Latest antics

Here I am a month after the last post and it is has been a month of very little ‘radio antics’.

I was acutely aware that since the end of September my wife had become a radio widow so promised not to lock myself away in the shack for a while and have been doing some much needed painting and decorating around the house.

I haven’t been in much of a radio mood anyway as I have been unwell and am still not fully over my last wobble. Band and weather conditions have been rubbish with a sustained period of high wind and rain including storms Abigail and Barney. As a precaution I dropped the pole and it became apparent I had some maintenance to do on the OCFD.

The shack too had been in need of some sorting out, which I thankfully I did muster enthusiasm to tidy up.

While being largely uninspired I haven’t been completely radio silent, I did get on air for the South Kesteven ARS 2m net but found myself suffering some QRM again


It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this sort of signal, but I had thought it had gone away, it seems it is back and stronger! This was an ARISS contact I monitored back in 2013 before I was licensed with a similar noise.


After using the SDR to identify the noise I realised I have been neglecting the FUNCube Dongle for far too long. So ordered some new SMA adapters from HamGoodies and pressed it back into service. I have been using it to decode the telemetry from the FOX-1A (AO-85) satellite with the updated software and have now got myself on the leader board even if the collinear is currently horizontal about four feet off the ground!

South Kesteven ARS had a talk in October by Sean Burton 2E0ENN about amateur DMR where he demonstrated some handsets and the new DV4Mini which allows gateway and internet linking.

I remembered I dabbled a few years ago with decoding PMR DMR using the SDR and a scanner with a discriminator tap using various programs but they were very hit and miss at the time. I reacquainted myself with the various projects and had a go at decoding some amateur transmissions.

I downloaded the latest program called DSDPlus  (support at RadioReference.com) and monitoring the nearby GB7RR DMRPlus repeater managing to get some clear decodes with little effort.

Finally this week I gave a presentation at SKARS on the subject of HABs and how to plan a HAB launch. Following on from the Eggsplorer-1 and Hamfest “Pigs In Space” HAB launch I decided to try to explain everything I had learned for anyone else contemplating giving it a go!

It was a long talk (perhaps too long) as I covered everything from building the electronics, software, making the payload box, getting the right balloon, parachute, gas, obtaining permission and then the prediction, launching tracking and recovery.

It was a great turnout with a lot of interest.

MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 – We’ve got the data!

Following the euphoria of the Eggsplorer-1 payload being found six weeks after launch washed up and retrieved from the beach in Terschelling, Netherlands it has been an agonising wait to see what the Dutch police would send back. My impatience got the better of me last week and I contacted them directly to be told that unfortunately due to the awful smell and condition of the box they had simply removed the memory card and had posted that back as requested.

More days past and I was beginning to think irony was going to play a cruel trick and the card after its fantastical journey would end up lost in the post. I shouldn’t have been so pessimistic as it arrived today! Along with the card was a detailed map showing the final location and labels from the side of the box.

There was a nice note from the police.

The SD memory card seemed to have had survived more or less intact, though there was some corrosion on the contacts and crucially a small corner of the card was broken off.

The plan was to use the Win32 Disk Imager program to make a direct raw image of the card and work on that copy. I first used a small wad of wire wool to gently clean up the contacts

I was encouraged when I inserted the card into my Microsoft Windows laptop and it was detected, however my heart sank when any attempt to access it or use the imager program was met with an error. I gave it another gentle going over with the wire wool and thankfully was then able to make a image file, the next stage was to extract the precious data.

The card of course contained the Linux based Raspberry Pi file system and in order to access it on a Windows machine I used the freeware linux-reader from DiskInternals which allows access to Ext2/Ext3/Ext4, HFS and ReiserFS file systems within Windows.

It was a simple case of using the “mount image file” option and the partitions were then accessible and everything appeared intact, there were images on the card unfortunately not the “egg in space” image I wanted, just some nice “egg in the clouds” shots.

