16/03/13 - Horizon featured in the Walsall Advertiser
    I got an email from our team's publicity officer last night to say that the Walsall Advertiser have featured Horizon on page 3:
    [​IMG]
    They also put an article on their website.

    17/03/13 - Early flight path predictions look good
    The first flight predictions have been made for the launch of Horizon 2 on Saturday 23rd March and they look pretty good. Flight time should be ~2hrs 40mins, peak altitude will be ~32km and the predicted landing spot is 1hr 42mins by car from Walsall (a blessing as we'll have a minibus fitted with a speed limiter for one of the chase vehicles). If the weather could give us clear blue skies on the day that would be wonderful!
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: 19 Mar 2013
  4. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

    Joined:
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    18/03/13 - Monday's flight path prediction and weather
    Today's flight prediction sees the predicted landing zone move closer to the East Coast. Even with the extra distance we still won't be chasing it for as long as we did on the test launch. With any luck we may be close enough to watch it land this time.
    [​IMG]
    The uk weather report is gloomy with snow being predicted across central areas (the whole flight path).

    18/03/13 - Drop tests
    The drop tests are one of the really light hearted moments of the project. The Balloon Team are supposed to attach the parachute to the payload box and then use a series of drops to help them balance it so that it does not drift when falling. It usually descends into 'fun ways of dropping the project box'.
    The bare payload box.
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    All the necessary tools are out and we're ready to start.
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    Threading the parachute.
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    Balancing.
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    Test video number 1.
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    Aaron rebalanced the parachute.
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    Test video number 2 - this time we just used the lid so it would fall more slowly allowing us to see the fully deployed canopy shape.
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    The boys got up to a little mischief and Aaron found himself bound up in the parachute.
    [​IMG]
    The parachute has been thoroughly tested and we now know how to position it.

    18/03/13 - Payload Team hit a dead end with the SD card
    We're revisiting an ongoing problem today and trying to get the Arduino to talk to a SD card. We tried several approaches and two libraries but to no avail. We do have a couple more tricks up our sleeves which we're going to try tomorrow.
    [​IMG]

    18/03/13 - A day for arrivals
    Our NOTAM (Notice to airmen) arrived from the CAA today!
    [​IMG]
    A radio module arrived...Horizon 3? Watch this space!
    Best of all was the new smartphone (HTC Desire S) arrived. It took me very little time to get it setup and connected to Giff Gaff. I installed Avast Mobile Security which would let us track the phone, set off its alarm remotely, lock it down remotely and forward its calls and texts. We're planning to put it through its paces tomorrow evening.

    19/03/13 - Tuesday's flight path prediction and weather
    Today's flight prediction sees the predicted landing zone move back towards Walsall. I'm hoping it stays this way as we can allow 30mins for clean up and still arrive in time to see the payload return under parachute.
    [​IMG]
    The UK weather report is still gloomy with light showers and clouds being predicted across central areas (the whole flight path).

    19/03/13 - Sensor array mothballed
    We had to take a tough decision and mothball the sensor array today. Having spent another hour trying to get the SD card working I decided to call a halt to it. It is sad to have to admit that there is no way we could possibly have it ready for launch now but that's the position we are in. We still have all of the code and circuit disgrams for the sensors and this aspect of the project will be put on hold until we can fix the problems with the SD card storage. If we fly Horizon 3 this may well be on that flight but for now all I can do is thank my hardworking team and express my sympathies as their goal remains out of reach for now.

    19/03/13 - Horizon 'Hide & Seek'
    I gave the other half of the Payload Team training on how to track the payload using the flight computer and smartphone.
    [​IMG]
    I fixed an antenna in place to boost the signal strength of the flight computer (we will use the same one for the main launch).
    [​IMG]
    I then placed both trackers into the payload box and hid it somewhere on site.
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    We repeated this game three more times until we were certain we could find the Payload with little trouble.

