New 8 mp Raspberry Pi camera

The Raspberry Pi foundation have posted news of their new 8 mega pixel camera which was made available today. This was followed by members of the Pi in the Sky project confirming compatibility. So there will be even better SSDV images from near space for those people flying a PITS board.


The 5-megapixel visible-light camera board was our first official accessory back in 2013, and it remains one of your favourite add-ons. They’ve found their way into a bunch of fun projects, including telescopes, kites, science lessons and of course the Naturebytes camera trap. It was soon joined by the Pi NoIR infrared-sensitive version, which not only let you see in the dark, but also opened the door to hyperspectral imaging hacks.

As many of you know, the OmniVision OV5647 sensor used in both boards was end-of-lifed at the end of 2014. Our partners both bought up large stockpiles, but these are now almost completely depleted, so we needed to do something new. Fortunately, we’d already struck up conversation with Sony’s image sensor division, and so in the nick of time we’re able to announce the immediate availability of both visible-light and infrared cameras based on the Sony IMX219 8-megapixel sensor, at the same low price of $25. They’re available today from our partners RS Components and element14, and should make their way to your favourite reseller soon.

Visible light camera v2

...and its infrared cousin

In our testing, IMX219 has proven to be a fantastic choice. You can read all the gory details about IMX219 and the Exmor R back-illuminated sensor architecture on Sony’s website, but suffice to say this is more than just a resolution upgrade: it’s a leap forward in image quality, colour fidelity and low-light performance.

VideoCore IV includes a sophisticated image sensor pipeline (ISP). This converts “raw” Bayer-format RGB input images from the sensor into YUV-format output images, while correcting for sensor and module artefacts such as thermal and shot noise, defective pixels, lens shading and image distortion. Tuning the ISP to work with a particular sensor is a time-consuming, specialist activity: there are only a handful of people with the necessary skills, and we’re very lucky that Naush Patuck, formerly of Broadcom’s imaging team, volunteered to take this on for IMX219.

Naush says:

Regarding the tuning process, I guess you could say the bulk of the effort went into the lens shading and AWB tuning. Apart from the fixed shading correction, our auto lens shading algorithm takes care of module to module manufacturing variations. AWB is tricky because we must ensure correct results over a large section of the colour temperature curve; in the case of the IMX219, we used images illuminated by light sources from 1800K [very “cool” reddish light] all the way up to 16000K [very “hot” bluish light].

The goal of auto white balance (AWB) is to recover the “true” colours in a scene regardless of the colour temperature of the light illuminating it: filming a white object should result in white pixels in sunlight, or under LED, fluorescent or incandescent lights. You can see from these pairs of before and after images that Naush’s tune does a great job under very challenging conditions.

AWB with high colour temperature

AWB at lower colour temperature

As always, we’re indebted to a host of people for their help getting these products out of the door. Dave Stevenson and James Hughes (hope you and Elaine are having a great honeymoon, James!) wrote most of our camera platform code. Mike Stimson designed the board (his second Raspberry Pi product after Zero). Phil Holden, Shinichi Goseki, Qiang Li and many others at Sony went out of their way to help us get access to the information Naush needed to tune the ISP.

We’re really happy with the way the new camera board has turned out, and we can’t wait to see what you do with it. Head over to RS Components or element14 to pick one up today.

Tractive pet tracker offers a low cost alternative to sim based GSM locators

Tractive pet tracker offers a low cost alternative to sim based GSM locators Tractive is a new subscription based GSM locator that, while designed for the pet tracking market, offers a low cost solution to balloon payload location. The locators have been designed to give pet owners an online or smart phone based solution to pet tracking. Weighing only 35g grams and costing £4.49 a month, they are ideal for inclusion in HAB payloads to aid recovery. They also have the added advantage, over conventional text reactive based locators, in providing limited tracking through a conventional map interface in the initial and final phase of payload flights.

We put Tractive to the test this month in a HAB flight, launching from Shrewsbury and landing near Leominster in Herefordshire. More details can be found here. The tracker was placed at the bottom of the payload box next to a Zlog GPS data logger, and adjacent to a SPOT satellite messenger and GO PRO Hero camera. Tractive provided tracking for the first 3 minutes of flight when there was a good 3G signal.


Tractive also displayed the final 4 minutes of flight, correctly identifying the final landing site of the payload. In the latter case, there was a moderate strength 2G signal.


There were a number of features we found particularly useful on the Tractive:

A charge clamp which gave a very good contact on the tracker. An audible tone to indicate power off and power on.

A live track mode which constantly updates the tracker location on the map interface.

The option to choice between monthly or annual subscription payments. This is especially useful if you have a short flying season.

While proving to be a handy locator, we do think that the Tractive interface could be improved by showing the time of the last location report on the map interface. This gives the user some reassurance as to the age of the last location report; an important factor when dealing with a moving asset.

Balloon News backs High Altitude Balloon Kickstarters

Balloon News is backing high altitude balloon kickstarters by creating a page just for them. So if you have a kickstarter or other crowd funded project then get in touch and we will promote your project. We are starting with a project that is celebrating the 50th Birthday of Action Man. The project is called Action Man (G.I. Joe) Mission Mercury 10 . Read more…

Mercury 10

2016 CANSAT winners announced


ESERO-UK, the UK space education office, based in York, has announces the winner of the UK round of the international CanSat competition. And for the 3rd year running, will be providing the prizes.

