UK Sixth formers launch Raspberry Pi HAB


Three sixth form students launched their high altitude balloon project on Friday 28th June 2013. The project was completed by Jake Greenwood(16), Samuel Bancroft(17), Ben Bancroft(17, me). We all are currently doing our A-Levels at William Howard School Brampton.

The project started when we all came together with the idea of launching our own weather balloon, to gather scientific data. We got our inspiration from our passion for Physics, and by other launches that has been completed by other people, such as Dave Akerman, the first to launch a raspberry Pi on a high altitude balloon. We started by seeing how feasible the project would be, by planning out how we would complete it, and pricing it up. We then went to our school, and in turn the Ogden Trust to look to secure funding.

The project was funded by a Royal Society grant of £300, as well as bit extra which was covered between us. The cost of the helium was paid for by Professor Kosch.

In order to get the grant we partnered with Professor Kosch from Lancaster University, who specialises in Space Physics. He is going to help us analyse the data that we have received from the flight, in the next couple of weeks.

We used a Raspberry Pi for the flight-computer. This was needed to read all the sensors, and to control periodic updates, sent out via radio. We used it as it was light, durable, and very cheap (£28.95) and has an expansion interface (which was used to interface into our electronics’). These factors made it a perfect flight-computer. We also used a Raspberry Pi camera module to record for the duration of the flight.

I (Ben) was responsible for the electronics, and the programming of the flight computer (I used a Raspberry Pi for this). I designed it to continuously take readings from the sensors it carried, and send it back via a radio link. I have experience in this field, and want to do a Computer Science degree at university, after completing my A-Levels. Both Samuel and Jake want to do a Physics degree.

The balloon was monitored live via the radio link, which was received by many receivers all across the country, and one in Europe which was 425 miles away. This was only made possible because of the UK High Altitude Society (UKHAS), as they helped track our flight which was vital. This enabled us to track the balloon in real time via it’s on-board GPS, as well as enabling us to get readings from its sensors throughout the flight. The balloon measured gamma rays, uv flux, temperature and pressure. It also carried a video camera.

The balloon made it into near space, at a height of 31,685 metres (103,953 feet). Minimum temperature was at 11km and was -34 deg C.

The balloon travelled around 45 miles from its launch location at the school, where it landed right in the middle of a dense forest on the Yorkshire/Durham border, which was 2 miles by 2 miles square.  It took about 34 ‘person hours’ to find (plus travelling time), even with the last GPS co-ordinate, as it was stuck about 50 to 60 feet up a pine tree. The final location was at latitude 54.470481 and longitude -1.951683. When we recovered it, we retrieved the video footage from the flight computer.




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