    20/03/13 - Wednesday's flight path prediction and weather
    Today's flight prediction sees the predicted landing zone move closer to Walsall. The travel time is now under 2 hours which means we will have a 45-50 minute headstart on Horizon. With any luck we may be close enough to watch it land this time.
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    The uk weather report is gloomy with snow being predicted across central areas (the whole flight path).

    21/03/13 - Thursday's flight path prediction and weather
    Today's flight prediction sees the predicted landing zone move slightly to the North, over Grantham. To avoid landing at a residential address we would have to launch at 11am. The travel time is now a little above 2 hours as we'll have to circumnavigate Grantham.
    [​IMG]
    The uk weather report is gloomy with heavy snow being predicted for a day and a half in the run up to the launch. Light snow is predicted for the launch itself. We're just glad to be outside of the 'area of effect' of the yellow weather warning along the whole flight path. Let's hope it stays that way.
    [​IMG]

    21/03/13 - Project Horizon TV
    [​IMG]
    After a successful test yesterday we can confirm that we will have a live online video stream of the launch tomorrow. The stream will be embedded in our homepage and will run from 9:30am until launch so that you can watch the preparations and launch from home. Well done to Joe France and Khrishan Patel who set it up and embedded the code in the website! A big than you to the IT Technicians at school who applied on our behalf for restrictions to be lifted on the school’s internet connection.

    22/03/13 - Friday's flight path prediction and weather
    Today's flight prediction sees the predicted landing zone move East and slightly further from Walsall. The travel time for retrieval is now less than 2hours.
    [​IMG]
    The UK weather forecast is still 'interesting' with heavy snow being predicted for Friday night. Light snow showers and gusting winds are predicted for the launch itself. The heavy snow predicted for this morning has been just a couple of wet centimetres of snow, the gusting winds may prove more of a challenge.
    [​IMG]

    23/03/13 - Launch postponed due to hazardous weather
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    The launch for this Saturday has been postponed due to heavier than expected snowfall across the entire flight path and strong winds. Sadly, launching and retrieving Horizon 2 would not be possible in these weather conditions. The team will meet next week to decide upon a new launch window and then permission will be sought from the Civil Aviation Authority.

    Though the cancellation of the launch is a blow, opportunity may be found in adversity. Any extra time made available by a later launch date will give us more time to test Horizon's systems and may give us the opportunity to crack the problem we have had with the Sensor Array.

    27/03/13 - New launch date set!
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    Following today's meeting, the team have decided to launch Horizon 2 on Sunday 30th June. The new date is set later in the year because examinations are now looming for the team. We plan to launch after the exams. This may give us time to get the sensor array working. With most of the work for Horizon now finished this blog will be a little quiet for the next couple of months.


    13/05/13 - Good luck!
    [​IMG]
    Over the coming weeks most of the team will be taking either GCSEs or A-Levels so please join me in wishing them the very best of luck!

    03/06/13 - We're back and counting down!
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    There are just 27 days until the launch and we've got a lot to do. There will be equipment checks of all systems over the next couple of weeks. A camera housing will be constructed for the main camera. Reminders will be sent to all those involved in the launch. A last look will be taken at the Sensor Array in the hope that it can be made functional by the launch and the hunt for a suitable minibus will continue.

    With a lot of the build finished we'll also be looking into adding a 'How it was made...' section to the Horizon website with details of our resources, equipment and code.