The Cannoneers, from Tonbridge School in Kent, were announced overall winners of the 2016 CanSat competition and will go on to compete at the European CanSat Competition in Portugal.

Second place went to team Aurora from Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow. In third place was team Cyclone, from St. Paul’s School in London. Last year, the winning team from the UK competition – team Impulse from St Paul’s School – went on to win the final round of the European competition, held in Portugal.

Tom Lyons, ESERO Teacher Fellow said: “ESERO-UK are delighted to be hosting the UK round of this prestigious competition in York once again. This year’s competition was the biggest we’ve seen yet, and we wish the winning team luck in the final round of the competition in Portugal”.

A CanSat is a simulation of a real satellite, created in miniature and contained in a soft drinks can. The CanSat is then launched hundreds of metres into the air and its mission begins: to carry out a scientific experiment and achieve a safe landing. The CanSat competition offers a unique opportunity for students to have a first practical experience of a real space project. A video of last year’s competition can be found here. ESERO-UK organises the annual UK CanSat Competition for teams of secondary school students.

For the third year running Balloon News / will be providing the prizes. As with previous years, this will be a free HAB flight for the winning entries. Details of last years winning flight from St Paul’s, and the runners up flight from Tonbridge School can be found by following the links.

Micro Bit: HAB sensors just got smaller

The long awaited cut down computer, the BBC Micro Bit has just been rolled out to UK schools and it did not take long for the first school project to send one to near space on a weather balloon.

Source :

micro bit

School children from Yorkshire have sent a Micro Bit into the stratosphere by attaching it to a large helium balloon.

They used the computer to track and display the surrounding temperature.

The device is now being given to Year Sevens and equivalents across the UK as part of an education project spearheaded by the BBC.


What damage could my payload do to an airliner?

Thankfully there are no recorded cases of aircraft being hit by high altitude balloons but the risk is there. A recent bird strike on an Egypt Air airlines 737 does how what damage could be done.

Bird hits passenger jet landing at Heathrow leaving a large bloody dent on its nose Matt Payton

The plane remained grounded for 21 hours until a replacement was found.
  • egypt-air-bird-dent-egyptair-heathrow-1.jpg

A bird has struck a passenger jet leaving a large dent in its nose as it was coming in to land at Heathrow.

The EgyptAir flight from Cairo was grounded for 21 hours after the incident before a replacement nose could be located.


Pictures of the damage show a large exposed dent in the Boeing 737-800 complete with blood and feathers.

The aircraft, which had 71 passengers on board, managed to safely land at the airport on Friday, reports the Aviation Herald.

Amir Hashim, a Senior Procurement Specialist for Egyptair, posted these images on to Facebook.

Mr Hashim wrote alongside the photographs:”SU-GDZ operating yesterday evening’s MS779 arrival suffered a bird strike on approach.

“The damage caused is clearly evident and SU-GDZ will be grounded until a new radome is fitted. Now, who has a spare?”

These photos were uploaded onto Facebook by the airline’s Senior Procurement Specialist
Another way to look at the issue is to take the focus off individual cases and look at the wider picture. This recent article from the BBC web site does just that.
Source Small drone risks to aircraft minimal
Turkey vulture

The risk of a small, consumer drone significantly damaging an aircraft is ‘minimal’, suggests a study.

It used data on bird strikes to get a sense of what would happen if a small drone collided with a plane.

Only 3% of collisions between aircraft and birds similar in weight to domestic drones result in damage, found the George Mason University researchers.

An even smaller number caused injuries to humans, it found, and many of these were caused by flocks of birds.

No fatalities

The research project was prompted by the recent introduction of rules in the US that make owners of drones weighing more than 250g register their craft with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Contrary to sensational media headlines, the skies are crowded not by drones, but by fowl,” wrote Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond in an article summarising their research.

US airspace is home to about 10 billion birds, said the researchers, but collisions between fowl and aircraft have remained rare.

The pair analysed 25 years of data gathered by the FAA on bird strikes to determine what damage a drone might do.

Of the 160,000 bird strikes recorded since 1990, 14,314 caused damage, revealed the analysis. About 80% of the damage was done by birds such as turkey vultures and geese, which significantly outweigh domestic drones.

About 97% of the strikes that involved small birds did no damage to the aircraft they hit, said the researchers.

“Given the voluntary nature of strike reporting, the true percentage of strikes causing damage is probably much lower, as strikes that do not cause damage can be either missed or under-reported,” they wrote.

The researchers did point out that because birds and drones are made of different materials, more damage might occur if a drone hits a plane. It urged the FAA to carry out research to determine the likely damage.

While there have been wildlife strikes that did cause fatalities, none involved a bird that was similar in size to a domestic drone, they said.

If drones collided with planes in the same proportion as birds do – roughly one bird in one million – then it could be a long time before any drone-aircraft impact does damage, they said.

“One damaging incident will occur no more than every 1.87 million years of 2kg [drone] flight time,” said the researchers. Fatal incidents will be even rarer.

“This appears to be an acceptable risk to the airspace,” they concluded.