Hamfest HAB Flight – Mission Debrief

The National Hamfest high altitude balloon flew on Saturday and Pinky Pig reached a maximum altitude of nearly 26km (25,927m / 96,873 feet) as pictured above.

The flight originally planned for Friday had to be postponed due to wind direction and restrictions but I had sort approval for both days and was able to fly on Saturday. The conditions were perfect on launch day, clear blue sky with little cloud and almost no wind.  Flight prediction put it landing around 25km away.

Both payload trackers worked flawlessly, PINKY the high speed RTTY successfully sent SSDV as well as telemetry and the backup tracker PIGLET sent the slow speed RTTY telemetry. Trackers from all over the UK as well as France, Holland and Poland received data and uploaded data to the UKHAS website.

The received SSDV images can be seen at http://ssdv.habhub.org/PINKY

The flight path can be seen below

The flight can be seen visualised in Google Earth below and while the 26km altitude was impressive it was around 4km less than I’d planned.

 
The launch certainly created a great deal of interest at the Hamfest, on the Friday we setup the club tent for South Kesteven ARS with a tracking station and demonstrated the payloads to interested visitors. Stewart (M0SDM) used his Land Rover with a push up mast for a pair of collinear X-50s so we could receive and decode.  The mast and the Land Rover generated just as much interest.

 

On the Saturday I was assisted by my brother David (M6GTD) and just before noon began filling the balloon watched by a large crowd, as can be seen on Dave’s (M0TAZ) blog http://m0taz.co.uk/2015/09/national-hamfest-2015/
Picture by Dave M0TAZ
Once filled to give the correct lift I sealed it off and checked everything was working then without a breath of wind slowly let the balloon rise, taking the weight of the payloads and once I was sure there were no aircraft flying nearby I let her go. The sky was clear and the balloon went up near vertically and could be seen for quite a long time as it ascended. Representatives of the RSGB and RadCom were in attendance to take photos and did a quick interview. 
The tracking station was then full of people as the telemetry and pictures started to be received. It was great to see the huge interest in the balloon. 
As the balloon started to near the planned maximum altitude I began to get ready to set off to recover it then suddenly I was told it had burst sooner than expected. I got a hurry up at which point the laptop and mobile connection decided to stop working! However I knew where to head off with my poor brother trying to sort it out as I drove.
Stewart telephoned and gave me directions of where the live prediction and tracking had put the landing spot. My wife also set off from home to come and assist. In the car we were receiving a signal but were struggling to decode and couldn’t get on the internet to check the tracking. 
I eventually pulled up near the landing zone, while trying to decode the weak signal another car pulled up with two radio amateurs who had been tracking the balloon. I was a little preoccupied and they eventually said they were off and wished us luck. I then realised we were the wrong side of the hill and turned around and drove up to the top and the signal strength increased.
Stewart had phoned to tell me to find the Viking way footpath, as we reached ground zero we saw the other amateurs car and they were setting off down the footpath! It was my flight I wanted to be the first to find it!
My wife then pulled up and was about to set off after them! Then I started getting successful decodes! With the new landing position in the GPS my wife raced off in hot pursuit as I sorted out the car and then followed her with my brother. It was a reasonable walk of around 800m and as we got near it became apparent the other team had been using the online tracker and had only got the last received position which had been sent from around 254m altitude. However the payload was still transmitting strongly and we were decoding it and it was reporting it was in fact at 115m altitude – they were therefore several hundred meters in the wrong direction.
Our accurate location gave us the edge and a quick hop up a bank into a stubble field and a 200m jog my brother spotted the parachute… we had found Pinky and Piglet and got there first!
 I was surprised to find most of the balloon still attached, it hadn’t so much burst as split in a single tear
  
The payloads had no damage, other than the antenna being bent by the landing
PIGLET had landed as planned and tested, I had put the battery pack at the top of the box the top heavy center of gravity causing it to roll on landing so the antenna would be upright. It was in a perfect orientation hence the strong signal.
The other chase team turned up and congratulated us then left…  my apologies but I was in my own little happy place to be sociable. We then then had the obligatory team photograph before setting back to the Hamfest.
It has been an excellent experience and adventure.  The pictures are better than I could have hoped for! Thanks to my understanding wife, my brother David and Stewart for setting up the antennas for the tracking station and manning it on his own while we went off to recover the payload.
Thanks to the organisers of the National Hamfest and Graham Boor (G8NWC) for asking me to do the flight and helping fund the venture and I hope it succeeded in publicising the event and the hobby.
I have now downloaded all the photographs from the onboard camera and they can been in my Flickr album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/nerdsville/sets/72157658732989849
Updated – I realised I didn’t put the actual landing position on this post, so here it is

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

Some more HAB tracking

I have been tracking some more of the High Altitude Balloons (HAB) that have been released over the last few weekends.

Last weekend (18th May 2013) saw the release of STRATODEAN2 from the Stratodean team, which I received quite well as can be seen from the telemetry stats.

Mark and Cassie have posted an update of the flight on their blog including an entertaining video

This weekend, there have been three more flights which I have managed to decode, track and update telemetry to the habitat website,

MONDO-12 which flew on Saturday 25th May 2013

BABSHAB which flew early this morning 

and finally this afternoon Dave Akerman’s PIE6, which used a Raspberry PI to preform the radio tracking. Details of the payload can be found here. In addition to the GPS the payload also contained a camera and the captured images were also transmitted using the SSDV protocol.

Each image is broken into smaller packets, while a receiver may receive all packets for an image it is unlikely it would receive all so by using the distributed network of multiple receivers the images are reconstructed on the habitat server. http://ssdv.habhub.org/

The screen shot below shows my PC as it receives the packets and attempts to reconstruct the image, hopefully you can see some portions of the image are missing.

Dave used a very fast 600Baud RTTY so he could transmit the high quality images, so was impressed to receive anything as the combination of SDR# and DL-Fldigi can be hard work for my ageing PC.

However these are all the images I contributed to (from the habitat site)
 

One thing I didn’t receive much of were the interlaced telemetry packets.