    24/06/13 - Monday's flight path and weather predictions
    Today's flight path prediction shows Horizon 2 landing in the centre of Nottingham. Were this the case on the day, we could adjust the amount of Helium which fills the balloon. Less helium will mean that the balloon ascends slower and will drift further, allowing us to land in the countryside.
    [​IMG]
    Though very uncertain at the moment, the forecast looks favourable with light cloud, sunny spells and low wind speed in the morning.
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    24/06/13 - Monday's flight path and weather predictions
    The SD card interface proved especially tricky to work out but after a great deal of research (and a healthy bit of trial and error) the SD card can now be read from and written to.
    [​IMG]
    The next job is to try reading a sensor and recording the reading along with the time at which it was taken (so we'll need to add a clock circuit). Watch this space for more news!
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    25/06/13 - Tuesday's flight path and weather predictions
    Tuesday's flight path prediction shows Horizon 2 landing on the outskirts of Birmingham. With such variability we will need to take regular predictions right up to point of launch for the best possible data. We'll control Horizon 2's trajectory and flight time by varying the amount of helium in the balloon. The best news is that all predictions so far show that Horizon 2 will not travel far from Walsall.
    [​IMG]
    There is little change in the forecast since yesterday and if it is anything like today we can look forward to some amazing imagery.
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    25/06/13 - Horizon's special passenger
    We're proud to announce that Horizon 2 will be carrying CASSiE - the UK's Space Mascot into 'near space' on Sunday's flight. Look out for CASSiE on launch day!
    [​IMG]
    @SpaceMascotUK

    26/06/13 - Wednesday's flight path and weather predictions
    Wednesday's flight path prediction is good and shows Horizon 2 landing in the countryside just an hours drive from Queen Mary's Grammar School. As the whole flight will take over two hours this would be ideal and give us the chance to see it descend.
    [​IMG]
    The forecast continues to look good with light cloud cover, low winds and sunny intervals.
    [​IMG]

    27/06/13 - Thursday's flight path and weather predictions
    Thursday's flight path prediction takes into account the revised prediction of a slightly stronger and westerly wind and shows Horizon 2 landing in the countryside just to the south of Melton Mowbray and a 90 minute drive from Queen Mary's Grammar School. As the whole flight will take over two hours this would be ideal and may afford us the opportunity of seeing Horizon 2 returning to Earth.
    [​IMG]
    The forecast continues to look good with light cloud cover, low winds and sunny intervals.
    [​IMG]

    27/06/13 - Launch confirmed!
    The launch of Horizon 2 is confirmed for this Sunday. The weather is good, landing predictions are favourable, all the equipment is checked and we've been granted our NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) by the Civil Aviation Authority.
    [​IMG]

    28/06/13 - Friday's flight path and weather predictions
    Friday's flight path prediction takes Horizon 2 much closer to Queen Mary's Grammar School. The drive should be 70 mins long. As the whole flight will take over two hours this affords us the opportunity of seeing Horizon 2 returning to Earth.
    [​IMG]
    The forecast continues to look good with light cloud cover, low winds and sunny intervals. We'll need to keep an eye on the predicted gusts though and launch early if it looks like the wind is getting increasingly strong.
    [​IMG]

    29/06/13 - Saturday's flight path and weather predictions
    Conditions look good for tomorrow's launch as Saturday's flight path prediction is almost identical to Friday's flight path prediction.
    [​IMG]
    The forecast still says to expect light cloud cover, low winds and sunny intervals but gusts are no longer predicted around 10am which will make the launch easier.
    [​IMG]

    01/07/13 - Sunday's launch a misfire, relaunch planned
    [​IMG]
    Despite being very prepared and having a great deal of fun, Sunday's launch failed to take off. We had technical difficulties with our camera and our helium cylinder adaptor which resulted in the launch running very late and then not having sufficient lift. Fortunately all equipment is intact and functioning. The helium cylinder adaptor problem has been resolved and we're working on the camera this week. The live feed worked well considering the poor WiFi covereage in that area of the school and we're hoping to have our presenters back on Saturday. Predictions will be posted all week so watch this space!

    01/07/13 - Re-launch date set
    We'll be having a second go at launching Horizon 2 (and CASSiE) at 10am on Saturday 6th July. Just as before we'll be running a Live video feed, online real-time tracking throughout the flight and a very busy twitter account. We're very grateful to our school who stepped in to help us replace the balloon, helium and parachute. Watch out for the daily predictions, maybe we'll be landing near you!

