Dave Akerman has been sending raspberry pi to the stratosphere since the launch of the pi in 2012 under weather balloons and is developing their own in-house space programs. He is giving his consistent effort for the same and spending a moderate amount of money too. He and his team are aiming to enable schools to launch balloon flights with radio trackers, without having to develop the hardware and software first. They also want other children and students to write their own software or modify them.
The project is associated with number of problems and may end in failure. Further, investment is huge and probability of success is low. Still, in various attempts, it is possible to successfully fly and retrieve a balloon with a simple GSM/GPS tracker. Dave has been aiming rural areas where he wants the flights to land but due to absence of complete GSM coverage, he could not. Further, a spot tracker is required to be set up, which works only via satellites. This set up includes various problems like if it doesn’t work, if they land upside down, it will not tell you about temp or pressure or how high the flight went, unless the flight lands.
A licensed amateur radio operator can fly a tracker and the flights can be tracked via ground based network run by other radio hams. Many radio trackers send down live images and you can see your flight and don’t have to wait it to land. All received data is collated on a server. But to make sure it is working, you have to track it and receive in the launch site.
Building radio tracker of your own is a hectic task and generally balloonists build their own radio trackers. Certainly it require skill and time but anyone can learn programming and some digital electronics of radio tracker and it is worth learning for those who are interested in this field.
Before beginning the project, it is necessary to learn about certain things about flight or board like predicting the flights path and other aspects, like taking flight permission. It is provided together with notice to airmen which explains every question to take a different path. Further, it is important to learn how to track the flight, filling of balloon, purchasing of balloon and determining its size, then size of parachute and how to fix them altogether.
The board and software used here are tried and tested. The board mounted comes in a complete kit with a GPS antenna, SMA pigtail to make your own radio aerial, battery connectors and stand-offs for a rigid mounting to the pi board. Either you can manually install them otherwise it is available as a pre-built SD card image. Although it is available in SD card image but it is preferred to do it manually as it will help in better understanding of the project
Some of the features of the board are efficient built-in power regulator, highly sensitive UBlox GPS receiver, temperature sensor, battery voltage monitoring, raspberry pi camera and other related stuffs. While the open-source software feature provides radio telemetry with GPS and sensor data, radio image download, multi-threaded to maximize use of the radio bandwidth, variable image size according to altitude etc.
Everything seems complicated but you will be glad to know that it will be completed in months. Main work lies in doing research and the materials for the same can be provided from Dave’s website. Meanwhile, one can study other stuffs from different website linked to the topic like information about pi in the sky, tracking of flight using an SDR to track etc. But keep your eyes on the blogs of Dave too as they can provide a solid base and guidance for the same.
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