The telemetry log file confirmed the worst, the flight computer had indeed stopped/crashed at approx 2.5km up and no further images had been captured of the 31km accent into the stratosphere (confirmed by the backup tracker) I had hoped the transmission had stopped because of a fault in the antenna or the radio module board alas this wasn’t the case.

On the day of the launch I did have problems with the payload not booting up. It had worked flawlessly under test the previous weeks and I had secured everything in the box ready for the flight. The day before the launch I had spotted there was another balloon going up in the UK at the same time and we had both opted for the same frequency. So at the eleventh hour I was forced to take out the SD card to change the configuration to prevent the transmission clash.

The launch day start up problem was the SD card. I had removed and reinserted it to get it to start up and secured it down with plenty of gaffa tape. Looking at the card now and the fact the broken corner is old damage I am convinced this is the reason for the failure as the card may well have become dislodged due to turbulence.

While slightly disappointed it is still a miracle I have any images at all and can only thank Jan and the Dutch Police again.

I have certainly learned a lot and hope the National Hamfest HAB that I and South Kesteven ARS are flying is more successful

MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 FOUND!

The payload for the MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 High Altitude Balloon that I and the SKARS team launched in June has been located washed up on a beach in the Netherlands. Amazingly the egg was still intact inside the capsule.

On Friday evening I went to the Hucknall Rolls Royce ARC to give a presentation of HAB flights including details of the Eggsplorer-1 launch and its subsequent apparent loss at sea, then yesterday we had a trip to North Yorkshire and visited the Boon Hill Show and I admired the display of eggs within the produce tent.

It must have been synchronicity since a few hours later despite the poor mobile phone coverage I spotted a message on my mobile phone. It was from Jan Wouter Kramer from the Netherlands, whilst out on a remote beach in Terschelling he had found the Eggsplorer-1 washed up and taken some photographs!

Nearly six weeks to the day after launch she had been found with the egg apparently intact! I tried several times to ring back but the poor mobile coverage prevented it so sent a text message hoping it would reach him. I couldn’t wait to get home to and finally did just before midnight.

I frantically logged on to check emails

Hey Andrew

Found your email on the site.
These are the pics we made.

We found it today about 14:00 during a walk on the beach of Terschelling in an area were not many people are walking because it’s more than a two hours walk from the nearest houses.

As you can see the egg wasn’t damaged but had probably lost it’s strength. While trying to investigate what was inside the ‘bulb’ it broke open and the egg broke in two parts. It was nearly empty. Only a few cc of dark ‘water’ was left in it with a terrible smell …….

Best Regards !

Jan Wouter Kramer

The pictures were amazing

I emailed Jan back as far too late in the night to telephone

Hi Jan, 
Sorry I was able to take your call this afternoon but was out of coverage for most of the day.

Thank you very much for the information and pictures of the Eggsplorer-1. It was our first ever balloon flight and after it landed in the sea I thought we would never see it again.

Amazingly it appears very much intact, shame about the egg being rancid, would really have liked to get it back and would have paid for shipping – but I can imagine the smell was awful.

The Raspberry PI circuit board inside the box had a SD memory card which was held down with gaffa tape, I am not sure if it is still attached and it may have contained some photos of the flight taken with the onboard camera. However given the remoteness of the payload I understand if it is too far to return for such a slim chance.

Regards

Andrew Garratt (M0NRD)

As I wrote given the remoteness and the rancid condition of the egg I couldn’t really expect Jan to go out again to collect it but had a fantastic text message this morning

Hi Andrew, thanks for your email. The good news is that I found the local police willing to pick up the remains of the eggsplorer. (They are allowed to drive on the beach by 4×4) I just got a phonecall that they found it and are willing to send it back to you.
So you have an address for me ??
Best regards
Jan Wouter

As you can imagine I am totally EGGSTATIC!!

I rang Jan this morning and had a great conversation, seems he visits here every year and goes beach-combing with his son, they have never found anything quite as exciting as this!

So MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 has traveled 31km into the stratosphere, landed in the sea and traveled approximately 370km from launch site to its final resting place on the beach. The World Egg Throwing Championship people are very eggcited.

Just hoping that there are some photos on the card if it has survived, cannot be sure from Jan’s photographs. Since the flight I have suspected two possible fault scenarios, bad connector on the SD card on the Raspberry Pi or the antenna was broken off due to the backup tracker suspended underneath. I am hoping it was the latter and the card is recoverable and readable since it would contain pictures.

The backup tracker is also there but has lost its polystyrene egg cover, gps-antenna and battery pack but can see it is still attached to the main payload. The question is how long it has been on the beach? Given the relatively good condition of the box and the labels are still attached it may have been quite soon after splash down.

I am indebted to Jan for taking the trouble of contacting me and the police, I can’t thank him enough! When I get the payload back I will post an update.

All the members of SKARS are eggcited and gives new impetus for the National Hamfest flight next month.

First HAB flights were a success

Two years after discovering the hobby of High Altitude Ballooning I have migrated from being just a passive tracker and finally completed my first flights assisted by other members of the South Kesteven ARS.

Ready to launch

Back in March I posted about the opportunity I had to make a launch at this years Swaton Vintage Day and the 10th World Egg Throwing Championship

South Kesteven ARS were going to hold a special event station with the call sign GB2EGG. During the planning stage I jokingly suggested throwing an egg in to space on board a balloon, I shouldn’t have yoked…

The whole venture captured everyone’s imagination, sadly putting the special event station in the shade but we certainly got a lot of publicity for the club and amateur radio in general.

Featured on front page of local paper

There was certainly a lot to learn and get organised, not only did I have to design and build the flight computer which was the easy part but I had to build the payload containers get the balloon, parachute, cord the lifting gas (Helium) and build a filler assembly as well as getting official permission from the CAA for the launch.

The information on the UKHAS wiki as well as Dave Akerman’s High Altitude Ballooning, From The Ground Up (and back again) were invaluable.

The cost of this venture was not insubstantial and thankfully MADHEN – The Ultimate Party Band agreed to sponsor the flight which helped greatly and I received a nice donation from fellow club member Mark Orbell (M0OBL)

Months of work and lots of last minute hitches but I was ready.

Two flights were planned an altitude ‘burst’ flight with a raw egg payload with a parachute decent. The main tracker MADHEN would broadcast SSDV images and telemetry with a telemetry backup tracker EGG1 suspended below it.  The second flight was a foil party balloon ‘floater’ with a tracker kindly donated by Steve Smith G0TDJ of ProjectAVR

Both flights flew and were a great success, unfortunately the SSDV tracker failed early in the flight so no in flight images were received.

The main payload is pictured below before the flight resting on its side. The Styrofoam box contained the flight computer and radio transmitter with a camera attached to the Raspberry Pi and the “flying saucer” model which contained the egg was positioned to be visible.
 

As this test image shows the ‘egg saucer’ should have had the earth below it.

However the arduino based backup tracker which was suspended below it worked perfectly.

There were some issues with getting CAA approval because the sky was very busy on the day including the last remaining Vulcan Bomber VH-558 making its farewell flight in the area, cue jokes about the Vulcan getting scrambled… but approval was given for a morning flight, not ideal for the organisers but we were still a spectacle for the handful who were there early.

Starting the fill

Checking the neck lift, made difficult by the wind

Stewart (M0SDM) helping me tie off the balloon and payload cord
The strong gusty wind made launch difficult
Me and Stewart making a dash to assist the launch
Someone was on hand to capture it on video for The World Egg Throwing Federation

It started so well,  I was receiving telemetry and image packets and then transmission stopped

However as I said the other tracker worked brilliantly and this was the final flight path as visualised in Google Earth. The ascent and decent rate and the burst altitude were exactly as planned and predicted, so I know I got the neck lift measurement right even with the high wind on the day.