    01/07/13 - Meet CASSiE and my interview with BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire
    [​IMG]
    CASSiE (Cosmic Ambassador for Space Science and Engineering) was dreamed up and knitted by listeners to the Vic Minett show on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. She was made in response to the NASA mascott, Camilla. CASSiE was adopted by Vix Southgate (Writer & Illustrator of children's books, STEM Ambassador, Production Designer, Handy Woman and Mum). She was intended to be a mascot for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. The aim was to raise awareness of:
    - The UK in Space
    - The UK’s contribution to the international Space community
    - The UK’s historical achievements in Space
    and to:
    - Inspire the next generation of Space Explorers
    - Promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in schools
    - Promote Space Exploration
    Vic Minett invited me to join Vix on her show this afternoon to discuss the launch of Horion 2 and CASSiE (I was on about 2hrs and 47mins into her [URL="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01b8qfn]program[/URL]). I love the idea of CASSiE and my team has really taken to her. If Horizon continues beyond the next launch then we'll be collaborating with her again.

    02/07/13 - Tuesday's flight path and weather predictions
    Conditions look good for Saturday's launch as the predicted flight path shows Horizon 2 landing just South of Derby (in the countryside). If the final predictions are close to this then it will only take 1hr to get to the landing point. The payload should have a flight time of 2hrs 30mins which means we may be able to watch it land.
    [​IMG]
    The forecast for Saturday looks good at the moment with very low winds and sunny intervals. Conditions like this would make for a less stressful launch.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: 6 Jul 2013
  5. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

    Joined:
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    03/07/13 - Wednesday's flight path and weather predictions
    Conditions continue to look good for Saturday's launch as the predicted flight path shows Horizon 2 landing just West of Measham (in the countryside). If the final predictions are close to this then it will only take 45 mins to get to the landing point. The payload should have a flight time of 2hrs 30mins which means that there is a good chance at present that we'll be able to watch it land.
    [​IMG]
    The forecast for Saturday looks very good at the moment with very low winds and a clear, sunny day. Conditions like this would make for a less stressful launch and the high visibility should result in some excellent photos.
    [​IMG]

    04/07/13 - Thursday's flight path and weather predictions
    The predicted flight path shows Horizon 2 passing over the northern suburbs of Birmingham and landing just East of Wishaw, the M6 Toll and the M42. By launching a couple of hours later, the flight will head further East, landing safely in the countryside. With the launch still 2 days off, predictions will doubtless change again. The one advantage is that the drive to collect Horizon 2 would be remarkably short.
    [​IMG]
    The forecast for Saturday still looks very good with lots of sunchine, very low winds and a clear day. Conditions like this would make for a less stressful launch and the high visibility should result in some excellent photos.
    [​IMG]

    05/07/13 - Friday's flight path and weather predictions
    The current predicted flight path for 10am shows Horizon 2 landing in the South East suburbs of Birmingham. This is not ideal. If this is the case on the day we'll have to look at launching later in order to land in the countryside. For the moment we'll have to hope that the forecast continues to change and that things will be different tomorrow. For now, the time of launch is uncertain.
    [​IMG]
    We'll be putting on sunscreen with a trowel this weekend. The predicted temperature at 10am is 19oC, rising to 25oC later on. Clear skies are predicted for the whole day. The wind speed has picked up a little but it's nowhere near as bad as last week. Fingers crossed it stays this way.
    [​IMG]

    05/07/13 - Camera script working!
    [​IMG]
    After a lot of research we were able to install the custom firmware on our Canon A560 camera and load the software script which will make the camera take photos continuously once the shutter button has been pressed until either the battery dies or the shutter button is pressed again. We are now in a position to record images every few seconds throughout the entire flight upto 30-35km above the Earth's surface and back again. We may even capture the slight curvature of the Earth and the blue haze of the breathable atmosphere visible on the horizon. We hope to use photostitching software to produce one large panoramic image, taken at the highest altitude reached.

    06/07/13 - Horizon 2 - Mission accomplished!

    Disaster?
    The team arrived at QM on Saturday morning at 8am. We were planning to launch at 10am and began looking at the predictions for the day to see if that was possible or if we needed to adjust the launch time or helium to allow for a safe landing. We were utterly dismayed to find that no matter when we planned to launch or how little or much helium we used we would be flying backwards and forwards across Birmingham, the second most populated city in the country, criss-crossing the airport and several motorways in the process. The only way the flight path could have been any worse was if we were predicted to land at Heathrow! In danger of being thwarted again despite the beautiful weather we needed a new plan.

    Plan B
    I knew there were several other flights taking place in the UK that day so I logged onto the chatroom for high altitude ballooning (HABing) and asked if anyone had a flight permission that they couldn’t use. As it happened I got a reply from David Akerman, a pioneer in the field responsible for using the Raspberry Pi to transmit photos back live from his flights (http://www.daveakerman.com/). He had a spare flight permission available, as someone who was planning to fly with him that day had equipment problems. Not only did he offer us the use of the permission, but he also offered to help as he’d be flying later that day. The flight predictions for that area were superb, with a long flight time and a landing just 45-55 miles from the point of launch. We had a quick vote and decided to set out for Brightwalton in West Berkshire immediately. We travelled in two cars with myself and Paul Elsden driving. We all met up at David’s house at 11:26. He talked us through the flight he was planning for later that day and then led us down to the launch area we’d be using.

    The Setup
    [​IMG]
    Setting up the payload was very straight forward apart from one parachute tangle. We’d brought with us the UK Space Mascot ‘CASSiE’ (Cosmic Ambassador for Space, Science and Engineering) which was on loan from Vix Southgate, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Coordinator who works closely with the UK Space Agency. CASSiE went into the payload with the equipment as she was hitching a ride out of the atmosphere.
    [​IMG]
    Filling the balloon was a little tense as it was clear that there was a small leak somewhere between the regulator on the tank and our adaptor (it would later turn out to be a poor washer fit on the hired regulator – next time we get our own off ebay!). We added a bit of duct tape as a temporary seal and borrowed a luggage scale from David to test the lifting power of the balloon. We emptied the helium tank into the balloon and were relieved to find that we had lost very little helium through the leak.
    [​IMG]

    Lift off!
    [​IMG]
    With all equipment setup and tested the launch was fairly straightforward with Oliver Jevons releasing the balloon and gradually paying out the line until it was high enough to lift the payload out of our fingers at 13:33. The balloon stack soared straight up at 4.85m/s (11mph in old money) and was visible from the ground for some time thanks to the beautiful, sunny weather.
    [​IMG]

    Waiting...
    With the payload and balloon out of sight we set off for a motorway service station to get some lunch and wait for the balloon to burst. Meanwhile David set off home to prepare his own flight. We arrived at McDonalds at 14:30 and we quickly tucked into packed lunches and waited for the inevitable burst (it is best to wait close to where the balloon will burst as the predicted landing point will be more accurate after the burst).
    [​IMG]

    The Chase!
    We were in a prime position and could see clearly where the balloon was headed after it burst so having finished lunch (and failing to connect to the in-store Wifi) we decided to jump the gun and travel to Kingsclere, a village that should be right in the path of the balloon when it started to descend. Just as we arrived we got word that the balloon had burst and that it was heading a little to the south of the village at over 62m/s (140mph in old money) and accelerating. We also discovered that Horizon 2 had achieved a peak altitude of 32151m, beating our target of 28-30km (but not our previous record of >34km). We switched on an as yet untested car tracker that would show our chase car’s position on the map along with Horizon 2’s position so that those online could enjoy the excitement of the chase. We changed course and headed to Hannington but the payload was coming down fast behind us and worried that we’d overshot, we stopped just before reaching the village at 15:56.

    Touchdown!
    [​IMG]
    As the payload came within range we searched the skies for it but missed seeing it land. We sent a text message to the on-board tracker and it replied swiftly with a map of where it was – in the field we had parked next to! After a short walk along the field border Joseph France spotted the unmistakeable fluorescent pink and green parachute just a few metres into the field. We found the payload with the camera still running. A small stub of balloon neck was still attached to the payload after the balloon had burst but this was expected. The payload had narrowly missed some power lines as it landed for which we were very relieved.