Path of MADHEN/EGG1

A splashdown at sea was inevitable due to the wind conditions, hopefully it it survived the landing it may wash up on a beach somewhere and we can retrieve the images.

With what little Helium remained I was able to lightly fill and launch a foil party balloon carrying a blown egg shell as a ‘floater’ which made a valiant attempt to reach the continent at 6-7km high travelling at 120+km/hr where it reportably hit bad weather and was downed.

Path of EGGDX in comparison to MADHEN/EGG1

 All in all an eggscellent day!

Eggciting HAB projects

I have a new high altitude balloon project, this one is very Eggciting.

In June my club South Kesteven Amateur Radio Society (SKARS) will be operating a special event station at the Swaton Vintage Day held at Thorpe Latimer in Lincolnshire. 

The 2015 Swaton Vintage Day will also host the 10th World Egg Throwing Championship  and in recognition the special event station will have the call sign GB2EGG. This popular annual show raises money for local, national and international good causes.

Egg Throwing is recognised by the English Sports Council and the sport is taken very seriously by some competitors. Hundreds of competitors from Europe and around the world are expected to compete this year. Last year’s event attracted teams from Germany, Slovenia, Hong Kong and Brazil.

While planning the special event station I jokingly suggested throwing an egg in to space on board a balloon, I shouldn’t have yoked as it is now a serious project. The idea coming from Dave Akerman’s Spudnik flight for Heston Blumenthal’s Channel4 television program.

Image with the permission of Dave Akerman

Subject to Civil Aviation Authority clearance and weather conditions I will hopefully launch a high altitude balloon carrying one lucky egg into the edge of space and then dropping it back to earth under a parachute. In addition to the plucky Eggstronaut the balloon I have called Eggsplorer-1 will carry a radio transmitter to broadcast its position, altitude and live images of the journey back to earth.

On board cameras will record the journey to be recovered on a successful return to Earth. Radio enthusiasts all around the country will be able to assist receiving the data and pictures and track the progress of the flight via the UK High Altitude Society tracking website.

More details and progress will be posted on here and on the Eggsplorer-1 website  and you can follow developments on twitter @eggsplorer1South Kesteven ARS welcomes anybody with an interest in radio communications, so if want to be involved in this and other events like this please visit us at the show or visit the South Kestevan ARS website and on twitter @M0SKR

I have already begun development of the payload, unlike the moth-balled NERD-1 payload this one will use one of the Raspberry Pi boards since I want to transmit SSDV images live and it supports its own specially designed camera modules. NERD-1 will still fly as a backup tracker.

Dave Akerman (M0RPI) and Anthony Stirk (M0UPU) have developed the Pi-In-The-Sky ready made boards and the design and software are open-sourced, using this as a starting point together with Phil Heron’s (MI0VIM) SSDV software I quickly had a prototype dubbed NERDPI running.

I did have an issue since the GPS module I currently have only outputs serial data so had to use one of those small TTL USB-Serial adapters and spun some of my own code to get the data out and was soon successfully decoding my own transmissions from the shack and uploading them to the Habhub system.

Today has seen the spectacular partial solar eclipse here in the UK, during the eclipse several HAB flights were launched to try to capture images above any cloud cover (details here)  Fellow SKARS members and members from the Grantham ARC were keen to decode the SSDV images themselves as the BBC Stargazing Live balloons were flying from nearby Leicester.

So on Wednesday I did a talk and demonstration to show how to track and decode the images, it was well received and I uploaded pictures of the audience to the system.

Unfortunately technical issues prevented live images from the Stargazing HABs being transmitted but I was able to decode some images from the University of Southampton OLAF payload They were only lo-res but still pleased to get decodes here it was a good distance from me.

Here in Newark the sky was beautifully clear so the eclipse was visible and spectacular, where OLAF was flying was covered in cloud, so the mission was a success.