    To the victor go the spoils!
    [​IMG]
    When we returned to the car we unsealed the payload to find CASSiE intact along with all of our equipment which was still working.
    [​IMG]
    We removed the memory cards from the camera and video camera and set out back to Walsall at about 16:40. As we drove down the M40 the team inserted the memory cards into a laptop and started watching back the footage. They were elated to see the footage was beautifully clear and that both cameras had functioned well throughout the flight. The team arrived in Walsall at 18:45, sunburned, exhausted but triumphant. After all the practice and hard work we’d seen it through with spectacular results.

    A few teaser pics to tide you over until I can edit the 32GB of in-flight video into a highlights reel:
    [​IMG]
    Taken 100m up above Bright Walton Berkshire

    [​IMG]
    Taken 1km above Bright Walton, West Berkshire

    [​IMG]
    Taken at 30km and showing the Bristol Channel, Cornwall, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire and Devon

    [​IMG]
    Taken at 30km and showing the Isle of Wight, Dorset, Berkshire, the English Channel and Cherbourg in Northern France


    Horizon 2 - Video
    Here is the highlights reel from Horizon's internal HD video camera. Best watched at 1080p!



    15/07/13 - Behind the scenes #2
    Since we launched we've been busy boys and girls. I slaved over the press pack and video (I know nothing about video so please excuse the rough cuts of MS Movie Maker). One of the team is working on a better video that goes beyond just the last launch and tells our story (We're getting a preview tomorrow and I'll be uploading it as soon as the final edit is done).
    We've been putting out the word and hoping for some kind publicity (Local newspapers, local radio, local TV, Tourist Information (Visit Us...) Sites for the Counties in our photos and video as well as the STEM network. Uptake has been slow but we've had a lot of enquiries and Free Radio have covered our story briefly. The STEM network likes the project and we're hoping they can help us find companies which might be willing to help us keep the project going next year through one-off deals and partnership agreements.

    What's next?
    We'd like to make a run at the altitude record of 44km which would put us ahead of a well known Red Bull project (we'd need to form a new team as most of our team has left for university):

    20/07/13 - Behind the scenes #3
    We've finished the crew video and I'll be putting together the crew packs (photo prints, DVD with photos and crew video, certificate, etc) over the next few days.
    I've decided to keep the project going as there are a few goals I want to achieve so I'll be taking on a new team in September (I have a feeling that we'll get one or two applicants after the crew video demos in assembly).
    While combing through the photos I stumbled upon a good picture of a plane:
    [​IMG].
    I'm off to put together a proposal for the new project and start the process of seeking sponsors all over again.

    We've got a new project for 2013-2014 - 'Beat Felix!' We're aiming to beat the altitude set by Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos Team amongst other things.
     
    Last edited: 12 Jan 2015
  6. Boscoe

    Boscoe Electronics extraordinaire.

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    Sounds mega I wish my pathetic school would of done something like this when I was there! You mention arduino how about raspberry pi something new and interesting you could integrate and use it for what it was actually designed!
     
  7. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    I considered a number of alternatives including the pi but Arduino had the winning combination of a well established collection of resources, a strong online community and simplicity of use. These make it a very appealing platform to complete beginners. I'll look into the pi once the community is a little more mature and once we have a reliable Arduino tracker. The other big appeal of the Arduino is that once you have a working circuit and programming you can lever out the ATMEGA chip and drop it into a custom built PCB so that instead of having dozen's of modules interconnected you can have them all on one PCB.
     
  8. Editor22

    Editor22 E22 | Hex-Gear

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    Sounds fantastic man! subbed in anticipation!
     
  9. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    A few updates added since my original post.
     
  10. enterobsidian

    enterobsidian Hopless World Wonderer

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    What method of transmission are you planning to use? The usual method for tracking via amateur radio is APRS, which would mean you would have to add a Terminal Node Controller to the package to run the transceiver. Something worth thinking about, as it adds weight to the setup.

    Possibly the best place for researching this is the APRS forums or similar.

    I'll be watching this with interest, being an amateur radio operator myself. Good luck and all the best.

    Cheers
    Enterobsidian
     
  11. Vetalar

    Vetalar *learning english*

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    [ot]during last few years i saw (at the Internet) dozens micro-controller devices mostly based on arduino. micro-controllers are versatile, universal etc. and i even thought to step in that club to make my own something micro-controllable :) recently I've read that _quote_:"arduino era is ending - it's time to ARMvX"
    is it true? and where had to go n00b like me at the beginning of his journey?[/ot]

    great project! I'll be watching this with interest!
     
  12. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    Thanks for your post enterobsidian. In answer to your question, transmission will use a version of this system:
    http://ukhas.org.uk/guides:linkingarduinotontx2
    UHF 70cm band ~434MHz.
    Reception will be with a homemade yagi and the FT790R radio.

    Hi Vetalar, as I hinted in an earlier post the Arduino is a stepping stone, chosen due to simplicity of the platform, the low costs and the vast availability of code online. We will move on as the project's needs change but it is essential to have a reliable flight computer design so that new designs can be tested alongside it without fear of losing them due to errors/unforseen problems.

    I'm going to start playing around with the Arduino over the next week. I'll let you know how it goes.
     
    Last edited: 31 Mar 2012
  13. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    We've got our first sponsor and the boys have been set loose with my electronics kit. Chaos will shortly ensue!
     
  14. Kiliv

    Kiliv New Member

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    I've been planning something similar to this and considered the pi etc too, will be interested to see how this works out
     
  15. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    The engineering and ICT teams are busy talking over the plans for their different areas and the sponsorship campaign is starting to get underway. We're on target to afford the first test launch and we're now trying to get together enough for a second launch, our own radio (which could be used for all future launches as our current radio is on loan) and an HD Video Camera (hopefully a Go Pro to film the balloon's journey into the outer atmosphere). The project is generating a quiet buzz around school and I am looking to make this a regular project so that more pupils can have the experience. I'm also thinking about how I could build upon the excitement surrounding the project in the future. Nobody else on the staff is interested in combining electronics, computing, engineering and mathematics so there are lots of possibilities for the future (use of the dedicated classroom at Birmingham Airport to teach pupils about the aerospace industry, trips to hacker spaces, the Big Bang event, fpv robotics etc) but for the moment I'm just going to aim to help the pupils make this project a real success.
     
    Last edited: 24 Jun 2012
  16. dancingbear84

    dancingbear84 error 404

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    This sounds like a brilliant project. When your guys and girls get a Web site and twitter feed or Facebook presence post the links and I will bounce them around. I have no skills in that area or 250k spare behind the sofa I'm afraid, but I can forward a link!? :)
     
  17. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    Work on the project is halted for exams (most of the students involved are in y12). We'll begin again mid-June. Until then :dremel:
     
  18. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    With exams over work begins again. There have been a few exciting developments including the initial draft of the website, the establishment of a twitter account and the receipt of a lot more electronics. Now we get started in earnest.
     
  19. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    Thanks to a glut of UCAS references and end of term reports I've been unable to find the time to post. After a well deserved summer holiday the project is getting going again and we have much progress to share along with official test flight and final launch dates! Watch this space over the next two weeks.
     
  20. Awoken

    Awoken Gazing at the stars

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    New updates are up with more to follow. We are now looking to include an Android phone in the payload to act as a back up tracking system for this flight (although we plan to code an app for it on future flights which will enable us to take advantage of its sensors). If you have a phone you would be willing to donate please drop me a PM. Such a donation would make a big difference to the project and we can arrange a mention on the website as well as mementoes from the final flight for anyone who can help us out.
     

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